If I Can Earn Points With In-Store​ Purchases, Why Would I Choose Not To?

One of the unwritten rules of travel hacking is never to leave points or miles on the table. At the minimum, you should earn points for your spending but if you can double or triple dip your spending by stacking offers, you need to do that every time. Not doing so means you didn’t earn miles that you were entitled and that’s just not right.

Justin stare

How is it that I know of a way to earn points with many of my purchases at stores and restaurants but just don’t bother? Because the program (or the phone app associated with it) is just so difficult to work with.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about the United Mileage Plus X program.

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The premise is simple. When you want to pay for something IRL (in real life), you open up the MileagePlus X app and find the store where you’re shopping. All you need to do is enter in the amount you’re spending and you’ll get a barcode that can be used to complete your purchase. On top of the points you’ll earn from your credit card, you’ll also earn United miles. The amount of United miles varies, depending on the merchant. Looking today at places near my house, here are some point earning opportunities:

  • Regal Movies – 5 Miles/dollar
  • Panera Bread – 5 Miles/dollar
  • Bed Bath and Beyond – 1 Mile/dollar
  • The North Face – 2 Miles/dollar
  • Lowe’s – 0.5 Miles/dollar
  • JCPenney – 3 Miles/dollar
  • Outback Steakhouse – 3 Miles/dollar
  • BJ’s Brewhouse – 3 Miles/dollar
  • The Home Depot – 1 Mile/dollar
  • Krispy Kreme – 4 Miles/dollar

We’re not talking about a big amount of miles here; they’re the little amounts that will build your balance over time. If you spend $200 per month at 2 miles/dollar you’d earn about 5,000 miles per year. There’s also an extra 25% bonus if you have the MileagePlus Explorer credit card. You don’t even have to use it for your purchase, you just need to have it.

If you’re interested in getting the app, here’s the page on United’s website with directions on how to use the app and links to the Apple Store and Google Play store.

So why is it I don’t use this app everywhere I shop? It’s because using it is a major pain and several times I’ve tried to use it, the system hasn’t worked. Understanding how MileagePlus X works might help you avoid some of the trouble I’ve had using it. Maybe it could be more useful for you than it was for me. Your Mileage May Vary.

You Need To Have A United Account

This may seem obvious but the MileagePlus X app is linked to your United frequent flyer account. If you haven’t signed up for an account, here’s an article with links to sign up for all the airline programs. To log into the MileagePlus X app, you’ll need your login and make sure you get those challenge questions right or you’ll need to reset your password while you’re at it (trust me on this one).

You Are Buying A Gift Card Through The App

When you use the MileagePlus App, what you are doing is buying a gift card for the store. When the transaction in the app is finished, you get a barcode (or a card number) good for the amount you entered. Theoretically, this should be able to be redeemed at the store immediately.

In My Experience, Things Will Go Wrong

I’ve tried to buy a gift card to pay for our dinner and had the transaction fail to complete. Each of the four attempts eventually showed up on my credit card but eventually, the error was corrected and I was never charged. However, this took 15 minutes of me fiddling with my phone trying to pay for dinner and I ended up just paying with a card in my wallet.

Another time I was able to complete a transaction and received a barcode to pay for dinner. The server tried multiple times to scan this barcode with his scanner and was never able to get it to work. Eventually, he had to take my phone to a manager who manually keyed in the gift card number. I’m sure that’s a secure way to pay for dinner.

The most recent time I tried to use the MileagePlus X app, I was going to buy items at Home Depot. I opened the app but realized the card I had on file was no longer active. I tried for 20 minutes to update my card on the app but found no way to do so. I logged into my online account, the United app, and the MileagePlus X app but to no avail. When I returned home, I discovered that the card you want to use on the app HAS to be set up with your UNITED AIRLINES profile like you will be using it to pay for airfare. You also need to STORE the card on your profile.

I realize that some of these problems may have been a one-off problem and the one with needing to update my credit card is only because I don’t use the app regularly. Still, the problems I had shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Don’t provide barcodes that will not work with the merchants you have contracts with. Make it easier to change your payment type inside the app instead of needing to log into a different website on a computer.

Final Thoughts

What can I say? I’m done. I tried to like the MileagePlus X app, I really did. It seemed like such an easy way to rack up miles for shopping at places I was already going to. It just seems like whenever I tried to use it, I had problems. I’m also not getting the bonus miles since we canceled our United MileagePlus Explorer credit card. I guess if I really wanted to get United miles it might mean more to me but since we’re not flying United anymore I don’t feel as much pressure to bulid up my point balance with them.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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