PSA: Don’t be MileagePlused


Lest you have any misplaced notions about whether or not I know what I’m doing when it comes to travel hacking, let me clear the air: I don’t.

What Happened?

Yesterday I was booking a set of partner business class award tickets on United for flights from London, which if you’ve ever played “figure out how to avoid the world’s biggest airport award surcharge”, you’d know that this is one of the only good, above-board ways book a ticket from Heathrow airport without paying hundreds of dollars in cash with your miles. (Yes there are also less above-board ways, but this isn’t that kind of trip.) Anyway, this was the situation:

  • The award cost was 80,000 points plus $5.00
  • I wanted two tickets, so the net cost was 160,000 plus +$10.00
  • I had 128,000 MileagePlus miles

I got partway through the booking up to the payment screen and realized I’d need another 32,000 miles. Which takes us to what happened next:

  • I transferred 32,000 Ultimate Rewards to United
  • I reloaded the booking confirmation page and saw that my balance was as expected in the header
  • I clicked buy

Later, I checked my MileagePlus account and saw that it had approximately 32,000 miles hanging out. It took a couple of minutes to unravel what happened, but the punchline is:

If you don’t have enough miles to complete an award booking, United will sell them to you without making it obvious that it’s happening.

The net cost was $800 for 32,000 miles, oof. This was completely my fault and I should have looked more closely at the checkout screen before clicking buy instead of just noting that my balance had updated in the upper right corner, but (just kidding, there is no but – mea culpa).

Sometimes you beat the award surcharge, and sometimes the award surcharge beats you.


When you’re transferring points to an airline or hotel currency as part of a booking, look at everything closely. Especially so if it’s United, and especially so if it isn’t United.

Happy Tuesday!

UPDATE: By chatting with a United’s MileagePlus team supervisor over SMS, I was able to get the charge reversed and the miles deducted. Thanks to everyone who offered their own experiences in being MileagePlused.

Stay tuned for a future post on how I accidentally paid another $800 to use fast-track security at Heathrow 💪 (probably).

Related Posts