United & Delta Consider Pre-Selling Miles To Banks To Raise Cash

Most airlines around the world have a credit card associated with them. It’s the one that allows the cardholder special travel perks with the airline or provides bonus miles for flights charged to that card. These deals are big business for airlines, and today we heard that United Airlines and Delta Air Lines may pre-sell their miles to their credit card partners at a discount.

Delta A220
Delta’s credit card partner in the United States is American Express but it works with Mastercard in Mexico, JCB in Japan, and CMBC in China. Photo: Getty Images

What’s the deal?

Avid travelers are likely familiar with the world of earning airline points or miles through their credit cards. If the game is played correctly, it’s a way to get rewarded for spending you would have done anyway.

What many consumers don’t think about is the fact that the points cardholders are rewarded with have been pre-purchased by the credit card company from the airline, at an agreed-upon rate.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are negotiating with their credit card partners to pre-sell miles at a discount. In the United States, it’s American Express for Delta and for United, it’s Chase. However, for the time being, there are no additional details regarding what a discount might look like.

United plane runway getty images
United’s credit cards with Chase are wide-ranging, from the lowly “United Explorer Card” to the “United Presidential Plus Card”. Photo: Getty Images

How might this affect you as a cardholder?

If these deals actually go through, then it’s possible that the banks and credit cards will pass some of those discounts on to the consumer in various ways. This might mean more generous signing bonuses to attract new cardholders, or higher mileage earning rates – either for specific activities (fine dining and gas expenditures are common) or general, across-the-board spending.

We have to keep in mind that consumer spending is already down and will likely stay down for quite some time. Therefore, credit card companies will need to entice their members with special deals in order to get them spending again.

United & Delta Consider Pre-Selling Miles To Banks To Raise Cash
United Airlines’ miles program goes by the name of Mileage Plus. Photo: United Airlines

Current offers from the airlines

Just to give an example of what United and Delta are currently offering consumers in the United States, here are their publicly-listed deals for signing bonuses:

  • United’s basic Explorer card (from Chase) gives new members 60,000 miles after having made purchases totaling $3,000 or more during the first three months from account opening.
  • Delta Air Lines’ Blue American Express Skymiles card provides 10,000 miles after new members spend $500 in eligible purchases in the first three months.

Of course, there are more premium card options for higher-income households but this is where things start. Could the bonus miles upon signup be raised? We’ll have to wait and see.


It will be interesting to see if other airlines and banks go the same route and make similar deals. The ultimate goal for both the airline and the credit card is to get consumers spending again. Whether or not an enticing deal will do the trick is the big question.

Do you have an airline co-branded credit card? Have you gotten much use out of it? Let us know in the comments!

Simple Flying contacted both United and Delta to get more information. However, at the time of publication, United has not responded to our inquiry. Delta Air Lines told us that they do not comment on industry rumor or speculation.