MileagePlus X: A unique, mobile way to earn miles on United
Using the app on everyday purchases can mean thousands of extra miles a year
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If you’re a member of United Airlines’s frequent flyer program on the lookout for new ways to earn miles on everyday purchases, the MileagePlus X app could be a good option to add to your rewards tool kit.
I have been using the app since August 2017. So far, I’ve earned 6,611 MileagePlus miles, which according to CreditCards.com’s estimates are very valuable: worth 1.52 cents per mile.
MileagePlus X: A unique way to earn miles on United Airlines
United Airlines’ mobile-only app is unique – no other airline or hotel program has launched a similar tool to rack up miles while shopping yet. The app allows you to earn extra miles on in-store and online purchases on top of any miles, rewards or cash back you may earn with the credit card you charge.
The way it works, in a nutshell, is pretty simple:
- Before you pay at your favorite brick-and-mortar store or online retail, entertainment or dining outlet, log into the app and buy an electronic gift card for the exact amount of that purchase, or the minimum set by each store.
- Pay with that gift card – some merchants will scan the barcode on the e-card; online, you type the card details as you’d normally do with a gift card.
- For each dollar you spend on the app, you can get up to five miles – or even more, especially around the holidays or during back-to-school season – depending on each retailer’s promotion.
Want to know more about how to use and make the best out of MileagePlus X? Here’s a guide, step by step, to use the app plus a few tips on how to earn more miles using MileagePlus X.
How to install and set up MileagePlus X
- Download the app on your phone – available for iPhone and Android devices.
- Create an account, including your MileagePlus frequent flyer number. If you don’t have one, you can create it on MileagePlus’s website.
- Add at least one payment form to your account. You can add more than one card, which can be a good idea and if you have different cards that give you extra bonuses on different categories.
- If there’s one card you use more than the rest, the apps lets you set it up as your default card. Simply go to “My account,” then “Credit cards” and check the card you want to select as your default.
- Primary card members of a United MileagePlus credit card from Chase also receive a 25 percent bonus on every purchase made through MileagePlus X. All you need to do is have a United MileagePlus credit card from Chase added as a payment form on the app.
Find and select retailers and restaurants that accept MileagePlus X
There are different options to look for participating merchants on the app:
- Nearby: Using your location, the app displays participating merchants in your area. You can browse them by name or see their location on an interactive map.
- Online merchants: This section displays a list, in alphabetical order, of participants that accept the app on purchases made online.
- Catalog: Here you can browse participating merchants in almost 20 different categories, including Toys & Games, Food, Entertainment and Office Supplies.
- The number of miles per dollar spent you can earn will appear next to each participating merchant’s name, along with a button that says, “Pay now.”
Making a gift card purchase through MileagePlus X
Depending on the amount you’re going to charge and the merchant where you’re making the purchase, you can buy a gift card right at the register or in advance. Here’s why:
- Some merchants have minimum and maximum amount limits on the app. Best Buy, for example, lets you make purchases between $5 and $2,000, whereas Old Navy allows you to enter an amount between $10 and $500.
- Other merchants will only let you buy gift cards for specific denominations. Starbucks, for example, allows you to buy $10, $25 or $50 gift cards.
- If you’re making a purchase at a retailer where you don’t shop frequently, you may want to wait until you know the total you’ll pay and buy a gift card for the exact amount. It doesn’t make sense to buy a Sephora $100 gift card if your purchase is for $82.50 and you don’t foresee shopping there again in the near future.
- If, by contrast, this is a retailer or coffee shop where you’re a regular, you may want to purchase a gift card for a larger amount in advance and have it ready next time you pay.
- Once you’ve entered the amount, the “Pay now” button will turn to green, prompting you to proceed with your payment. However, here are two things you need to know first:
- On the top right corner of your screen you’ll see the payment form selected for that purchase – if you have more than one card on file, your default card will be displayed. You can select a different payment form by tapping the card button. You can pick a different card on file, add a new card or even pay with MileagePlus award miles – just remember, you usually get the highest value when you redeem miles for travel instead of cash back or merchandise.
- The app also lets you send gift cards as an e-gift to friends or family via email. To do so, simply check the box below the “Pay now” button before proceeding with your payment.
