United Award Chart Devaluation: Redeem Miles Before February 1, 2014
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United Award Chart Devaluation: Redeem Miles Before February 1, 2014

 

2/1 Update: United is delaying implementing its devaluation until Monday February 3, 2014, so you still have Saturday-Sunday if you're trying to use pre-devaluation United miles!

Devaluation Alert: United Airlines has new award charts that go into effect February 1, 2014, and they aren't pretty. Highlights of the worst aspects:

  • There's is a separate, more expensive Star Alliance/Partner Award Chart 
  • The biggest award price increases are for first class partner travel, especially between North America and Asia, Australia, Oceania, Middle East and Europe: basically most routes other than South America, Mexica, Caribbean
  • Award prices for first class awards on partners will increase as much as 87% for a roundtrip award
 
 
New United award chart pdf effective February 1, 2014, with the new United award chart on page 2 and the new Star Alliance award chart on page 3
 
Here are the key changes for first class and business class by region for the key places most North America based flyers would be redeeming United miles for. I have bolded the worst increases:
 
Asia
South Asia
One of the better United awards bookable in advance for getting to Thailand in first class was with Thai First Class. That award now increases by 86%. Similarly, last minute bookings in Lufthansa First Class to Bangkok via Frankfurt increase by 86%--ouch.
  • Partner First Class: 140,000 to 260,000 (86% increase)
  • United First Class: 140,000 to 160,000 (14% increase)
  • Partner Business Class: 120,000 to 160,000 (33% increase)
  • United Business Class: 120,000 to 140,000 (17% increase)

North Asia
Although it's now seemingly impossible to get Asiana First Class Suites with United miles (see No More Asiana First Class Suites Award Space) it still is possible to book Asiana old first class to Seoul ICN. This award and other North Asia awards now increase by 71% United miles.
  • Partner First Class: 140,000 to 240,000 (71% increase)
  • United First Class: 140,000 to 160,000 (14% increase)
  • Partner Business Class: 120,000 to 160,000 (33% increase)
  • United Business Class: 120,000 to 140,000 (17% increase)
 
Japan
While it's tough to snag a ANA first class award, it's a great product if you do. And previously, the small premium for first class over business class, especially for a one way flight, could make it worth it to book a mixed first class flight from the U.S. to Japan, say business class to Asia then first class intra-Asia, especially Thai First Class from Bangkok to Tokyo, since you got access to the Thai First Class Lounge and a complimentary 1 hour massage.
 
That won't be worth it for most folks going forward, given that partner first class and mixed first class awards to Japan are increasing by 63%.
  • Partner First Class: 135,000 to 220,000 (63% increase)
  • United First Class: 135,000 to 160,000 (18% increase)
  • Partner Business Class: 120,000 to 150,000 (25% increase)
  • United Business Class: 120,000 to 130,000 (8% increase)
 
Australia
While non-stop award first class award space on United is *very* hard to come by (so the no increase in award cost is a bit of a moot point), a good bet was flying Star Alliance via Asia to Australia in business class, or even flying Asiana first class to Seoul, then business class to Sydney (2 cabin flight). Partner first and mixed first class awards increase 62%, while business class awards on Star Alliance partners increase 18.5%.
  • Partner First Class: 160,000 to 260,000 (62% increase)
  • United First Class: 160,000 to 160,000 (no increase)
  • Partner Business Class: 135,000 to 160,000 (18% increase)
  • United Business Class: 135,000 to 140,000 (4% increase)
 
Europe
Lufthansa First Class using United miles isn't available in advance, but it's possible to book Lufthansa First Class up to 15 days before departure. Unfortunately, it will be 63% more expensive, and even Lufthansa New Business Class will be 40% more expensive.

