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On Friday morning United announced a devaluation to their award chart, impacting all travel booked using United miles on or after February 1, 2014.
The new award chart was especially damaging to Star Alliance awards, given that United went from having a single award chart for travel on United or Star Alliance partners to having separate award charts depending on whether it’s a Star Alliance award or not.
Anyway, the next three months are a great time to burn United miles, and you certainly want to get the best value from the United miles you have currently, so I figured I’d go over what I consider to be some of the best redemption values on the United award chart.
United MileagePlus award chart
United’s current Star Alliance award chart offers partner awards for the same rate as United saver awards:
United MileagePlus award stopover rules
On a roundtrip long-haul international award between regions, United allows one stopover in addition to your destination.
- A stopover is when you stop at a city for more than 24 hours.
- For example, if you’re flying Los Angeles > Tokyo > Hong Kong and stop in Tokyo for 23 hours it wouldn’t count as a stopover.
- If, on the other hand, you stopped for 25 hours, it would be considered a stopover.
You can stopover for as long as you’d like, provided travel on the ticket is complete within a year from the date the ticket is issued. United doesn’t allow stopovers of more than 24 hours on one-way awards.
United MileagePlus award open jaw rules
United allows two opens jaws on long-haul international awards.
- An open jaw is when you fly into one city and out of another.
- For example, flying Los Angeles > Hong Kong and then returning Seoul > San Francisco would be considered a double open jaw (since you have an open jaw between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the US, and an open jaw between Hong Kong and Seoul in Asia).
United MileagePlus fuel surcharges
United doesn’t impose fuel surcharges for travel on any of their partner airlines, which is a big selling point of their program. That means when you book an award ticket you just pay the taxes and fees on the ticket.
United MileagePlus ticketing/change fees
United charges the following fees on award tickets for non-elite members (fees for elite members are listed here):
- $25 phone ticketing fee
- $75 close-in ticketing fee for tickets booked less than 21 days before departure
- $75 fee for making changes to an itinerary more than 21 days before departure, with the exception of changing origin or destination, which triggers the $100 fee
- $100 fee for making changes within 21 days of departure, or making changes to the origin or destination more than 21 days before departure
- $200 fee for canceling an award and having the miles redeposited
Avoiding United’s phone ticketing fee
While United’s website is good for booking partner awards in theory, the website tends to bring up error messages if you try to book anything complicated. If you book by phone you’re charged a $25 phone ticketing fee. The easy way around that is to book a similar award online, and then call within 24 hours to change it to what you want. Award changes are free within 24 hours of ticketing, and you shouldn’t be charged the phone ticketing fee.
United MileagePlus routing rules
So this is where it gets a bit tricky. It’s both a blessing and a curse that United’s computers price award tickets, since it somewhat takes out the need to play “agent roulette.” The agents simply enter the flights you want and the computer decides how much the award costs.
The downside is that United doesn’t actually publish routing rules for award tickets, so you can never be sure whether something will price or not.
Lately I’ve noticed a major change in that United has greatly restricted the number of segments you can fly on an award ticket. United seems to limit the number of segments per direction to four, while in other regions they limit it to five. But if you’re looking to fly more than four segments in one direction, don’t count on the ticket pricing.
Generally speaking, though, you can:
- Route from the US to Asia via Europe
- Route from the US to Australia via Asia
- Route from the US to India and many places in the Middle East via Europe OR Asia
Best values on the United MileagePlus award chart
So here’s the deal — United’s current award chart is really, really fair all around. There aren’t really many “sweet spots” as all regions are rather inexpensive, and priced rationally. It’s not like the US Airways award chart where there’s an “amazing” 90,000 mile business class option to North Asia that knocks everything else out of the park.
That being said, I certainly have some favorite uses of United miles, including:
- 50,000 MileagePlus miles for one-way business class from the US to Europe
- 60,000 MileagePlus miles for one-way business class from the US to all of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (and you can route via Europe to all regions)
- 67,500 MileagePlus miles for one-way first class to Japan (and you can route via Europe and even have a stopover in Europe if you do a roundtrip)
- 70,000 MileagePlus miles for one-way first class to North or South Asia (again, you can route via Europe and even have a stopover there if you book a roundtrip)
Star Alliance routes with readily available first class award space
It’s first class redemptions that are getting hit hardest with the new award rates, and I know a lot of people are hoping to make one last “aspirational” redemption before the new rates kick in. So I figured I’d post a reminder of which Star Alliance first class products are generally available using United miles:
Asiana first class is really readily available out of Frankfurt, and somewhat available out of Los Angeles. Unfortunately their flight out of New York featuring the new first class suite has virtually no first class award space. Nonetheless, I’ve really enjoyed my flights in Asiana’s first class, and both the food and service are top-notch.
Air China first class is incredibly easy to come by. A majority of their flights have first class award space, and it’s actually quite a nice first class product. I know I enjoyed my recent flight on them in business class.
Thai Airways first class is also readily available. The only catch is that they don’t fly a first class product on their route to the US, so realistically you can only fly it within Asia, between Europe and Asia, or between Australia and Asia. Nonetheless as part of a larger award that could be a nice option.
ANA first class award space is really tough to come by using United miles, as they seem to release less and less first class award space every year. Historically they’ve always released a fair bit of award space for travel in the January through March timeframe, though for next year I’m not even seeing much of that. Space is nearly impossible to come by out of Los Angeles and San Francisco, though there’s generally a bit more space out of New York and Chicago (both routes on which they have twice daily service), as well as out of Washington.
Looking at award space in the new year I do see a fair bit of space on the Chicago to Tokyo route, but that’s the extent of it.
Lufthansa first class is only made available to members of Star Alliance partner programs at most 15 days in advance. I recently explained how to maximize your chances of scoring award space using miles within that timeframe.
So while you can’t plan Lufthansa first class awards far in advance nowadays, the space is pretty readily available within the week or so prior to departure if you’re flexible with dates and routes. For example, between Detroit and Frankfurt there’s only one day next week without first class award space.
To top off an account for an award…
As I’ve mentioned before, we have three months till the new redemption rates go into effect, so the best we can do is take advantage of the old rates while they’re still available.
But if you apply for any Chase Ultimate Rewards cards now you should still be able to have the bonus post well before the change in redemption rates, which should allow you to book travel through December of next year. Here are a few of the best cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
- Ink Bold® Business Charge Card
- Ink Cash® Business Card (see this post for details on how to use this in conjunction with other Chase cards)
- United also has targeted offers on their MileagePlus Explorer Card for up to 60,000 miles, available either by walking into a Chase branch or logging into your MileagePlus account
I know some people are saying it’s silly to sign up for a Chase card now, but at the end of the day this United devaluation will decrease the value of Ultimate Rewards points. 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points by January are potentially worth much more than 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after January, and I personally would rather maximize my points and travel as much as I can in the meantime.