United Details MileagePlus Changes, Premium Award Devaluation

Jun 29, 2017

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American and Delta devalued their higher-tier “standard” awards long ago — in the case of American’s AAdvantage program, that’s enabled some truly shocking redemption levels, like the 75,000 one-way domestic economy awards we saw last year over Thanksgiving. Now it’s United’s turn to make some… adjustments.

Fortunately the results won’t be nearly as egregious — United’s new “Everyday Awards,” which replace standard redemptions, will be capped, though the rates will fluctuate up to the new upper limit, just as they do with AA and Delta. Unlike that latter carrier, United will still maintain an award chart, and with it, transparency. In other words, there shouldn’t be any surprises. We also have plenty of notice — the new redemption levels (and other adjustments to come) won’t go into effect until November 1, 2017.

Everyday Awards are but one of the changes, however. Let’s dig in to what’s to come…

In This Post

Everyday Awards

First of all, a bit of good news — while there will be changes to some premium-cabin saver redemptions (more on that below), United isn’t making any changes to economy saver awards. One-way economy saver awards will continue to cost 10,000 miles (for flights 700 miles or less) or 12,500 miles (for all other flights within the mainland US, Alaska and Canada). As mentioned above, United is replacing its standard level with new “Everyday Awards,” however.

This new type of award will only apply to flights operated by United and United Express — all partner flights will continue to be available only at the saver level.

With United’s move from standard to Everyday Awards, the upper limit for redemptions will increase for almost all regions, with a few exceptions. Maximum Everyday rates for United-operated flights from the US will match current standard levels for the following destinations:

  • US, Alaska and Canada — Business and first class
  • Northern Africa — Economy, business and first class
  • North Asia — Economy and business class

Otherwise, the upper limit will jump — for flights within the US, you can expect to redeem as many as 32,500 miles for economy (vs. 25k for standard awards today). However, the redemption level will fluctuate based on demand, so you could end up paying just 15,000 miles for an Everyday award, or the same 25,000 miles you would today. We’ll have to wait until November 1 to see how this pans out.

Regardless of the change in name (and rate), you’ll continue to receive unrestricted access to economy awards with the United MileagePlus Explorer Card.

Premium Transcon and Hawaii Awards

Business-class passengers get this nifty amenity kit on premium transcon flights, but more miles will be required.

United recently launched premium business-class service from Boston (BOS) to San Francisco (SFO), joining the airline’s existing premium transcon flights between Newark and Los Angeles (LAX) and SFO. Additionally, the airline upgraded the first-class cabins on several of its long-haul Hawaii flights, installing lie-flat beds on all flights from Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH) to destinations in Hawaii. (United has offered lie-flat service from Newark and Washington, D.C. to Honolulu for years.)

United now applies a “premium” label to these domestic routes:

  • Houston, Newark, Chicago, Denver and Washington, D.C. to Hawaii
  • Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco
  • Boston to San Francisco

Elite members no longer receive complimentary upgrades on these routes, and as of November 1 you’ll need to redeem more miles to travel in business or first class as well. Business-class transcon flights will require 35,000 miles each way for saver or up to 60,000 for Everyday; two-cabin first-class flights to Hawaii will require 50,000 miles each way for saver or up to 95,000 miles for Everyday. Non-premium first-class awards on similar routes will continue to cost 25,000 miles (continental US) or 40,000 miles (Hawaii); and up to 50,000 or 90,000 miles for Everyday Awards, respectively.

International Business and First Awards

The vast majority of customers book saver awards, so those changes will have a bigger impact, and according to MileagePlus lead Praveen Sharma, the airline has opened up significantly more economy saver award space over the past few weeks — overall, there’s been an 11 percentage point increase in award space compared to this time last year.

Unfortunately many premium-cabin saver award rates will be going up — here’s what’s changing for United-operated flights departing the mainland US, Alaska and Canada:

  • Southern South America — Business class from 55k to 60k; first class from 70k to 80k
  • Europe — Business class from 57.5k to 60k
  • Central/Southern Africa — First class from 85k to 90k
  • Central Asia — Business class from 70k to 75k
  • South Asia — Business class from 70k to 75k; first class from 80k to 95k
  • North Asia — First class from 80k to 90k
  • Japan and Oceania — Business class from 65k to 70k; first class from 80k to 90k
  • Australia/New Zealand — Business class from 70k to 80k; first class from 80k to 100k

(Note that United has begun phasing out Polaris first class.)

Meanwhile, the airline is making the following changes to one-way partner premium cabin awards originating in the mainland US, Alaska and Canada:

  • Southern South America — Business class from 55k to 60k; first class from 70k to 80k
  • Middle East and Central Asia — Business class from 80k to 85k
  • South Asia — Business class from 80k to 90k; first class from 130k to 140k
  • Japan and Oceania — Business class from 75k to 80k
  • Australia/New Zealand — Business class from 80k to 90k
Thai first class is about to get much more expensive.
Thai first class is about to get much more expensive.