Given the increase, if you want to book a Lufthansa first class award, you may want to change tactics, get the 50,000 Lufthansa Miles & More card and the Barclays Arrival Card to rebate the fuel surcharges, and be able to book Lufthansa First Class in advance.
  • Partner First Class: 135,000 to 220,000 (63% increase)
  • United First Class: 135,000 to 160,000 (18% increase)
  • Partner Business Class: 100,000 to 140,000 (40% increase)
  • United Business Class: 100,000 to 115,000 (15% increase)
 
Africa
Let's be realistic, you wouldn't be able to book Lufthansa first class to Johannesburg in advance anyway. But you can sometimes book last minute Lufthansa first class awards from the U.S. via Frankfurt to less desirable locales such as Luanda (Angola) or Lagos (Nigeria) then most likely economy to your final destination in Africa. Well, these first class and mixed first class awards will now increase by 73%.
  • Partner First Class: 150,000 to 260,000 (73% increase)
  • United First Class: 150,000 to 170,000 (13% increase)
  • Partner Business Class: 120,000 to 160,000 (33% increase)
  • United Business Class: 120,000 to 140,000 (17% increase)
 
"Southern" South America
This consists of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, and there are very minor increases in the number of miles required for first and business class awards, which are actually the same rate on United and Star Alliance partners. This reflects that fact that for many destinations in this region there's no first class anyway, so it's a moot point as to what it costs.
  • Partner First Class: 135,000 to 140,000 (4% increase)
  • United First Class: 135,000 to 140,000 (4% increase)
  • Partner Business Class: 100,000 to 110,000 (10% increase)
  • United Business Class: 100,000 to 110,000 (10% increase)

North America, Hawaii, Mexico, Caribbean, Central America, "Northern" South America: No Change
Fortunately for those of you who are planning to book business or first class United award travel within North America or to Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central American and Northern South America in February 2014 or later, there are no pricing changes for these awards, either on United or partners. The only real change for any of these destinations is a slight increase for coach awards to Hawaii, from 40K United miles roundtrip to 45K United miles roundtrip. No biggie.
 

Implications of the United Award Devaluation and Strategy

Update: Per the United Insider on Flyertalk, it will be possible to change the *date only* without causing the award to reprice (keep in mind you would still need to travel within 1 year from the date the ticket is issued). But ANY other changes (routing, carrier, class of service, etc.) will cause the award to reprice.

"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." 
  • Book United Awards before February 1, 2014, Especially First Class Partner Awards. If you have a huge stockpile of United miles, more than you can use for your own travel given limited vacation time, consider bringing friends and family from overseas to visit you. Keep in mind, as per the update above, you will be able to change the date only (within the ticket validity period) without having the award reprice under the new award chart, but if for any reason you have to change routing, carrier, or class of service it will reprice.
  • Don't Sweat Booking United Awards to Hawaii, Mexico, Caribbean, Central and South America. These awards, including domestic/North American awards, either aren't increasing at all or increasing only slightly, so there's no reason to rush to book award travel to these destinations, even in business or first class.
  • If You Change an Award EXCEPT the Date Starting February 1, 2014 It Will Reprice. You really can't get around the new award chart increases by, say, booking before February 1, 2014 and then trying to change your routing, carrier, class of service, etc. Not only will you incur the award change fee if you're non-elite (see United Increases Award Ticket Change and Cancellation Fees for Non Elites), you'll also cause your award to reprice at the new, more expensive award chart rates. So when booking an award before February 1, 2014, be very sure of your routing and choice of carrier and class of service. Note too that it's not always possible to change dates *without* a slight change in routing or carrier, so don't count on being able to change the date only and still keep your original award.
  • Ultimate Rewards Points Are Also Devalued. United is the highest value transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards points in my view, so the United award devaluation also devalues Ultimate Rewards points. Sure, you can also transfer to Hyatt, which can be a good value, particularly at the most expensive Park Hyatt properties such as the Park Hyatt Maldives, and there are other transfer partners such as Korean that can be worth looking at, although keep in mind the black out dates and that Korean Air partner travel must be roundtrip. But if you already have a huge supply of Ultimate Rewards points, I wouldn't be going out of my way to earn more via credit card signups, I'd focus on my next point:
  • Earn and Burn. We've already seen a number of hotel devaluations this year, and some more minor frequent flyer devaluations. The lesson, in addition to diversifying your miles and points, is to not just earn and save them, but actually use them for award travel. They are not a nest egg and won't hold their value, so use them!
Which United awards do you plan to book before the United devaluation takes effect?
 
