New United MileagePlus Award Chart Damages Star Alliance

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Overnight United unveiled a new MileagePlus award chart with some shocking new redemption rates. They also added an extra award chart so that there are now different redemption rates for travel on United vs. Star Alliance partners, which wasn’t previously the case.

My initial reaction was shock. You know when you see something unfortunate and your reaction is to want to give up on life and cuddle kittens or goldendoodles or something? Yeah, that was me this morning.

But my negative reaction wasn’t because there was a devaluation, but because of how bad it was. I was counting on a devaluation, as I wrote less than two weeks ago. And I was expecting maybe a 15-20% increase in miles required for many markets. Instead in some markets we got an 87% increase in the number of miles required.

New redemption rates on United aren’t bad

The new award redemption rates for travel on United are actually exactly what I was expecting.

  • Business class to Europe goes from 100,000 miles to 115,000 miles.
  • That’s a reasonable devaluation, given that Delta just changed their saver business class redemption rates to Europe to 125,000 miles.
  • Meanwhile 130,000 miles for roundtrip business class travel to Japan isn’t bad either — it’s an increase of just 5,000 miles in each direction.
  • The same goes for South Asia, which in business class is going from 120,000 miles roundtrip to 140,000 miles roundtrip.

Actually, I anticipated these rates would be a little bit worse. I figured United would match Delta on their new redemption rates, while in fact United’s new rates are still lower than Delta’s in most markets… as long as you fly United.

So the changes to the United chart represent reasonable devaluations, in my opinion. Ultimately if any “real” currency got devalued by 15-20% every few years, the currency would more or less be worthless, but we know these devaluations are coming when we play this game, and we should expect them. And it makes sense because it’s so much easier to rack up points now than even a few years ago. That’s why “earning and burning” is the name of the game.

Economy class redemptions don’t go up by much in price

It’s worth remembering that most people redeem miles for domestic coach, and the traditional 25,000 mile roundtrip coach ticket isn’t changing. Similarly, international coach redemption rates aren’t going up by much. So really they’re going after those of us that are really looking to maximize our miles, and that’s why it’s important to understand that “our” types of redemptions are the first target for the airlines when they announce devaluations.

But the new Star Alliance award chart… $&@#!

But what on earth happened with United’s Star Alliance redemption rates?

We’re not seeing 15-20% increases in mileage requirements there, but for premium cabin international travel are instead seeing ~50-90% increases. How on earth can they begin to justify that?

From the airlines’ perspective I can in theory see why they’d want to charge different rates for travel on their own flights vs. travel on partner airlines.

  • United not only sets their redemption rates for travel on their own flights, but they also determine how much availability there is.
  • Largely they’re only releasing award space on flights they otherwise think would have empty seats, so the actual cost of these redemptions to them is next to zero.

On the other hand, they have no control over how much award space partner airlines release. For example, back in the day Lufthansa would release so much first class award space that United began blocking it. They had no control over how much award space Lufthansa released and presumably there’s a fixed cost United has to pay Lufthansa for each seat, so when it exceeded what they were willing to pay they simply began preventing United MileagePlus miles from being redeemed for Lufthansa First Class.


Why these changes are horrible… in United’s own words!

Check out this video clip United put together about the Star Alliance:

In particular watch 0:20-0:50. Can you really beat the quote from United’s Managing Director of Alliances?

“United serves roughly 380 destinations directly. But with the Star Alliance network that network grows to 1,300, which really makes United the world’s leading airline.”

So United flies to fewer than a third of the destinations that are served by the Star Alliance, and that’s what makes these changes so ridiculous.

In most cases you don’t have a choice as to whether or not to fly United. This isn’t an issue of wanting to fly the Star Alliance for a better experience (though that’s a good motive as well), but rather just wanting to get to many destinations not served by United, which is the whole selling point of the Star Alliance.

Just for fun, let’s look at the specific “aspirational” destinations highlighted in the video as great Star Alliance redemption options, none of which are serviced by United:

MileagePlus Devaluation to Oceania

Now, if you’re looking to fly coach to Fiji you’re likely reading the wrong blog, but at least there’s no price change there. The business class increase is similarly “reasonable” in context, and given that the only Star Alliance carrier serving Fiji is Air New Zealand, the First class price isn’t especially relevant.

The increases to the other “featured” destinations, however, are so bad it’s almost comical. Want to visit Jakarta or Phuket?

