The massive devaluation of United miles that I first reported earlier today is unambiguously bad news for miles collectors.
Don’t flame the comments of this post by saying I am calling it a good thing. The devaluation and introduction of a second chart are bad things, very bad things.
But there are some pieces of good news or relative good news in the devaluation, and this post will focus on those.
What are the eight silver linings in today’s disastrous United devaluation?
1. Economy Award Prices Largely Untouched
Here are the new and old charts for one way economy awards that originate or terminate in the US.
I see a lot of awards that stay the same or go up only mildly. The only price increase that is big is the US to South Asia, which includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Going from 65k to 80k roundtrip to South Asia is a big loss. In fact, I just booked my friend from Los Angeles to Phuket, Thailand with a later free oneway to Newark, and I loved paying only 65k United miles for the award. See Anatomy of an Award: Last Minute United Award from Los Angeles to Phuket with a Later Free Oneway.
But that award was oddly priced the same as the US to Japan, which is far shorter. And US Airways already charges 80k miles roundtrip to Southeast Asia, so I can’t say that the new price is anything other than fair.
The best news for economy lovers is that their award prices are now probably locked in for at least two years, since airlines tend to devalue their charts every 2-4 years. If you liked the old economy prices, you have to be happy about 2-4 years of these new prices.
2. Western Hemisphere Prices Largely Untouched
Here are the new and old charts for one way economy, business, and first class awards that go from the US throughout the Western Hemisphere.
The biggest change is for business class from the US to Southern South America, which is Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. This devaluation is a bummer because Rookie Alli really got great value from her flat bed from Buenos Aires to Newark, which will now cost 55k United miles each way.
Again, the best news for Latin America lovers like me is that their award prices are now probably locked in for at least two years, since airlines tend to devalue their charts every 2-4 years. If you liked the old Western Hemisphere prices, you have to be happy about 2-4 years of these new prices.
There were three big airline mile devaluations announced this year.
In mid-August, Delta announced that all flights from June 1, 2014 on would be on a new award chart. The new award chart has all the same economy award prices, but business class prices that cost 10-25% more.
So we have 9.5 months to book at the old prices, but only for travel before June 1, 2014. Anyone planning to book a summer trip the day of the devaluation had his miles devalued with no notice.
So we have six months to book at the old price, but only for travel before March 31, 2014. Anyone planning to book a trip in April or beyond on the day of the devaluation had his points devalued with no notice.
Today United announced that all bookings from February 1, 2014 on will be on one of two new charts that require up to 87% more miles than the current chart.
So we have three months to book at the old price, and we can book as far out as we normally can, which is about 11 months. Effectively we have 14 months to travel at the old rates, and no one had his miles devalued immediately. Everyone has three months to plan.
I prefer United’s system of notice and change–bookings made after a certain date cost more–to Delta’s and Southwest’s–flights after a certain date cost more. It’s fairer because there is no immediate devaluation for anybody, and we get longer to travel at the current rates.
4. Price Reductions
Price reductions are few and far between, and probably not too useful for US-based flyers. But there are some, and they could come in handy.
Hat tip to commenter Paul Tiffen for flagging South Asia to Australia/New Zealand dropping substantially.
Currently Hong Kong to Auckland costs 30k/45k/60k each way in economy/business/first. That will drop to 17.5k/30k/40k each way on the new partner chart.
What other price reductions do you see?
5. Australia Is Basically Unchanged on United Metal
The current prices to Australia on the United awards that route via San Francisco and Los Angeles to Sydney and Melbourne are 40k/67.5k/80k each way in economy/business/first. That will rise to 40k/70k/80k.
Economy and Global First–which I flew last New Year’s Eve and reviewed here–remain the same price no matter where in the US you live as long as you fly only United flights on the award.
The partner award chart to Australia skyrockets to 40k/80k/130k each way, but that will only affect the Vancouver-to-Sydney flight on Air Canada and routings through Asia because Air New Zealand doesn’t release business class space to partners.
6. No Fuel Surcharges
Even worse than inflating miles prices would have been an imposition of fuel surcharges on awards to match foreign carriers.
When we mistakenly believed American Airlines was adding fuel surcharges to award flights in August, I freaked out a lot more. Adding fuel surcharges is worse to me than inflating an award chart. Of course, this depends on the size of the fuel surcharges and chart inflation, but I’d still rather see the latter.
Only United and US Airways have no fuel surcharges on any awards among legacy carriers worldwide. American collects fuel surcharges on British Airways flights and Iberia flights. Delta collects fuel surcharges on a lot of partners’ flights.
7. US Airways and American Airlines’ Charts Are Unchanged (So Far) This Year
The combination of these two charts being in tact lessens the blow considerably.
I can now use US Airways miles for all my Star Alliance awards at prices that are now substantially below United’s.
I can continue to use American Airlines miles for ultra-luxury redemptions, minimizing the impact of United gutting its partner First Class award chart. I always said American Miles are Best for Ultra-Luxury, United Miles are Best for Merely Premium Awards anyway.
Unfortunately I do expect to see devaluations in both charts as they combine during the merger of the two carriers that I anticipate clearing legal hurdles.
8. Other Star Alliance Charts Untouched
I got this tweet today:
Jon is safe.
Today’s news only affects redemptions with United miles. If you were going to redeem ANA, Singapore, Air Canada, Lufthansa, TACA, etc, etc miles for United flights, today’s news has no impact on you.
It was already often cheaper to use partner miles to book flights on United. Today that is equally or more true than before.
I’m sure I’ve missed some silver linings. Add your own in the comments. (Or vent some more. Either one is fine.) 😉