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Online portals through which airlines offer points for everyday web purchases have been around for years.

On American it’s called eShopping. Delta calls it Skymiles Shopping. Each service allows you to pass through its branded portal to make your everyday purchases at sites like Home Depot or Amazon, and depending on the store, the consumer is rewarded with a few token miles per each dollar spent.

Mileage kickbacks to the consumer entail anything from 20-40 points per dollar spent at some flower shops to fewer than 1 point at some of the big box stores. But until now, every transaction had one thing in common: it was digital.

United Airlines plans to change that with the unveiling of its new MileagePlus X app, an extension of its current mobile software. Using the new tool and GPS, customers can find stores close to their location that offer points for purchases. When onsite, they can then step up to the register, enter their purchase price into the app and buy a scannable gift card on the fly. In the end, the consumer ends up with the same product and a multiple of miles to boot.

United’s video explains the whole process here:

The new app functionality comes a week after United announced new ways in which to spend points by purchasing food at select airports, suggesting that the airline is looking into new ways to not only spend but earn miles. MileagePlus X will be soft-launched to a select group of MileagePlus members this month and, according to United spokesman Charles Hobart, “carefully expanded from there.”

In a time when airlines are cutting back left and right on their mileage programs this may seem like a generous offer from United, but there’s a benefit in this rollout for them. For every dollar that they direct to a store through their portal they also get a financial kickback — one worth far more than the cost of the miles that they give away — so there’s a strong incentive for them to generate as much business as possible.

Unique to this application though is the fact that United has successfully taken its online business and applied it to the brick and mortar world, well ahead of Delta and American. Expect the other legacies to scramble together their own applications soon, too.

Photo Credit: United's new app lets you earn loyalty points while buying items in the real world. United Airlines