I wanted to share with you something that I noticed on a recent trip as far as United’s Mileage Plus Award Accelerator miles purchase program is concerned. For those of you not familiar with this concept, it is simply an offer from United to buy additional miles to compliment the miles you’ll already be earning on the trip. These miles do not count towards elite status but certainly come in handy when booking reward travel. These miles are available for purchase from the time you book your ticket through the time you check in for your return journey.

This past December I went on a Mileage Jog (3 day trip) to Hong Kong (trip reports here, here and here)on United due to attractive fares and a wonderful gesture from a friend who transferred two of her SWU’s (System Wide Upgrades) to me so that I could enjoy the 15.5 hour flights in business class (fortunately the upgrades cleared both ways!).

Normally I take full advantage of the Award Accelerator program because it is an attractive proposition. Usually these miles will cost between 2.5 and 2.8 cents per mile (CPM) and United offers you 2 amounts of miles that you can purchase. One option usually being twice the miles of the other. In today’s world of CPM, anything under 3 cents is considered the equivalent of discovering the holy grail (well almost…). But I digress.

Anyway, prior to my trip to Hong Kong I chose to buy the lesser amount of miles (about 7500 or so). I don’t know why I did not buy the full allotment at the time, perhaps it was my dyslexic index finger on the mouse pad. At that point, it cost me about 2.7 CPM so it was still a good deal and I bought the miles for about $200.00. I figured I would just buy the remaining allotment of miles available to me when I checked in for my return trip. Thats where it got interesting.

When I logged into United.com in from my Grand Hyatt hotel room (read Mega Suite!) in Hong Kong I went through the normal check in procedures and was offered to buy additional award miles except this time the cost was quoted in Hong Kong Dollars which surprised me but considering I’m logging in from Hong Kong the website may have been assuming I was a Hong Kong resident. For an additional 7500 (aprox) miles, it was quoting me $900HKD. After confirming with infinitely wise Google that this translated into $116.00 US dollars, I jumped at the offer. After all, the CPM at this point came back at an almost free 1.5 cpm. It also brought the average CPM for both purchases down to about 2 CPM which is a good deal!

I was a little nervous that my credit card would some how be billed $900USD for the transaction, but I figured that would have been an easy charge to dispute so I went ahead and took United up on their generosity. And it worked out perfectly. A day later my account was 7500 miles richer, and indeed the credit card statement confirmed a $116.00 charge.

Now I don’t know if this is an anomaly or normal operating procedure as far as buying miles when abroad is concerned. But I thought it was worth enough to share with you. Next time that you are traveling internationally and are a United Mileage Plus member try buying some of your Award Accelerator Miles while still at your destination abroad. You may be able to take advantage of additional savings. I would also like to hear from anyone who has tried this and see what your experience has been.