MileagePlus Devaluation to South Asia

There are some great first class products that fly to South Asia, but seriously? 260,000 miles for roundtrip first class to South Asia? 260,000 miles for a saver ticket?!?

Cairo, if possible, is even worse:

MileagePlus Devaluation to Middle East280,000 miles for a saver first class ticket. That’s beyond outrageous. In comparison, European frequent flyer programs with their distance-based charts and fuel surcharges look downright generous.

It would be one thing if United charged a premium for flying a Star Alliance partner to a destination also served by United (although it would still be terrible for loyal flyers), but in effect United is now penalizing you for their operational choices.

You’ll spend 100,000 more miles to fly to Taipei than to Hong Kong, just because United doesn’t fly there.

The best thing you can do for now

One of the major selling points of Ultimate Rewards points has been the ability to transfer them to United MileagePlus. Chase has several cards that accrue Ultimate Rewards points with mega sign-up bonuses of 40,000-50,000 points.

We have three months till the new redemption rates go into effect, so for now I’d highly recommend taking advantage of the old rates while you can. In a subsequent post I’ll share the “sweet spots” of the United award chart.

MileagePlus is probably the single best Ultimate Rewards transfer partner and if you redeem miles for premium cabins the value of those points is about to go down substantially. 50,000 United miles before February are probably the same as 70,000+ miles starting in February, for example.

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  1. @lucky Based on the accuracy of your original prediction I think you’d make an excellent Wall Street analyst 🙂

  2. LOL, what’s up with the affiliate links at the end of this post. “The best thing you can do for now”??? Almost as ridiculous as the UA devaluation.

  3. Look forward to the sweet spot post, as I assume many of us will be unloading StarPesos. Can you also include some discussion of the RTW award?

  4. It’s like United is accepting the fact that their business and first products are far inferior than their Star Alliance counterparts, and thus, charge lower number of miles to fly on United metal.

  5. Really disappointed what they did with these changes. Fortunately, I have always earned and redeemed on biz or fist cabins, specially on Lufthansa 747 and 380. That saves me a lot of money for tickets and baggage fees. Ben is right for not stocking above 300k miles in a single program since we never know when they make this kind of changes

  6. Looks like instead of United, I might just transfer my UR to Korean for a better redemption value. Never thought I’d say that.

  7. UA Insider posted a clarification on FlyerTalk: “Finally, a note about mixed-carrier Saver Awards. Although there will now be two charts, it will be still be possible to combine United/United Express and MileagePlus partner award flights on the same itinerary. However, the MileagePlus partner award cabin level will need to be lower than that of the United-operated segment(s) in order to take advantage of the United Saver Award price. So, for a US to Europe itinerary where the long-haul segment is in United Global First, the intra-Europe connecting segment would need to be in Business or Economy (as they typically already are) to take advantage of the United Saver Award price. Similarly, for a US to Europe itinerary where the long-haul segment is in United BusinessFirst, the intra-Europe connecting segment would need to be in Economy to take advantage of the United Saver Award price.”

    So you can fly from the US-HKG-TPE for the UA award price as long as the HKG-TPE leg is a lower class of service than the US-HKG flight. Not the best situation, but certainly worse than it costing 100k more miles.

  8. Er.. certainly not as bad as it costing 100k more miles. Feel free to edit my previous comment and delete this one. 🙂

  9. Since many of us accumulate our UA miles as UR points and transfer, I’d be interested to read a comparison of redemption rates across different UR transfer partners for all destination zones, particularly Asia. On the surface, it looks like one could get better value on premium travel to Asia by using *gasp* Avios…

  10. I recently booked a “first draft”, if you will, of an award ticket for 2 to CPT from SAN for September 2014. It is (mostly) all in business – but I was planning on hunting for First class over the next 11 months, and was hoping for at least a couple of “aspirational” segments (ie, LH F through Europe, where we have a stopover at LHR).

    I had saved up ~320,000 miles (combination of UA and UR) figuring I had the 300,000 points for the first class US-S. Africa award rate, plus a cushion if the award chart changes before we travel. I spent the 240,000 needed for business – and the remainder is still sitting in my UR count.

    These ticket will now cost 520,000 miles under the new chart. Even business class will cost 320,000 miles, 20,000 miles more than the current first class award. Essentially, my only option now is to look to make changes between now and February 1 – then I am done with what I have. There is no way I will have the 220,000 miles to make changes after Feb 1 if any of the segments are in first (and I can’t imagine a situation where it would be worth the additional 80,000 miles to make a change if the reservation stays in business).