There are also an astounding number of increases for premium-cabin awards that do not touch the US. Of all the changes, the most significant increases include:

  • South Asia to/from Central America, Caribbean and Northern South America — Business class from 85k to 100k; first class from 130k to 145k
  • South Asia to/from Australia/New Zealand — Economy from 17.5k to 25k; business class from 30k to 50k; first class from 40k to 65k
  • North Asia to/from Australia/New Zealand — Economy from 20k to 30k; business class from 40k to 55k; first class from 50k to 75k

As you may have noticed, my favorite MileagePlus redemption jumped a whopping 63%, from 40,000 miles to 65,000 miles each way. Be sure to take advantage of that incredible Thai award while you still can!

Additionally, economy flights within Hawaii will increase from 6,000 miles to 7,000 each way.

Before and After United Award Chart

Here’s what’s changing for flights operated by United (note that short-haul partner travel may be included at these rates). Below, Y represents economy travel, J for business and F for first class. Mixed-cabin flights price at the highest cabin rate. Multiply all rates by 1,000. Two-cabin first class is priced at the “J” rate.

Destination Y (Old) Y (New) J (Old) J (New) F (Old) F (New)
US, Alaska, Canada* 12.5 12.5 25 25** 35 35
Hawaii 22.5 22.5 40 40** 50 50
Mexico 17.5 17.5 30 30 40 40
Central America 17.5 17.5 30 30 40 40
Caribbean 17.5 17.5 30 30 40 40
North South America 20 20 35 35 45 45
South South America 30 30 55 60 70 80
Europe 30 30 57.5 60 80 80
Northern Africa 40 40 70 70 85 85
Central/South Africa 40 40 70 70 85 90
Middle East 42.5 42.5 70 75 90 90
Central Asia 42.5 42.5 70 75 90 90
South Asia 40 40 70 75 80 95
North Asia 35 35 70 70 80 90
Japan 35 35 65 70  80 90
Oceania 35 35 65 70 80 90
Australia/New Zealand 40 40 70 80 80 100

*Flights between Alaska and the continental US or Canada require an additional 5,000 miles for saver or 10,000 for standard/Everyday.

**Premium transcon flights with lie-flat beds (EWR-LAX/SFO and BOS-SFO) will require 35k miles for saver business; premium Hawaii flights will require 50k miles for two-cabin first class.

Before and After Partner Award Chart

Here’s what’s changing for flights operated by partner airlines. Again, Y represents economy travel, J for business and F for first class. Mixed-cabin flights price at the highest cabin rate. Multiply all rates by 1,000. Two-cabin first class is priced at the “J” rate.

Destination Y (Old) Y (New) J (Old) J (New) F (Old) F (New)
US, Alaska, Canada 12.5 12.5 25 25 35 35
Hawaii 22.5 22.5 40 40 50 50
Mexico 17.5 17.5 30 30 40 40
Central America 17.5 17.5 30 30 40 40
Caribbean 17.5 17.5 30 30 40 40
North South America 20 20 35 35 45 45
South South America 30 30 55 60 70 80
Europe 30 30 70 70 110 110
Northern Africa 40 40 80 80 130 130
Central/South Africa 40 40 80 80 130 130
Middle East 42.5 42.5 80 85 140 140
Central Asia 42.5 42.5 80 85 140 140
South Asia 40 40 80 90 130 140
North Asia 35 35 80 80 120 120
Japan 35 35 75 80  110 110
Oceania 35 35 75 80 110 110
Australia/New Zealand 40 40 80 90 130 130

Short-Haul Economy Saver Awards

United has been offering 10,000-mile economy awards for flights 700 miles or less within the US for years, and now the airline’s launching a similar award for international partner flights. Beginning November 1, nonstop partner flights of 800 miles or less will cost just 8,000 miles in coach in all regions outside the US — currently, these awards cost as much as 20,000 miles each way. So you could fly Lufthansa from Amsterdam to Munich for just 8,000 MileagePlus miles; however a flight from London to Paris wouldn’t be eligible, since a connection would be required.

Economy saver awards within Japan will continue to cost just 5,000 miles each way.

No-Show Fee

United has an exceptionally generous policy in which you can book an award flight, not show up and still get a full refund of the miles spent, with a requirement to pay the standard redeposit fee (free for Premier 1K and Global Services members). However, for award tickets issued on or after November 1, a $125 redeposit or change fee will apply to all “no shows.” You simply need to cancel your flight before departure in order to avoid this fee.

This is actually a change I fully support — it’s easy enough to cancel an award you don’t plan to take before departure, and booking a seat and not showing up withholds the inventory from other customers, including those looking to redeem their miles.

Bottom Line

Could these changes have been a heck of a lot worse? Absolutely. But there’s no question that this latest round of updates represents a significant devaluation, especially for MileagePlus customers planning to redeem their miles for premium-cabin travel. Fortunately, we have plenty of notice here — there are still several months to book travel under the current chart, and as long as your flight is ticketed by October 31, you can travel beyond November 1 at the rates available today.

Additionally, you may be able to change award tickets on or after November 1 without a reprice — assuming the award type remains unchanged (including class of service and regions), you should be able to change tickets originally issued by October 31 without redeeming additional miles. So, theoretically, you’ll be able to book that fantastic Thai first-class award for 40,000 miles now and change the dates (but not class of service) after November 1 without triggering a reprice. And of course, if you don’t make any changes at all, you won’t need to redeem additional miles.

Which United awards do you plan to book by October 31?

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