UA Insider posted news of the United miles devaluation on Halloween night. See my full coverage: United Massively Devalues Its Award Chart Starting February 1, 2014.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

UA Insider stuck around to answer some follow up questions people posted, and in doing so illuminated three ways to beat the upcoming United Miles Devaluation.

What are the three ways to beat the United MileagePlus devaluation coming in February 2014? What one announcement surprised me as particularly customer friendly?

1. Book all your 2014 United award travel by January 31, 2014.

We already knew this one because I said in United Massively Devalues Its Award Chart Starting February 1, 2014:

You can book at the old award chart’s prices through January 31, 2014. And you can book as far out as you normally can, about 337 days.

That means you can basically book travel for all of 2014 at the old prices.

UA Insider agreed with that interpretation of the change, saying: “[T]he 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.”

2. After February 1, stay on the cheaper United-only chart by only including partner flights in lesser cabins.

I was totally wrong about one thing in United Massively Devalues Its Award Chart Starting February 1, 2014. I said:

Even one segment on a partner will put you on the way worse Partner Chart for premium travel.

This will have huge consequences on trip planning. For instance, in the past Chicago to Amsterdam in United Global First then Amsterdam to Warsaw in LOT Polish Business Class would be a fine award that cost 67.5k United miles.

In the future, it will push you to the partner chart and cost 110k miles. You’d be better off just flying Chicago to Amsterdam in United Global First for 80k on the United chart, then buying a cash ticket the rest of the way.

I just assumed that’s how United would handle the question of whether to charge you the United-only or partner price: if one flight is on a partner, you are charged the partner price.

In fact, you can stay on the United-only chart as long as all partner flights are one or more cabins of service below your United flights. According to UA Insider:

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.

To clarify, let’s take an example of flying Newark to Frankfurt to Rome on a one way award with United miles. Imagine that Newark to Frankfurt is on a United plane and Frankfurt to Rome is on a Lufthansa plane.

Newark to Frankfurt on a United plane and Frankfurt to Rome on a Lufthansa plane. How many miles? It depends.

If you fly United Global First (first) and Lufthansa Business, you will pay the price on the United-only First Class price of 80k miles.

If you fly United BusinessFirst (business) and Lufthansa Business, you will pay the partner business class price of 70k miles.

If you fly United BusinessFirst (business) and Lufthansa Economy, you will pay the United business class price of 57.5k miles.

If you fly United Economy and Lufthansa Economy, you will pay the partner economy class price of 30k miles. (Which chart you are on in this case is academic because the United-only and partner charts have the same price on economy awards between all regions.)

I’ve bolded the key example above. If you are flying United BusinessFirst (business) from the US to Europe, which is a great product, you can keep yourself on the cheaper United-only chart even when adding partners as long as the partner flights are in economy.

United Business + Lufthansa Economy Keeps Us on the Cheaper United-only Chart at the Business Class Price

This is a no-brainer way to save 12,500 miles. Intra-Europe business class has no extra leg room or width compared to intra-Europe economy. The only difference is the meal and a little extra elbow room because the middle seat is blocked.

The tougher case is when you have two long segments. For instance, imagine you were flying from Washington-Dulles to Tokyo to Bangkok.

The first segment is 14hr15min, and there is space in United Global First (first).

The second segment is 7hr, and there is space in Thai First Class and Thai Business Class on an A380.

First Class on the Thai A380 is a significant step up from Thai Business Class, but if you add it to the United Global First, you have to pay the partner first class price of 130k miles each way.

If you just add Thai Business Class, you can save 50k miles and pay the United-only first class price of 80k miles one way.

I would save the 50k and fly only Thai Business Class, but it stinks to have to make that choice because there is a major difference between Thai First and Business unlike intra-European business and economy.

3. Book before February 1, 2014 and change, change, change without increasing the mileage price.

UA Insider had this to say about changes after February 1 to awards booked before February 1:

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.

Commenter elsie pounced on the comment and asked: “SO should i make a [Lufthansa First] reservation on JAN31 and then change it every two weeks until April when i actually want to fly?”

She’s asking because Lufthansa First Class space is only released to United 15 days in advance, so she can’t book April 2014 in January 2014.

I think it makes a lot of sense to try this, though it is risky.

If you don’t have status and make a change within 21 days of departure, it will cost you $100. Making four such changes would blow through $400. That still would be worth it to pay the old Lufthansa First Class price of 67.5k United miles one way instead of the new price of 110k miles.

But it’s risky.

Say you go to make the change and there is no Lufthansa First Class space on the route you want. Then you can either cancel for $200 and get your miles back or change to a different routing in which case you would be hit with the higher mileage price.

I’ll seriously consider this change-change-change option to get myself an early March flight in Lufthansa First Class for 67,500 miles + tax + change fees.

These are my three ideas to beat the United devaluation. How are you going to beat the devaluation?

Hat Tip to Mommy Points for highlighting UA Insider’s follow up answers first.

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