Mileage Plus Choices

After United Airlines announced the recent changes to the Mileage Plus program, I noticed a new benefit to Mileage Plus cardholders:

No restrictions, no blackout periods, any flight. If you book the flight on United.com, charge the flight to your Mileage Plus Visa, and you can put in a request to redeem miles for up to the cost of the ticket as a credit to your Visa account.

I have been sitting on a whole bunch of miles for so long that they are going to expire. I was planning to use them to go overseas, but I just don’t fee like going overseas this year. That’s a different rant, though.

I am going to New Orleans this summer, so I planned to try this new trick on my flight. But it turned out that my flight was not blacked out or restricted and I was able to use the standard 25,000 mile redemption. Then I saw all of the other things I could have using miles.

Red Carpet Club was tempting. But then I saw that I could use it on the hotel.

The best hotel deals seem to involve pre-payment. I’ve been to New Orleans several times, and there weren’t any hotels that I know that weren’t on United’s list. So after going back and forth with my friend Jodi for a few days, we settled on a nice looking hotel that had really good rates for the week of Memorial Day.

I reserved two rooms, and put them on my credit card. Today, I went for the credit.

The good news is that it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. If the bill is $1,000 and you only have (or want to use) enough miles for half of it, you can. There is a calculator feature that tells you exactly how many miles you have, how many it will cost and how many you will have left.

The bad news is that it isn’t tied to your flight miles, only to the miles you have earned on the credit card. Significantly fewer, in my case. And only those earned since January 1, 2006. Now, I didn’t want to cash in the whole bill, anyway, because I pre-paid for two rooms and Jodi is going to pay me back for her half. But I thought I could do my half. In the end, I was able to put in for a redemption of $540.00 – most of the expense for my five nights. It cost me 67,500 miles. I have no idea how that compares to other programs.

Assuming the “request” is accepted, it will be 3-5 days before the credit hits my account. Well in advance of the Visa’s closing date.

I wouldn’t have tried this for a trip that I couldn’t otherwise afford to take. And since I primarily use my Amex (cash back) these days, it is unlikely I will be able to use this feature again any time soon. But it seems to have worked for me.

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