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There are many articles on the best uses of the most common airline mileage currencies, so I thought I would turn the tables and consider some of the *worst* uses of miles out there.

So take the following uses off the table. Completely. Like, don’t even think about redeeming your United miles in these ways.

Purchasing inflight WiFi

First, my few experiences with United’s WiFi are negative. Very negative. The last time I flew United, I tried to purchase an hour of internet so I could download some files from work (something I meant to do before I left) and be productive for 4 hours. Nope. Can’t do that. And we’re talking like maybe a couple megabytes of data, at most. You’d figure it could handle that.

General WiFi issues aside, instead of paying $10.99 for an hour of WiFi (that I didn’t get), I could have paid 1,700 United miles. WiFi for the duration of the flight was priced at either $25.99 or 4,010 United miles. Both come to ~0.65 cents per mile. Either way, it’s a huge ripoff.

At the end of the day I got a refund from United for my “WiFi” purchase.

Paying for the TSA pre-check application fee

Since I was relegated to either writing on my Mac or browsing United’s magazine during that flight, I did a lot of both of those activities. I had plenty of time to find the little place in the magazine that says you can use 10,000 miles to apply for TSA pre-check. At 0.85 cents per mile, this is another horrible way to redeem your miles.

A great alternative option to cover this fee is via a credit card with a TSA or Global Entry reimbursement (go with Global Entry). I still need to apply my wife and I for Global Entry using the credits on our Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Business Platinum cards.


Redeeming your airline miles for merchandise is definitely one of the worst ways to redeem United miles. Or any miles. I mean, would you rather have this toaster? Or a one-way ticket to the Galapagos?

a silver toaster with a dial and knob

I mean…toast is nice. But is it even in the same ballpark as $350+ in airfare? And who could possibly need a $150 toaster!?!?! That was the first price that popped up when I googled this.

Take the flight. Don’t redeem your miles for random junk.

Gift cards

I buy a good number of gift cards, but not to use. More than 95% of the time they are to resell (SEE: How to get started in gift card reselling). This involves finding discounted gift card deals and then reselling the cards on various platforms for more than what I paid for them. Sometimes I’ll do a deal at break-even as long as I’m earning a chunk of miles.

a screenshot of a cell phone

Which would make redeeming my miles for gift cards counter-productive. Plus, the rate is terrible. For 3,906 United miles, you’ll get a measly $25 Amazon gift card. Multiply this by 3, and you’ve essentially redeemed a one-way domestic flight for $75 at Amazon (and gotten 0.64 cents per mile). Don’t do it.


Please don’t *ever* redeem your miles for any of the above mentioned goods or services. You can get far, far more out of them on almost any flight redemption (even some I would consider *bad* flight redemptions in their own right)!

Miles are only worth as much as you know how to get out of them. This is one of the reasons that accumulating frequent flyer miles is only half of this hobby. Researching programs, award charts, and partners is the other half, which will allow you to use your miles for maximum value!

Featured image courtesy of Oliver Holzbauer under CC 2.0 license

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