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Comments
Picture?type=large Flyer C. commented 01 Nov 2013
This is gut-wrenching! But thanks for the heads up. We are in the process for booking a trip to Iceland from Hong Kong in late Feb 2014. Together, we have about 110k ua miles and 200k UR points. I suppose LH last minute first class is out of the way... but other than book the tickets before Feb 1, do you have any suggestions on how to play this? Thanks
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 01 Nov 2013
I would focus on Thai if you want First Class and aren't able to move up your trip, since any change in class of service, routing etc. will cause the award to reprice (although according to the UA Insider on Flyertalk, a date change only, with no other changes, will not cause the award to reprice). But are you sure you can't wait until May or June for Iceland? February is brutal!
Picture?type=large Flyer C. commented 02 Nov 2013
We talked about it, April seems to be another good option, i.e. Easter break. But will the northern lights still be visible then?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 02 Nov 2013
Hmm, from what I've seen the equinoxes are good times to view them, so say late March or late September. No guarantees of course, get away from the cities and light pollution, and cross your fingers for clear skies!
Picture?type=large Flyer C. commented 03 Nov 2013
I was thinking about either ANA, TG first class. But if I can score an ANA NRT-FRA or KIX-FRA 1st class, can I later change it to LH 1st class in those above mentioned routes, with a same date w/o invoking the poison pill?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 03 Nov 2013
Unfortunately I'm pretty sure this will change will result in the new award chart pricing, but I'll seek to confirm with United, it's a good question.
Picture?type=large Peggy L. commented 02 Nov 2013
Just recently used my UA miles, but the changes wouldn't affect me anyway. AA may look good now, but they generally have less award availability, no? My Miles&More card arrived yesterday, and I may use those miles for Hawaii trips since I no longer have the HA cards. And I won't be transferring UR points to Hyatt because I won't be getting their card. FYI, Chase said I couldn't swap the Marriott card for the Hyatt because the Marriott is not a co-branded card. 'twas news to me! They told me to apply for the Hyatt, and if I was denied (Chase had told me they couldn't grant any more than the nearly $100k in credit I have), I could call for reconsideration, but I rejected that. Hope you don't mind my musings!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 02 Nov 2013
Glad the devaluation won't affect you! It's true it mostly affects first and business class flights on Star Alliance partners to Asia, Australia, Middle East, Europe and Africa, and for many of those places AAdvantage miles and even Avios are now a better bet. Weird that Chase said Marriott card isn't co-branded--it's definitely a Chase card, but maybe the rep just meant they couldn't "swap" it for another card.
User_avatar_default Sil L. commented 02 Nov 2013
I never seem to be able to find first class savers awards during peak times so it wouldn't affect me too much. I can only travel during Xmas and Summer so it may be harder to find Biz class for Europe and Africa.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 02 Nov 2013
Yes, first class saver awards during peak holiday times are tough, especially around the winter holidays. Summer at least is a longer time period, so if you have some date flexibility and diversified miles/points to explore different options, should still be possible.
Picture?type=large Peggy L. commented 03 Nov 2013
Have you worked out your own strategy yet, if you don't mind my asking?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 04 Nov 2013
Peggy, please see my post today for my thoughts: http://travelsort.com/blog/united-award-chart-devaluation-strategy-going-forward
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 03 Nov 2013
Peggy, yes, plan to write on that in the coming week, thanks for asking!
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