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Pssst, Wanna Buy a Million United Miles?

"I know award miles, and this is an offer you don't want to pass up. Up to one million miles. Lots of benefits. All in one easy transaction. What is there to think about?" So says Randy Petersen, publisher of a host of frequent flyer-oriented publications.

What Petersen is gushing about is the offer from a new crowdfunding startup, Wall&Main.

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According to the company's founder, Michael London: "If you help us launch Wall&Main, you'll receive an unprecedented package of rewards that includes up to 1 million United MileagePlus miles."

What's being solicited is a donation, not an investment. Donors have no say in how the money is used, and they will not participate financially in the company's success as they would as investors or stockholders. So unless there's some emotional payoff in being associated with the crowdfunding movement, this boils down to a sales pitch to purchase United frequent flyer miles. And it should be evaluated as such.

Here are the prices:

  • $30,000 for 1 million miles
  • $15,000 for 500,000 miles
  • $7,500 for 250,000 miles
  • $4,500 for 150,000 miles

Buying through Wall&Main nets you a per-mile price of 3 cents. That's slightly better than United's normal price of 3.5 cents per mile, plus a 7.5 percent excise tax. But as do most airlines, United periodically discounts the price of miles purchased through its own website. Most recently, that discount was a hefty 40 percent, which meant you could buy 100,000 miles for $2,257.50 all in, or 2.26 cents per mile. That's about 25 percent less than the Wall&Main price.

The only thing compelling about this offer, then, is the ability to bypass United's annual buy-miles limit of 100,000 miles to immediately purchase a significantly larger cache of miles.

But is it worth overpaying for the miles to get them sooner rather than later? Perhaps, but only in the most rarified circumstances.

And the other "benefits" alluded to on the company's website?

  • One-year subscription to TripIt Pro
  • Early preview of crowdfunding deals
  • One year Econoday Desktop and Mobile Calendar
  • Eligible for Wall&Main advisory panels
  • No cutbacks in oversubscribed deals
  • Founding Champion webinars
  • Knowledge Center access
  • A brick in the Wall&Main Wall of Champions

There's nothing on the list that changes the fundamental value proposition, which remains extremely weak.

It's even hard to see how this fundraising model can be a viable one for Wall&Main. The company must purchase the miles from United, probably at a rate of around 2 cents per mile. So of that $30,000 donation, only $10,000 will be left after covering the up-front promotional costs.

The only real winner here is United, for whom the sale of frequent flyer miles is a very profitable business indeed.

Reader Reality Check

Will you be buying United miles at 3 cents apiece?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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