Some Clarifications on Today’s United Devaluation

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Unless your Halloween candy hangover lasted even longer than mine, I’m sure you have heard about today’s devaluation from United.  If you haven’t, here is my post on that topic.  Basically, if you use your United miles in the lower 48, Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, or travel internationally in coach, or in a premium cabin internationally on United operated flights, the devaluation either won’t hit you at all, or it is just a more modest change of around 15% increase in miles required.  However, if you use your miles to fly across the ocean in a premium cabin on a Star Alliance partner this is pretty bad… and really, really bad in first class.

At this point, one of your best weapons against the devaluation is simply knowledge.  Knowledge both of options via other award programs, as well as full knowledge as to how the details of this devaluation will play out.  I have seen a few common questions emerge today, and UA Insider on Flyertalk has weighed in with some answers that I think are helpful….even if you don’t like all the answers.

This info can be found on this Flyertalk thread, but I have also pasted the questions and info here (albeit in a slightly different format):

Wow, the biggest % jumps are in Star Alliance First class. The miles required for these routes moved significantly. Why would these routes be affected so much more (on a % basis), then the other classes of service?

You raise a fundamental question. Frankly, the levels at which we currently offer these awards, particularly in the premium cabins, have not kept up with the increased cost from our partners to United. It’s been several years since we’ve adjusted our award pricing, and in many cases what we’ve been charging for awards has gotten highly out of sync with what it costs United to supply partner award seats to our customers. Being able to book premium-cabin award travel across 30+ MileagePlus partners is of course a strong benefit of the program, and we wanted to maintain access to these itineraries instead of restricting them altogether—an approach other programs have taken.

If I book an award in Jan 2014 and then make changes in Feb or beyond (in routing, airline, origin, destination, etc), will it be repriced according to new mileage reqs. or will I keep the old pricing on that ticket?

Our existing change process will apply. Changes to awards that require a change in date do not result in a change to the award price. Any other change will require an add/collect in miles and fees for changes or cancellations will still apply as per our existing policies.

Do these rates apply for tickets purchased after Feb 1 or for travel after Feb 1?  That is, if you purchase a ticket now, to fly Mar 15, will that be new or old pricing?

The new award pricing takes effect for bookings made on or after Feb 1, 2014 for all future travel dates. If you purchase a ticket now for travel on March 15, and no changes are made to the itinerary, the current pricing will apply.
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.

I think this last point really puts to bed some of the grumbles today that you are forced onto the partner chart to get to destinations that United doesn’t directly serve.  To be clear, I don’t like these changes at all, but at least you can get to destinations not served directly by United without getting forced onto the much more costly partner award chart as long as the partner segments are in a lower cabin than your United segment.  For example, if I fly United business class to Houston – Frankfurt, and then connect to a Lufthansa economy flight from Frankfurt to Paris, I will still be charged the price on the United award chart.  Again, you don’t have to like the answer, but at least knowing the answer can help formulate the best strategy for you.
As for me, I am currently debating an actual trip to Paris.  I was planning to buy the coach ticket with cash and use a United systemwide upgrade (earned by hitting 1k status) to fly in business class.  There were lots of reasons for that, one of which was simply that the redemption rate on miles wasn’t that great given the price of the ticket.  I may still stick with my original plan, or I may decide now is a good time to burn miles instead of spending precious cash.  My original plan is not directly impacted by this devaluation, but this may be a good time to fly a different Star Alliance carrier either on United or US Airways miles.  At least I have some time to decide, and I am sure many of you are doing your own calculations for upcoming trips and redemptions!
I hope you all have a great weekend, and I mean that seriously.  Miles and points are awesome, and devaluations stink.  However, we always have, and always will find a way to work with the existing ways to earn and burn to still get where we want to be, and that is a pretty cool thing.  I’m not going to lose sleep over this, and hope none of you do either.

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  1. On question 2 (changes made after 1/31/14), if I change the date and routing, but keep the origin/destination and class of service the same, do the new rates or the old rates apply? The answer implies new rates would apply…

  2. I posted this on ft, but got lost to the massive ranting…do you know how repricing will work if there’s a schedule change.

    e.g. If I book a F award SAN-SFO-FRA on UA metal, but the connecting flight from SAN-SFO changes to time that would miss UA flight but catch LH flight will I be able to switch without repricing (assuming there’s space)?

