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United Launches Gift Registry for Frequent Flyer Miles

A gift registry for frequent flyer miles? Why not!

That, at any rate, seems to be the thinking behind United’s new MileagePlus Gift Registry.

As the recipient, you set up a personal registry with award goals, desired travel dates, and so on. When finished, you’ll have created a custom registry landing page.

Next, you refer family and friends to your registry page. The service helpfully includes social media and email widgets to help you get the word out.

And finally, assuming they’re willing (see below), your friends either buy United miles for your account or transfer miles from their own accounts to yours.

There’s a maximum of 500,000 miles per registry per calendar year. There’s also a minimum of 20,000 miles, although the website neglects to disclose what happens if contributions fall below that threshold.

Good Execution, Bad Value

United has done a commendable job of setting up the registry mechanism. It’s slick and easy to use. But in the end, would-be gift givers still must consider the costs of the miles. And there’s nothing commendable about them.

At the standard rate of $35 per 1,000 miles, plus 7.5 percent excise tax, givers are being asked to buy miles at more than 3.5 cents apiece. My current rule-of-thumb calculation for the average value of a frequent flyer mile is 1.2 cents. So you’re overpaying by a factor of three.

The cost to transfer miles, at $15 per 1,000, may seem less onerous at first glance. But remember that these are miles you already paid to earn in the first place.

So from a purely financial standpoint, there’s a decidedly lipstick-on-a-pig aspect to this. At least from the buyer’s standpoint.

From the recipient’s standpoint, however … what’s that expression about looking a gift horse in the mouth?

Reader Reality Check

Does this appeal to you as a gift giver? As a gift receiver?

This article originally appeared on

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