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United Pushes Frequent Flyers to Use Miles for Airport Food, Booze

United Pushes Frequent Flyers to Use Miles for Airport Food, Booze
Photograph by Getty Images

What can’t you buy with frequent-flyer miles these days? From kitchen gadgets to charitable contributions to all-inclusive vacations, airlines have been pushing an expanding menu of rewards—anything to avoid giving away more free flights. And starting today, United will take the next logical step and allow its 95 million Mileage Plus members to use miles in lieu of money to pay for food and drinks at the carrier’s Newark (N.J.) hub.

United has set the exchange rate at about 143 miles per $1. It’s not a fixed rate: Travelers who want to buy miles for cash from the airline pay five times as much. For Newark travelers dining at Saison, a French bistro in Terminal C, a $29 seared salmon entrée costs 4,150 miles, and a $14 sidecar runs 2,000 miles. A bottle of Fiji water ($2.99) is 430 miles. Whether travelers will think this is a good deal will most likely depend on how many miles they have to burn in the first place.