    Keep in mind that this is a market not served by United. To make this ticket work I have flights on UA, SK, TK, ET, and SA.

    Now I need to decide if it is even worth “upgrading” to UA First at the current rates, if availability opens up. Right now my my trans-atlantic segments are in SK and TK business. I have a sinking suspicion, however, that there will very little trans-atlantic first class award space available on UA before Feb 1 . . . .

  11. Really? Hawking the UR cards?

    Good lord

    If you care so much about the drasticness of the devaluation, why don’t you boycott linking any products normally associated with United miles

    United needs Chase. So what could be more effective than if United was forced to explain to Chase why all the bloggers advertising their products no longer want to do so?

  12. I check out flights to Europe a LOT. And almost every single time, the only flights I find are NOT on United but are on partners.

    I think about the time I’ve spent following blogs like this and sites like Milepoint and FlyerTalk and I’m just disgusted. Millions of miles accrued. My thoughts are that I’m lucky to have had some amazing experiences on BA, LH, LX and CX. Maybe it’s time to buy a place in Florida for vacations and be done with this crap. They can’t take away the wonderful experiences we’ve had but the future ain’t bright!

  13. @ Alan – This makes it incredibly complicated to price itineraries. Sure, it’s easy for basic european and asian itineraries, but take a more complex routing my like trip to S. Africa:

    SAN-LHR (Stop)
    LHR-CPT (Dest)

    Which flights NEED to be operated by UA to qualify for the lower price? UA does not operate directly to CPT (the final destination), so I think the answer is that there is no way to get the lower price. However, since most flights to S. Africa route through Europe, I could also see it interpreted that if the transatlantic flight is in UA Global First, and LHR-CPT segment is in business then you qualify for the UA rates. Lastly, UA operates IAH-LOS – so are you required to take that flight, and then you can fly within Africa and still qualify for the lower rate?

    I can only imagine the horror stories that are going to come of this, as the agents create their own interpretations of the new rules.

  14. UA is not the first to have a different burn chart for its own metal vs Star – NZ has had it for years. Then again, NZ Airpoints Dollars are about the most useless form of air miles out there for people like us since each AP$ is “as good as” cash when purchasing a ticket (ie 1AP$=1NZ$, with no capacity restrictions) making it really easy for the lazy flyer to work out how to cash a ticket.

  15. They’ve essentially turned SE Asia into a “3 region” type award. And given the new, as yet undisclosed, stopover rules, I’m betting you can’t even stop over in Europe en route to Asia.

  16. It actually benefits me flying SE Asia to Australia – a reduction from 45k to 30k one way in J or 60k to 40k in F!

  17. Here’s what I don’t understand. United has ATI/JV/revenue sharing with many of its partners. So if its revenue netural then it really shouldn’t be more expensive to redeem on those partners. This is a slap into the face of every MP member. I will move business and since silver is worthless on UA they lost me for all of 2014.

  18. So, the best thing we can do to address this massive devaluation is not take our business elsewhere, but rather to sign up for as many credit cards as possible? That makes about as much sense to me as George Bush telling us we should fight terrorism by shopping. Keep hawking those credit cards Lucky. I’m sure you’ll hook a few hundred more folks into a game that’s increasingly stacked against them.

  19. So whats next? What’s the new value in premium cabin award program? Is AA the place to go? Delta is a Joke but is the real only 3rd player 🙁

  20. As I stated somewhere else they broke 1 of the cardinal rules of loyalty programs.
    I have nominated 2014 a “burn year” on United. I plan to book my full complement of miles and hopefully use them all. I may match to AA or just fly anyone. Hopefully many others do the same and it hurts UA.

  21. WOW. Shocked! This is terrible. I think we should urge your readers to write to complain to the government or the better business bureau. I mean a 87% price increase is crazy, even in this era of MEGA airline consolidation monopolies.


  22. Today I get an email from United telling me it’s my last chance to transfer my hotel points to MP and get a 20% bonus.

  23. @Greg: Stop wasting time trying to reverse the decision with your silly pro-consumer activism and get back to signing up for more credit cards like you were already told. The only way the consumer can win is by signing up for an ever larger number of annual fee credit cards. What part of that don’t you understand?

