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

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:
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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