What I’d Least Like to See Changed about Each Frequent Flyer Program

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United scared me a lot on Friday when it tweeted that changes were coming to MileagePlus.

United still hasn’t told us what those changes are, but insists we’ll like them.

It’s very unlikely I’ll like them much. It could be a minor enhancement, but there are very few things I would change about United MileagePlus that United would also change. (That is, I would love for the change to be that all awards now cost 5,000 miles, but that won’t happen.)

But there are a lot of negative possible changes that could come like award chart devaluations, restrictions on routing rules, more surcharges and fees, or a throttling of ultra-premium availability.

In this post I’ll lay out my single biggest fear for each of several major programs’ next round of changes.

For pretty much every airline, my biggest fear is that they replace their regular award miles with a revenue-based redemption system. Revenue-based programs like Southwest or Arrival miles are awesome, but so are real chart-based miles. Having some of each is better still.

Because that’s my biggest fear for every program, I’ll focus on other program-specific fears.

United

I am most afraid of United cutting the ability to redeem for Lufthansa First Class or jacking up its price significantly.

This is a personal fear because I haven’t flown Lufthansa First Class and hope to fly it in March. Ordinarily I would book the award now for next March, but United only has access to Lufthansa First Class within two weeks of departure.

Adding to my fear is that US Airways hasn’t allowed redemptions for Lufthansa First Class for over a year and even added a note to its award chart recently saying US Airways miles couldn’t be used for Lufthansa First Class.

That suggests to me that Lufthansa charges partners quite a bit for First Class redemptions, and US Airways doesn’t want to pay it. Let’s hope United doesn’t follow suit.

If United eliminated the option to redeem for Lufthansa First Class, the price of Lufthansa First Class would skyrocket. For instance, United charges 67,500 miles and $2.50 from the US to Germany in Lufthansa First Class one way. Lufthansa charges 85,000 miles and $430 for the same flight.

American Airlines

I am most afraid of American Airlines cutting its Explorer Award Chart or replacing it with a far worse distance-based chart.

Right now, American offers by far the cheapest round-the-world awards on which you can add the most stops. See The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 130k American Airlines Miles (Soon) or 280k Now.

I’m very anxious to see how the new American’s (post American/US Airways merger) award chart looks. I definitely hope this aspect survives in its current form.

US Airways

I am most afraid of losing the combination of the US Airways chart’s sweet spots and the routing rules its agents permit.

Google “US Airways chart sweet spot milevalue” and a half dozen results will come up. This chart is by far the best among its peers. Add in the fact that agents will generally let you route however you want to get to your destination, and you have the ability to create some incredible and cheap awards like this one.

Unfortunately, I expect to lose both of these aspects of the US Airways program during the merger with American Airlines. I think American’s chart (or something worse) will dictate and American’s computers will check routings.

That’s why I’m suggesting earning and burning US Airways miles before changes are made.

Delta

I am most afraid of losing the ability to book Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic flights without surcharges.

Virgin Australia has an awesome product with great availability even at peak times. Delta used to charge fuel surcharges to book Virgin Australia, but then stopped. Let’s keep it that way.

A few days ago I detailed how to fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class roundtrip from the US to Europe for 100k SkyMiles plus taxes and no fuel surcharges.

Losing either of these options would hurt the already very weak SkyMiles program.

British Airways

British Airways charges for every single flight on an award, so the only way to maximize its program is to book short, direct flights that would be expensive with cash.

That means the only things British Airways could really do to make us worse off would be to devalue its chart or to impose more and higher fuel surcharges.

Let’s hope it does neither.

Southwest

The worst thing Southwest could do is take away the ability for credit card points and credit card sign up bonuses to count toward the 110k points needed for a companion pass. I expect this to happen at some point, but no one knows when.

What possible award program changes are you most afraid of? What do you think the United announcement is?



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3 Responses to What I’d Least Like to See Changed about Each Frequent Flyer Program

  1. I have the same fear as you with the AA Explorer award. I am planning to redeem a RTW Explorer award next year and live in constant fear that American will significantly de-value the award chart after the merger.

  2. Take down this post. Don’t give airlines any ideas.

  3. Lets hope you are wrong about the changes, at least for the foreseeable future.

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