  24. @ HikerT — I certainly value any feedback, but I think that’s accurate. This “game” is all about taking advantage of the best values while they’re still around.

    Would you rather earn 145K Hilton points before or after their March devaluation?

    Similarly, United has some amazing gems on their award chart, and you can still take advantage of them. Now is the time to do so, given the ridiculous rate at which miles are being devalued.

  25. @ Rob — I know which battles we can win and which we can’t win. There are many things customers have been able to reverse with feedback, and I don’t think published award chart changes has ever been one of them. So am I disappointed? Of course, it’s extremely frustrating, and I even have a vested interest in miles being valuable.

    But it’s also about maximizing the value we can get out of miles now, and the reality is that if you want to earn Ultimate Rewards points, NOW is the time to do it.

    Till a few years ago American Express Membership Rewards points were the most valuable points currency, in my opinion. That’s because they partnered with Aeroplan, which had the lowest redemption rates on Star Alliance and didn’t impose fuel surcharges. When they devalued their award chart and began imposing fuel surcharges, it greatly decreased the value of Membership Rewards points as well.

    There’s still time to take advantage of the old chart, so why not promote that while we can?

  26. @ Franklyn — My guess is that award tickets aren’t part of the codeshare agreement. So my guess is that the compensation from award tickets is settled separately. I could be wrong, though.

  27. @ Dax — So if someone has 30,000 United miles right now and wants to fly to Asia in first class, should they just let their United miles expire or consider getting a Chase Sapphire Preferred so they can earn the remaining miles needed for a one-way first class award?

  28. @ Guil — My guess is that both American and US Airways will eventually have devaluations, though for the time being American and US Airways really have some gems on their award chart. you also still have till February to redeem your United miles at the old rate and till June to redeem your Delta miles at the old rate, for what it’s worth.

  29. Not surprised by a devaluation, but this really is taking a meatcleaver to a angel food cake. Why not just charge one million miles for partner awards. Divorcing UA awards from Partners is anti-alliance IMHO. Glad I used my MP miles for 2 J class US-Eur this year. Whew! It shouldn’t surprise the bloggers or readers of same that the airlines take note of the stories about ‘too good to be true award deals’. They’ve taken note and squashed accordingly. IMHO, the future of mileage programs will become less generous and revert to awarding those who actually pay to fly. Back to the future.

  30. @ Dax — “So if someone has 30,000 United miles right now and wants to fly to Asia in first class, should they just let their United miles expire or consider getting a Chase Sapphire Preferred so they can earn the remaining miles needed for a one-way first class award?”

    What is this bizarre fascination with one way first class awards? Suffering through today’s knee crushing stomach churning coach class is not worth the trouble for a one way trip in first class. Personally I don’t think 30,000 UA points is going to turn into a first class ticket to Asia regardless. By the time the necessary points have been earned and posted most of the good saver awards will be long gone anyhow.

    Speaking of which, I have around 250,000 UR miles thanks to your prior advice. So far as I can tell my points just became about half as valuable as they were before. It’s true that if I can act really fast I can still put together a trip to wherever using the old chart. Unfortunately every other points holder is going to be part of the exact same mad dash to book whatever is left, meaning an already limited number of options are about to get a whole lot more limited.

    Telling folks to BOOK NOW! with points already accrued makes perfect sense. Those folks need to know what’s happening and soon. However, telling folks to SIGN UP NOW! for more credit cards tied to United makes no sense at all. Unless you’re selling a service to find increasingly rare seats for a sea of suckers quickly running out of time.

    In some ways your blog is refreshingly different from the usual points blog, but in other ways it’s depressingly similar.

  31. DOUBLE STOPOVER GONE. Gee which blogger has been blabbing and bragging nonstop about double stopover double open jaw?

    Congrats on screwing us. Those of us outside of hubs often NEED that flexibility to book an award. Thanks for nothing.

  32. I consider myself “lucky”. I was planning to transfer 90k UR points this week to UA since I have a lot baked there anyway. I may do so after I read your sweet spot report, not sure yet. Currently have close to 80k UA miles and wanted to top it off….

    So to Europe, no change for me, UA is the choice. I live on the East coast and consider F a waste of miles. J is perfect and rather fly UA than LH J.
    Asia I am happy with Oneworld ( CX, JP, MH), or may use Lifemiles on ANA. Not an SQ kind of guy.
    Cairo…are you kidding me ??? 280k is cheap if you value your sanity !!! No flying there anytime soon.

