Late last night, United massively devalued its award chart for redemptions from February 1, 2014 on.

United has split its one award chart into two new ones: one if all segments are on United planes, the other–far more expensive in some cases–if you use partner segments.

Some First Class redemptions will increase 130k miles per person roundtrip. (The Middle East goes from 150k in roundtrip first to 280k on partners.)

The First Class redemption that I have planned for next March–Europe to US one way–increases 42.5k miles to 110k miles one way!

I have side-by-side comparisons of all regions at the new and old prices, a full breakdown of the changes, and the best strategy for United miles going forward after the jump.

Aaron Goldberg, United’s Sr. Manager – Customer Experience Planning, posted on FlyerTalk late last night.

Hi everyone,

I wanted to give you a heads up about some changes we’ll be making to our MileagePlus award chart and upgrade policies. More details, including links to the changes, are listed below.

  • Changes to miles needed for some Saver and Standard Awards, including domestic stopovers (link – PDF p.2)
  • Different premium cabin mileage levels for Star Alliance and MileagePlus partners (link – PDF p.3)
  • Changes to upgrade policy for intra-Asia and northern South America flights (link – see chart)

Changes to the award charts take effect for all award tickets issued on or after February 1, 2014. The upgrade policy changes will not impact any flights taken before February 1, 2014.

As always, I’m here and will do my best to answer any clarifying questions you may have.

Aaron Goldberg
Sr. Manager – Customer Experience Planning
United Airlines

The PDF of the new award chart is horrible. The huge news here is twofold.

  1. United will soon have two charts: one for awards wholly on United metal, one for awards that includes partners. The partner chart is far more expensive for premium travel.
  2. Premium cabin space will be far more expensive with United miles. Business class award prices rose substantially. First class award prices skyrocketed, nearly doubling in some cases. Economy class awards stayed the same or increased only modestly.

When the Changes Take Effect

This is the only positive of the change–how it’s being handled. 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.

The main exception is Lufthansa First Class space, which is only released 15 days out. That means my March 2014 flight in Lufthansa First Class from Frankfurt to Chicago would cost 110k United miles–the new price–instead of 67.5k United miles–the old price.

If you have to make changes after February 1, 2014 to awards booked before February 1, 2014, I don’t know whether you will be charged more miles.

The Changes

Here are comparison charts for Saver award prices from the US to the rest of the world.

  • “Old Price” is the current price, valid for bookings made until January 31, 2014.
  • “United Price” refers to the price on the post-February-1 United-metal-only chart.
  • “Partner Price” is the price on the post-February-1 partner award chart.

One Way Economy Class Award Prices in Thousands of United Miles

For the most part economy award prices stay the same or rise only modestly. The biggest rise is the US to South Asia, which was one of the best values on the economy chart. I can live with these changes.

One Way Business Class Award Prices in Thousands of United Miles

This is where we start to see some substantial devaluations, and where we start to see the partner and United-only charts diverge.

The most popular award I book with my Award Booking Service is two passengers roundtrip in business class to Europe with United miles. That currently costs 200k United miles. For bookings made in February 2014 on, that will cost up to 280k miles if there are legs on partners. Ouch!

One Way First Class Award Prices in Thousands of United Miles

This is where the massive devaluations are, and where the massive separation between United metal and partner flights lies.

The Western Hemisphere is basically spared as is United Global First Class to Australia.

Lufthansa First Class costs 67.5k from the US to Europe or the US to Germany to Japan. Now those routes will cost 110k United miles one way.

My Thoughts

1. Book Now. Duh.

If you are holding United miles to use for premium travel, they will get a whole lot less valuable starting February 1, 2014. Use them before then.

2. Think Very Carefully About Adding Partners.

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.

Examples like this will abound to avoid partners, but avoiding partners will cut out a lot of awesome possible awards. For instance, there is no way to go from the US to Australia and back with a stop in Asia one direction with no partner airlines. Previously that stop would not add to the miles price. Now it will, since it will take you from the United-only chart to the partner chart!

3. What will Chase do?

The United Explorer Card, United Club Card, United Business Card, Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire, Freedom, Ink Bold, Ink Plus, Ink Classic, and Ink Cash just got a lot worse if you had them to earn aspirational Star Alliance travel.

How will Chase react?

3b. Will United miles be far easier to earn now?

If we see a devaluation, hopefully there will be a concomitant improvement in mileage earning rates. If United can now sell miles cheaper to Chase, maybe we can hope to see more and better sign up and category bonuses.

3c. We just barely have to time to get a new card that earns United miles or Ultimate Rewards and redeem them by January 31, 2014.

It will take a week or two get the card. If you then meet the minimum spending requirement within two months, the miles will post with the closing of the next statement, which would be sometime in January 2014, just in time to book on the old chart through the end of 2014.

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4. What about Round-the-World Awards?

I’ve never been a fan of United RTW awards. American’s are far, far better. But I don’t see an announcement of a devaluation of United RTW awards. If they stay at the same level. They will be a far better deal relative to roundtrip awards.

 

I missed the footnote on the new chart: The new price is 200k/350k/450k in economy/business/first, using all the partners you want. As with the other changes, the biggest changes are to premium redemptions.

5. The Western Hemisphere was Basically Spared

United miles are now a far better deal in the western hemisphere. Southern South America is every bit as far from the US as Europe, and its prices went up only modestly. Hawaii only went up in economy and only by 5k roundtrip.

Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and Northern South America award prices are all unchanged.

Changes to award charts always create new best uses for miles. We always strive to keep diversified mileage balances and use each type for its best uses. After February 1, 2014, use your United miles in the Western Hemisphere and your US Airways, American, and Delta miles to go the Eastern Hemisphere.

6. Will We See Better Award Space?

I doubt it, since the biggest changes were to partner award prices, and United doesn’t control partner award space. But we can at least hope United releases more Saver award space on its own flights.

7. Other Star Alliance Miles Go Up in Value Relatively

To get Star Alliance award space, including space on United’s flights, the best prices are now with other types of miles including US Airways miles, TACA/Avianca LifeMiles, Lufthansa miles, Singapore miles, Air Canada Aeroplan miles, and ANA miles.

Recap

United bifurcated and inflated its award chart(s). The old one is still valid for bookings through January 31 for travel through the end of 2014.

The new one is awful for partner First Class, and really bad for partner Business Class. It’s relatively good in economy and the Western Hemisphere.

We have just enough notice to earn and burn some United miles before February 1, 2014.

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