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One of the last ways I wanted to wake up out of our cozy Halloween induced coma was with my phone blowing up with messages of a United award chart devaluation, but that is exactly what happened this morning (and boy are folks up way too early today). I’m going to jump to the chase right up front. This is bad, and in some cases really bad, but if you use your miles to primarily fly in the US, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, or in economy internationally, or primarily on United operated flights in premium cabins internationally it isn’t horrible. Tune out the noise that United miles are now the next Delta SkyPesos, because it simply isn’t true for most of us. I think the majority of family travelers, even though in the miles and points world, aren’t going to be impacted more than maybe 15% max by this devaluation, some less than that. Note that all of the changes don’t go into effect until February 1, 2014, so you have three months to make reservations at the current rates, so you can book for travel essentially through 2014 with the current award chart (assuming you can find availability for what you want).
Highlights of some award chart changes:
However, if you like your United miles in order to fly in first class on premium international airlines then this is pretty bad. I’ll circle back to some analysis in a minute, but first here are some of the highlights of the changes, or low-lights as the case may be.
- There are no changes to award redemptions in the lower 48 or Canada at the economy, business, or first class level.
- Partner awards on other Star Alliance airlines (like Lufthansa, Swiss, Air Canada, ANA, etc.) now price differently (ie higher) than awards on United metal to some regions.
- Economy flights at 700 miles or less in US/Canada are still 10,000 miles each way.
- Saver economy awards to/from the US or Canada to Alaska are now 17.5k miles each way, up from 12.5k miles each way.
- You can no longer have a stopover on a domestic award ticket for an additional 10,000 miles.
- Economy saver redemptions from the US/Canada to Hawaii increase 2.5k miles each way. Business and first class Hawaii saver redemptions remain the same, though standard redemptions do increase.
- Intra-Hawaii flights on partners increase 1,000 miles from 5k to 6k.
- Saver awards from US/Canada to the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America all remain the same for all cabins.
- Saver awards from US/Canada to Southern South America remain the same in economy at the saver level, but increase 5k each way for business, and 2.5k each way in first.
- Saver economy awards to Europe remain the same (30k each way), but increases 7.5k miles each way in business (to 57.5k each way), and increases 12.5k miles each way in first (to 80k each way) on United operated flights.
- Partner awards to Europe also remain the same in economy at 30k miles each way, but increase 20k each way in business (to 70k) and increase a whopping 42.5k each way in first (to 110k)!
- Saver economy awards from the US to Australia/New Zealand remain unchanged at 40k each way, increase 2.5k miles each way in business (to 70k), and remain unchanged in first class (80k) on flights operated by United.
- Partner awards from the US to Australia/New Zealand remain unchanged in economy at 40k each way, increase 12.5k each way in business (to 80k), and increase a tremendous 50k each way in first to 130k.
- Economy saver awards from the US to Japan increase 2.5k each way (to 35k), increase 5k in business each way (to 65k), and increase 12.5 each way in first (to 80k) on United operated flights.
- Partner awards from the US to Japan in economy increase 2.5k each way (to 35k), increase 15k each way in business (to 80k), and increase a very high 42,500 each way in first.
- The partner award pricing also applies to Business/First Awards for itineraries that include travel on both United and at least one partner when at least one flight segment on a partner is in Business or First.
I’m not going to list the changes in every single region here, but I think these highlights get the point across. The awards that I think many American families use the most aren’t changing very much, if at all, but the premium Trans-Atlantic or Trans-Pacific awards are going up. If you are on a partner airline for your premium cabin (especially first class) on flights cross the oceans get ready to spend lots more miles starting February 1.
Not Terrible for All Travelers:
I have spent 67.5k United miles to fly from Zurich – Frankfurt – San Francisco in Lufthansa First Class, and it was amazing. I’m very glad I had the chance to make that redemption when I did, and if I can squeeze one more similar redemption in at the current levels then that would be great. However, the most amazing part of it for me was simply the ability to sleep on the long flight.
Honestly, that can be done on a United operated flight almost as good as on a premium carrier like Lufthansa. I would know because most of my premium cabin international flights have been on United operated flights, mostly because the availability when booking in advance is often pretty good on United. I know there are better products out there, but being in the “best seat in the sky” while flying to another country isn’t the reason I travel. I travel to go somewhere, and these award chart changes will impact you a lot less if you are okay on United operated flights. They will impact you barely at all if you are okay in economy seats whether it is on United or a partner. I don’t personally want to travel in super long flights in coach because I can’t sleep well there, but it would still get me from Point A to Point B if I had to do it that way. Personally, I’ll still use my miles for premium international awards, but will tend even more toward United operated flights than I did in the past.
Get Smarter About Alternatives:
Another thing I strongly urge you to do is get smarter about earning and redeeming miles and points. If you have previously ignored some non-US programs (like LifeMiles) it might be time to give them another look. You don’t need to be a pro in all mileage programs, but become more knowledgeable about the specific awards and destinations you are interested in. I’m sure other programs, especially those in the US, will follow United’s lead here, but at least for now there will be some much better deals to be had in airlines like American or US Airways. Heck, say you want to take your family to Alaska using Ultimate Reward points. Instead of transferring the points to United where it will soon run you 35,000 miles per person round trip in coach to Alaska from the US, consider transferring them to Korean Air for just 20,000 miles round trip to Alaska in coach (on partner Alaska Airlines), and you can get a free stopover. If you want to take your family to Australia in business class on Star Alliance partners, then forget United at 160k round trip, and look to US Airways where you can do the same for just 110k round trip (at least for now). If you want to go to Hawaii in coach with your family, then ignore United’s 45k round trip requirement, and do it for as low as 25k British Airways Avios RT from the West Coast (on partners American and Alaska).
Don’t Cut Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face:
I understand totally that this change stinks, and when you couple it with other recent changes United has made (max segments on some awards, United Club downgrades, revenue requirement for elite status, etc.), it may be the last straw for a few to leave the program. However, they still don’t impose fuel surcharges, still don’t have a distance based chart, and still didn’t move to a fixed mile value/revenue based award chart, so I think we have seen some extreme over-reactions this morning. How often do you really need to fly in first class on a partner airline on Ultimate Reward points you earned with a Vanilla Reload card or a sign-up bonus? Once every now and then might be nice, but if I can still get to Europe in a lie-flat bed for just 15% more miles (in United BusinessFirst) then I hardly think this is life altering. Heck, I can rough it in coach for no additional miles. I know some routes increased more than that, but very few of us need first class (and honestly what were the chances of getting it for a family of four anyway).
I’ve seen photos of people throwing their United stuff in the trash, and if that is what you need to do, then go for it. I won’t be trashing anything (and send your free drink coupons and unwanted United miles to me), but I will be seeing if I can make a fancy redemption before the change, and I will be trying to get even smarter about all the options that are out there. I won’t be dumping all my United miles/Ultimate Reward points in a panic, and I won’t be ignoring a program that can still have some value after Feb 1…just a bit less than it did before.
Don’t treat miles as an investment:
I feel like a broken record, but miles and points are not an investment. They are to be earned, and used, as needed. If you sit on them then just be aware that when you try to redeem them several years down the road, they will be worth less in all programs. It is a consistent fact of the miles and points world. Don’t go out of your way to earn more than you need in the foreseeable future, and don’t feel bad when you use what you have to create some awesome trips. Heck, even with United miles you can still redeem at current rates virtually through the end of 2014, so make the most of it!
For what it is worth, these are my thoughts and approach toward today’s devaluation. What are yours?