    In my opinion, Lifemiles seems to be the a damn good addition to *A. Next promo please !

    Thank God I have been educating myself by reading your blog, Frequent miler, and FT.

    PS Yeah those links were not tastefully placed today….

  33. I wrote here 2 weeks ago, asking what sense it makes for, say, AA to block out availability on its own metal, then turn around and pay alliance partners to issue award tickets. I now see UA agrees.

    We’ll see how OMAAT describes credit cards that re geared to MP miles (Chase Inks, Sapphires and Freedoms) in the future.

  34. Are there any international programs that are worth moving to? I understand I’d miss out on domestic upgrades but I can put up with that if it means reasonably priced international premium cabin awards. I looked at Lifemiles which seems ok though unknown what the earn rates on US carriers are. Lufthansa seems to be devaluing earning miles on UAL (which would be the main source of earn). Any others come to mind?

  35. I would agree that this is simply an admission of the obvious: UA’s international busininess and first are crap. This values their business and first more accurately compared to say ANA or Asiana. Actually, it probabaly still undevalues the Star Alliance partner premium cabins. The partners should kick UA out.

  36. For a booking made before Feb 1st for travel after, can we make changes to that after Feb 1 and keep the old rate?

  37. @Sam – UA is a founding member of Star Alliance. They’re not getting kicked out. If they leave, it’ll be of their own free will.

  38. Also between europe and south east asia regions, it gets worse. Not only the fact that UA does not operate (or not a single flight that I know) on these routes, miles to redeem increase as well. It is so ridiculous that UA publishes its award chart for redeeming on its own flights in these 2 regions. Maybe I miss something here, please correct me if im wrong.

  39. Lucky, how do you feel about contributing to this devaluation? These types of blogs, which make it easy for nobodies to wrack up miles, undoubtedly contribute to miles inflation and the need for programs to revalue their miles from time to time. Disagree?

    Also the incessant picture taking of first class cabins probably doesn’t help, just saying.

  40. The overwhelming message of United is: we need to make money, not give seats to mile hoarders for free. Grow up gentlemen!

  41. @ Fred — I think you’re giving bloggers way too much credit. Collecting miles has gone really mainstream, and now more than half of miles earned are through means other than flying.

    The best I can do to help people is point out the best deals that are available now. As long as we stay on top of the best deals we’re doing everything we can to maximize the situation.

  42. @E @Lucky I read something that said the current rules would apply to changes, which meant that a date change was okay, but you had to keep the current flights, anything else that would result in the ticket being repriced or reissued (sounded like even if it would have been the same or if the fees would be waived) would result in the new rates. Which is unfortunate as it mean you essentially have to travel by 2/15 on a bunch of the *A carriers who only open up space a couple weeks in advance.

  43. “For a booking made before Feb 1st for travel after, can we make changes to that after Feb 1 and keep the old rate?”

    Any confirmation on that yet?

  44. @ E — United has confirmed that you can change the date or flight, but not the route or airline, or else the ticket will be repriced.

  45. Ben, I am in the process of planning a trip to Italy in May. Best case scenario would be to fly LAX>FRA>FLR on LH but that LAX>FRA longhaul flight is hard to snag and seems to come up more closer to departure date. If I book another LH flight from LAX>FLR w/ multiple connections in between now and then later change to the LAX>FRA>FLR flight, will I be able to keep the old award rates or will that trigger the new rate?

  46. Ben, the airline wouldnt’ change as it would all be on LH. But having an extra connection would be considered a routing change?

  47. Ok one last question. If i book a LAX>FRA>FLR flight in economy for a date in December, would I be able to change that for a LAX>FRA>FLR flight in business class for a date in May if it becomes available?

  48. Just so United know…not that they care? I am not flying with them any more because of this practice. If everyone would do the same then maybe they would see that people that work these program in reality really pay for these programs. Just as you said how can they justify this practice. They where my go to airlines as I have choice but i will not spend one more nickel with them nor will I fly or support there airlines. i am switching to Alaska Airlines for the programs they offer. If I am going to pay that many mile for United Airlines(3 Star) why would I not pay the same on Emirates(5star)? United will loose business because of this, it might take a while to notice but they will suffer from these changes!!!! Thanks for letting me vent. Chris

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