From United: Yet Another Way to Buy Frequent Flyer Miles

Want more frequent flyer miles? United thinks you do.

As if there weren't more than enough mileage-earning opportunities already, the airline has introduced Award Accelerator, "a new offering that is focused on rewarding customers by providing them with the option to purchase extra Mileage Plus miles every time they fly."

Mileage Plus members can already purchase miles directly from United, through the Personal Miles feature, for about 3.5 cents each, including taxes and fees.

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With Award Accelerator, program members can purchase miles at a slightly lower price—about 3 cents apiece—when they fly on United. It's described as buying a bonus, keyed to the number of miles earned for a particular flight. So, fly between Chicago and Cleveland, for example, and you'll be given the opportunity to double the 316 flight miles normally earned by paying $9, or triple the miles for $19.

Is this a deal for consumers, or just another ancillary revenue-generator for United? The answer depends on whether the purchased miles can be redeemed at a value that exceeds their cost. It's possible, but unlikely. (For a fuller discussion of the value of miles, see this chapter of the Joy of Miles series.)

More significantly, such initiatives illustrate the extent to which the airlines are out of touch with the needs and wants of the traveling public. At a time when consumers are screaming for fairer, more transparent options for using their miles, United offers them yet another way to accumulate even more miles—and overpriced miles at that.

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