  3. econjon, my bet is that in case of a schedule change like the one you point out I’m betting they would work with you without a repricing.

  4. Mommypoints: Thanks for the summary, and reasonably calm view of this whole situation.

    I found myself getting really angry, not at United but rather at all the over-entitled whiners. “Call Chase and complain!”, “Cancel your co-branded cards”,”fly other airlines!”..

    I find it bizarre that so many people would feel that it is their “right” to fly for the number of points/miles on today’s United chart, when it’s very clear that United can do whatever they want.

    One of the bloggers (TPG, perhaps) made the observation a while ago that miles & points are perishable quantities and need to be *used*. I can’t agree more. This is why.

    Life is what it is, and it’s all about adapting.

  5. “United can do whatever they want”? Fine – but that sword cuts both ways, Rob. Why should I give United my business if they’re going to shaft me in return? Why should I keep their co-branded credit cards in my wallet if the miles I EARN (they are NOT a gift!) are now useless to me? Why should I book revenue flights on United when other carriers offer better service?

    Periodic award devaluations are one thing; inflation is a universal fact of life, right up there with death and taxes. But this wasn’t just a sensible tweeking of United’s award chart; they gutted it. Given that most people do have to save up for a while to earn enough miles to be useful and that booking award travel is cumbersome and requires a lot of advance planning at the best of times, I don’t think it’s fair to call the people complaining about this very abrupt massive devaluation of United’s award chart over-entitled whiners (unless you think complaining when you don’t get what you’ve paid for is whining). Frankly, not canceling my Mileage Explorer card would be stupid, as right now it certainly doesn’t deliver $95/year worth of value.

  6. I don’t know if i would call Chase to complain (it won’t do any good whatsowever) but I certainly would call and cancel your Chase UA card, particularly if you already a UA elite. There is no reason to accumulate UA miles when you can get cash or points that are more valuable with other card. And elites don’t need to pay $95 to get the card benefits.

  7. It sounds like stopover rules are also changing. (That could be a lot more painful for us second world coach flyers than the devaluation.) Does anyone have the details?

  8. UAPhil, I haven’t seen anything about stopovers yet (other than no 10k stopover on domestic awards), but maybe I missed something.

  9. United’s Newest Customer Unfriendly Campaign: Increase the Cost of Award Tickets,raising the mileage redemption levels for some awards over 60%. We don’t have to take this sitting down!
    -Retweet my Tweet here and send your own tweets to @United with the hashtag: #UnitedUnfriendly
    The more you post the quicker mainstream media will pick up on this story. Let’s get it trending!

    -Express your displeasure to Chase (Twitter: @Chase, @Chase Support) about these changes. Chase buys billions of dollars of United miles and isn’t likely to be happy that they’ve been devalued. They’re especially not going to be happy to lose customers to cards like the Starwood AMEX. If anyone has the power to put pressure on United it’s Chase.

    -Contact United CEO Jeff Smisek and let him know how these changes will affect your travel patterns and credit card spending. He can be reached at jeff.smisek@united.com

    -If you feel that an 87% increase is just flat-out unfair you can also file a complaint with the US DOT. Sure United is free to do what they want, but this devaluation simply doesn’t happen if Continental and United were still competing. Delta and Northwest miles have gone from being worthwhile to being worthless thanks to their merger. Let the DOT know that you feel an 87% increase in the cost of some awards is unfair to consumers and that you want to see the DOT keep fighting the American-USAirways merger in court. If that merger goes through you can be sure we’ll be seeing more painful changes like this one. To Europe
    Business class increases by 7,500 miles to 57,500 miles each way on United flights and by 12,500 miles to 80,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Business class increases by 20,000 miles to 70,000 miles each way on Star Alliance flights and by 42,500 miles to 110,000 miles each way in First Class.

    This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    4. To India

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 42,500 miles on United flights. Business class increases by 10,000 miles to 70,000 miles aeach way on United flights and by 10,000 miles to 90,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 42,500 miles on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa etc. Business class increases by 20,000 miles to 80,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights

    And increases by 60,000 miles to 140,000 miles each way in First Class. It used to be 160,000 miles for a round-trip!