Making a payment using MileagePlus X
Once you’ve purchased the gift card you can proceed with your payment. Here’s how:
- Online purchases: Simply type the gift card number and PIN in the “Pay with a gift card” field. Proceed with your order as you’d usually do.
- In-store purchases: Show the gift card on your phone to the cashier. They will either scan the barcode or enter the gift card number manually, and also the PIN.
Pro tips when making purchases using MileagePlus X
- If you don’t feel comfortable handing your phone to a cashier – or to a waiter at a restaurant – you can also write down the gift card number and PIN on a piece of paper and explain to the waiter you are paying with an electronic gift card.
- MileagePlus X is hardly the Instagram of payment apps, so be aware that some – or still quite a few! – cashiers might not be familiar with it.
- If a cashier or waiter looks confused about your payment form, simply explain that you’re paying with an e-gift card. In some rare instances, they might need help from a supervisor should this be their first time processing payments with an electronic gift card.
- If you bought a gift card for the exact amount of your purchase, the balance on that card will be zero as soon as the payment goes through. Some cashiers might think there’s a problem with the card or there’s no money left in it. Kindly explain that it just means the payment was processed successfully and there’s indeed no money left in the card. (The miles you earned will be reflected as immediately on your account as well.)
- The app lets you mark as redeemed a card that has no money left. This will make the gift card disappear from the app. My advice: Don’t mark any gift card as redeemed until you’re absolutely sure you’ve spent all the money in that card and/or you’re satisfied with your purchase. I know from experience.
- Last December I bought a couple of holiday gifts for my family on Sephora.com using MileagePlus X. Later, I changed my mind, bought different presents and returned the items at Sephora.
- The money went back to the e-gift card I used, but because I’d marked it as redeemed as soon as I finished my purchase, I had to contact MileagePlus X’s support department via email and ask them to restore that gift card on my account – there’s no easier way to retrieve redeemed cards back on the app.
- Two days later the gift card appeared back on my account, but I learned the lesson.
- Keep in mind that you’ll be making purchases with a gift card, not a credit card. This means you will be waiving any purchase protections that may be offered by your cards, such as extended warranty or return protection. This might not be such a big deal if you’re buying a couple of lattes and a cinnamon bun at Starbucks, but could prove critical if you’re planning to buy a large-screen TV at Best Buy or a new fridge at Home Depot. Consider all your options before you buy large items using MileagePlus X.
Combine tools with MileagePlus X to earn more miles
Combining shopping tools is a great way to maximize mile earnings, cash back and miles. MileagePlus X is no exception.
Here’s an example of a $50 purchase at Foot Locker and how you can combine the use of shopping portals and rewards cards to earn even more miles using United's shopping app:
$50 purchase at Foot Locker using United’s shopping portal and a United Chase card
- MileagePlus X – 5 miles/dollar: 250 miles
- United Chase card – 1 miles/dollar plus 25 percent bonus: 62.5 miles
- United’s MileagePlus shopping portal – 2 miles/dollar: 100 miles
- Total: 412.5 miles on a $50 purchase
- Average redemption value (worth 1.52 cents per mile, per our estimates): $6.27
- Savings: worth 12.54 percent of the original $50 purchase
$50 purchase at Foot Locker using shopping portal Ebates and Capital One Venture Rewards
- MileagePlus X – 5 miles/dollar: 250 miles
- Capital One Venture Rewards – 2 miles/dollar: 100 miles
- Ebates – 2.5 percent cash back (rate – 1 mile: 1 percent): 125 miles
- Total: 475 miles on a $50 purchase
- Average redemption value (worth 1.52 cents per mile, per our estimates): $7.22
- Savings: worth 14.44 percent of the original $50 purchase
A little legwork pays off
Sure enough, many purchases I’ve made using MileagePlus X have given me only 10-20 miles each, but others have yielded a rather generous amount for a single pop, such as a visit to an AMC movie theater – 202 miles on a $40.56 purchase – or 400 miles on a $100 purchase at DSW.
Each purchase, big or small, adds up, and while I haven’t flown United in the last 16 months, I’ve earned more than $100 worth of miles in only seven months.
Of course, this strategy requires adding a couple of extra steps to your daily routine and a good deal of discipline – if the prospect of scoring more miles leads you to overspend, you might want to think twice before using the app.
But if you’re all about maximizing your rewards game and earning free flights on United, MileagePlus X can be a useful addition to your mobile wallet.
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