Tomás Del Coro

United Airlines MileagePlus Devaluation Coming (It’s Not That Bad)

Via The Points Guy, United Airlines just announced a number of big changes to its MileagePlus rewards program. Overall, the changes are mostly negative although they aren’t that bad and there’s also some awards actually going down in price. Here’s a guide to the recent United devaluation set to go into effect the first of November.

4 months notice

First, I’d like to acknowledge that it’s still very much appreciated when airlines give notice before making these type of negative changes. The new changes won’t go into effect until November 1, 2017, so we’ve got four months to book any trips we were planning and to adjust to the new rates. This is in stark contrast to airlines like Delta who implement devaluations without notice on a regular basis. So props to United for that.

 Everyday Awards

This is the biggest new change to the program. “Standard Awards” will soon be replaced by new awards called “Everyday Awards.” These are essentially dynamic pricing awards that will be capped at some ceiling. So in the future, United awards will operate on a hybrid system with a traditional award chart for Saver Awards and dynamic pricing for Everyday Awards.

Right now the new award chart shows one way domestic Everyday Awards in economy capped at 32,500 versus the Standard Award price of 25,000. So this dynamic pricing will actually be reasonable, even at the highest prices unlike Delta’s ridiculous dynamic pricing that results in insane awards.

I’m really interested to see if United allows the dynamic pricing of Everyday Awards to drop below the current Standard Awards price when demand is low. Even if they allow it, I don’t see that happening very often but it would be great to see that happen.

The key thing to note about the Everyday Awards is that they will only apply to flights on United and United Express. Partner awards will remain at the Saver level much how like Delta (used to operate).

There’s an undeniable trend that airlines and even some hotels like Hilton are heading in with dynamic pricing. I personally think that dynamic pricing or this hybrid form that United is introducing will be the norm in a few years for many programs.

Domestic first class on United could cost as much as 32,500 for one way Everyday Awards.

Saver Award price changes

The changes to the Saver Awards consist of:

  • Lower prices on most short-haul intra-region Economy Saver Awards for flights outside of the U.S., such as flights within Europe
  • Increased prices on Saver Awards for select international markets
  • Increased prices on United Business® Saver Awards for U.S. premium transcontinental routes and for select Hawaii routes

Short-haul flights

You’ll soon be able to purchase short-haul, one-way economy flights on partners for only 8,000 United miles when your route is 800 miles or shorter. This comes in line with the discount United has always offered on short-haul flights of 700 miles or shorter, which only required 10,000 miles. (American and Delta have their own versions of this, too.)

The lower prices of short haul intra-region economy saver awards for flights outside of the US is nice, but I don’t suspect that many folks will feel the benefit since those flights are often so cheap that it often makes sense just to use cash on them. Still, at least it’s a positive change and I’m sure it will come to the benefit of many.

New Saver Awards prices

The increases in Saver Awards on international routes are thankfully pretty marginal. For example, here are some examples of the changes for one-way business class awards on United operated flights:

  • US to Europe going up from 57,500 to 60,000
  • US to South Asia going up from 70,000 to 75,000
  • US to Central Asia going up from 70,000 to 75,000
  • US to Southern South America going up from 55,000 to 60,000
  • US to Japan going up from 65,000 to 70,000

There are some first class awards that got affected by the changes, too.

  • US to Southern South America going up from 70,000 to 80,000
  • US to Central/Southern Africa going up from 85,000 to 90,000
  • US to Japan going up from 80,000 to 90,000
  • US to Australia/New Zealand going up from 80,000 to 100,000
Business class on United is getting more expensive, but not by very much.

Partner awards departing the US are also going up at close to the same percentages. Here are some examples of the changes for one way business class awards on partners:

  • US to Southern South America is going up from 55,000 to 60,000
  • US to Middle East and Central Asia is going up from 80,000 to 85,000
  • US to South Asia is going up from 80,000 to 90,000
  • US to Japan and Oceania is going up from 75,000 to 80,000
  • US to Australia/New Zealand is going up from 80,000 to 90,000

The increases in business class awards are not bad at all as most appear to be increasing by 5,000 miles or less. First class saw bigger leaps with some routes increasing as much as 20,000 miles and so those sting a little more but remember that for United operated flights, Polaris first class is being phased out so business class redemptions will be more significant in the future.

Overall, considering that United hasn’t had a real mileage devaluation since 2013, I think these price increases are very reasonable. This could have been much, much worse and frankly I’m relieved that these prices only are going up by 5,000 to 10,000 miles.

Premium Routes going up

United has selected certain premium routes that will become more expensive, presumably because United flies a nicer aircraft with lie-flat seats on these routes and they are in such higher demand.

Premium transcontinental routes

These premium transcontinental routes will be going up from 25,000 one way to 35,000 one way. These higher rates will apply on transcontinental service between New York/Newark and Los Angeles, New York/Newark and San Francisco, and Boston and San Francisco. This is probably the biggest devaluation in my book, since it’s a roughly 30% increase in price and impacts desirable routes.

Premium routes to Hawaii

The other premium route going up are certain flights to Hawaii that offer lie-flat seating. these are flights from Houston, Newark, Chicago, Denver and Washington, D.C. to Hawaii. These will be jumping up from 40,000 to 50,000 one-way.

So long as you are not flying one of these premium routes the prices for your Saver Awards will stay the exact same. So I can still, for example, fly from Houston to Newark in first class for 25,000 one way.

No-show fee for award flights

Now if you become a no-show for your award flight you’ll have to pay $125 to have your miles redeposited. To be honest, I didn’t even know what had to be done before to get miles redeposited aside from paying the standard redeposit fee but $125 doesn’t sound horrific.

Final word

This is definitely an overall negative devaluation but it isn’t very bad at all. When you consider what fellow legacy carrier Delta has done over the past year with severe hikes in pricing with no notice, these changes are nothing to get worked up about. I think the biggest hits are to those premium routes in business and first class, as some are going up nearly 30% in price.

Aside from those, however, the increase in price to international business class saver awards are not terrible at all. And partners will still be booked at Saver levels so the dynamic pricing of Everyday awards (which appears to be capped at reasonable limits) doesn’t appear to be a hugely negative factor.

All things considered, I feel pretty good about these changes. Things could have been much worse.

Cover photo by Tomás Del Coro via Flickr. 

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