    This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    5. To South Asia (Thailand, Singapore etc.)

    Coach award increase by 7,500 miles to 40,000 miles on United flights. Business class increases by 10,000 miles to 70,000 miles each way on United flights and by 10,000 miles to 90,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Coach award increase by 7,500 miles to 40,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, etc. Business class increases by 20,000 miles to 80,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights.

    And First Class increases by 60,000 miles to 130,000 miles each way. This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    6. To Australia or New Zealand

    No change to coach awards (40,000 miles) on United flights. Business class increases by 2,500 miles to 70,000 miles each way on United flights and remains the same in First Class.

    Coach awards remain the same (40,000 miles) each way on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, etc. Business class increases by 12,500 miles to 80,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights.

    And First Class increases by 50,000 miles to 130,000 miles each way. This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    7. To Japan

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 35,000 miles on United flights. Business class increases by 5,000 miles to 65,000 miles each way on United flights and increases by 12,500 miles to 80,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 35,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, etc. Business class increases by 15,000 miles to 75,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights.

    And First Class increases by 42,500 miles to 110,000 miles each way. This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!

  10. @DLNevins – clearly this is a big deal for you and you should take your business elsewhere. In fact, I encourage you to do so. Less competition for me. 🙂

    I don’t see how this is an “abrupt” change – they gave everyone 3 months of warning. An abrupt change would have been if they’d changed it as of November 1st.

    Massive? Perhaps. It depends a lot on why and how you use your miles. For *me*, and I emphasize that this is for me, this change is in the noise. I use my miles as an alternative to high prices domestically and to Canada, mostly, and I go for saver awards.

    Occasionally (next year, for example) I use miles to buy business class fun trips. Next year’s trip to Europe (with 2 stopovers & open jaws) cost me 100K miles. Now up to 140K miles if I booked it after February 1st. Kind of a big change, for sure, but when I book my next trip with the new rules I’ll consider whether sitting in J is worth the extra 40K, or if I can find my way there with United in J for 115K.

    Admittedly, before February 1st I’ll burn 100K miles on a round-trip partner award to friends in Europe, and be sure to take advantage of the ability to change the dates. After all, there will be a lot more award space available!

    As for my comment on whining – I hold to it. People are behaving like United stole their favorite teddy bear and are jumping up and down like children screaming “it’s not fair”.

    I’m not particularly happy that my stash of miles is worth less if I want to fly J to visit my friends, but it’s been clear forever that FF miles are perishable quantities. USE them, don’t save them. Now you’ve got a 3 month window to do that.

    United made a business decision that they feel is appropriate. FF miles are a HUGE liability for the company when people hoard them. This is one way to make sure they get used and off the books in the next year or two, and to decrease that liability. It’s not even hard to understand.

  11. My wife and I have been looking for 2 F awards to Europe for next Sept / Oct. Have not been able to find anything. Maybe with the increase in point requirements, they will open up more award seats so that we can actually use the points.

  12. will United add some new features on their website so that we can select the partner segments to be 1 cabin below in rank of the United long haul? i know it often shows MIXED cabin awards, but those are often only shown if no equal cabin on the itinerary.

    but if say LH has both economy and biz, and we book United biz… hopefully we can manually select for the LH economy cabin even if LH biz is there.

  13. @Dean “Maybe with the increase in point requirements, they will open up more award seats”

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen. 🙁

  14. I understand that bookings made (before 2/1) can have a change of travel dates (after 2/1) and nothing else without a penalty that triggers the new, higher rates (whether your booking a first/business class or Star Alliance carrier. That existing rule stay in affect. But what happens if I book a flight now and make a date change…does the routing HAVE to be on the same metal? If there is something else available on a different airline, do any changes kick in, or does the routing from origin/destination have to be on the same carrier? That rule might be in place right now, I just don’t know off hand. For example, if I booked a non-stop now (for travel in March) SFO to NRT on UAL, can the new rebooking dates be made on ANA (assuming seats are available) without paying more? And vice versa?

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