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United announced a massive devaluation of its miles on October 31, 2013 to take effect for awards booked February 1, 2014 or later. Until January 31, 2014, I’ll be running posts about the best ways to burn United miles.

Facts about the upcoming United devaluation:

  1. You can book United awards on January 31, 2014 (the last day before the devaluation) for travel as far out as the first days of 2015 since united.com allows awards to be booked up to 337 days in advance.
  2. United has said that–even post-devaluation–mere date changes on awards booked pre-devaluation will not incur a miles price increase. For example if you book Chicago to London one way in United business class today for an October 2014 departure for 50k miles and decide next month to push the trip back by a week, you will not have to pay the new price of 57,500 miles. You will just have to pay the normal change fee of $75.
  3. All travel on award tickets must be completed within one year of the original booking date. No amount of award changes can change this fact. If you ticket an award on January 31, 2014, you can push back the travel date of the award as far as January 31, 2015, but no farther.

Starting February 1st, Lufthansa First Class bookings go from only 67,500 miles each way from the US to Europe to 110,000 miles each way! (See full comparison charts of the increases.)

Add to these facts the fact that Lufthansa only releases its First Class seats to United about two weeks before departure, and it looked like our last chance to fly reasonably priced Lufthansa First Class would be next month.

In fact, with one simple trick, you can book Lufthansa First Class flights at their current miles price for flights until January 2015 for only a $100 (or less) fee!

How can you lock in current Lufthansa First Class prices for all of 2014?

This trick combines three ideas:

  1. United’s little known “Cancel & Rebook Later” feature.
  2. The fact that mere date changes will not cause a miles repricing even post-devaluation.
  3. You have one year to complete flights on an award booking.

The trick is three steps:

  1. Book a Lufthansa First Class award by January 31, 2014 on the route you want to fly in the next 12 months.
  2. Cancel the flight without cancelling the award.
  3. Rebook a new Lufthansa flight within two weeks of your departure date.

Step 1: Book an award with United miles on a route you want to fly in the next year that includes one or more segments in Lufthansa First Class.

For instance, imagine you want to fly from Charlottesville, Virginia to Frankfurt, Germany in October 2014. You would book that award today for any day. The day you originally book it for doesn’t matter. There is space on the route three days from now. Book it.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 3.18.05 AM

If you want to fly a roundtrip award later, book a roundtrip. In a later step, we need to book flights on the same airlines to the same cities–all we can change is the date–so make sure you book what you want.

You don’t have to limit yourself to one Lufthansa flight. The US to Europe to Asia on two longhaul Lufthansa flights is only 67,500 to 70,000 miles in First Class.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 3.17.01 AM

Step 2: Cancel the award, while leaving your option to rebook it later open. (Do not redeposit the miles.)

To cancel the award, sign into your united.com account and click Change/View Existing Reservations under Reservations from the home page.

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 10.04.47 PM

Find the award from your list of current reservations, and click on it.

On the page that displays the full reservation, click Cancel/Refund.Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 10.05.01 PM

You will be given two options. The one on the right is to cancel the award and get a refund of the miles and taxes minus a $200 (or less if you have elite status) cancellation fee. Do not select this option to Cancel Trip & Redeposit Miles.

Instead select Cancel Reservation & Rebook later on the left.

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 10.05.21 PM

Selecting this option gives you one year from the date of the original booking to rebook a new award in its place. If you make that rebooking along the same route, it won’t cost you any more miles than your original booking.

This choice is considered a change, so it should cost $100. (Sometimes united.com mysteriously charges too little for changes, though, so $100 is the maximum this trick will cost.)

Step 3: Wait until the trip you really want to take is 15 days out and start searching for Lufthansa First Class space on the day you want to fly. Book it.

I actually do not know how exactly to do the booking in this last step because I have never used the Cancel Reservation & Rebook Later button. This should be pretty easy though. You’d definitely be able to call an agent to do the rebooking, and it may even be possible online.

What are some great Lufthansa First Class award sweet spots?

Risks

Before booking a Lufthansa award, understand the risks of the plan I outlined:

  1. There ends up being no Lufthansa First Class award space when you want to fly. This could happen if you pick a peak time/route and don’t have flexibility. It could also happen if Lufthansa stops releasing First Class award space to partners like Singapore Airlines has. Downside: $200 cancellation fee.
  2. Anything else goes wrong. Downside: $200 cancellation fee.

Since the upside is locking in a 110k mile ticket (or several) for 67.5k miles, and the downside is $200 maximum, this is a path worth considering. But remember that your mileage may vary.

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