Act fast: Wide open lie-flat saver awards on United’s premium transcon flights

Nov 11, 2020

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Tuesday morning, United Airlines announced a return to New York-JFK, marking the third New York City-area airport to offer United flights.

The airline will be offering daily nonstop flights between JFK and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), all operated by the carrier’s “high-J” Boeing 767-300ERs, featuring 46 Polaris business-class seats arranged in a spacious 1-1-1 configuration. In other words, it’s easily one of the most private options for crossing the U.S.

Screenshot courtesy of United.

Best of all, the airline is currently offering unbelievable saver award availability in business class. I don’t recall ever seeing saver award availability this good. If you’re considering taking a trip, I’d book today — it’s definitely not going to last.

Awards are available for 35,000 MileagePlus miles, worth $455 based on TPG’s valuations. In fact, because of United’s bizarre premium economy pricing, you’ll actually redeem fewer miles for a lie-flat seat than you will a standard Premium Plus recliner.

Screenshot courtesy of United.

Almost every flight has saver business availability, from the JFK launch on Feb. 1, 2021 all the way through the end of the schedule.

Screenshot courtesy of United.

You can also take advantage of this transcon availability to book connecting flights, such as New York to Hawaii — United’s currently offering many dates with lie-flat saver availability all the way from JFK to Honolulu (HNL).

Screenshot courtesy of United.

Most transcon cash fares are currently priced between $470 and $500 each way — an exceptional rate for lie-flat business class — so, depending on how you value United miles, you may consider buying a paid ticket, instead.

Screenshot courtesy of United.

TPG values MileagePlus miles at 1.3 cents apiece — at 35,000 each way, you’re redeeming $455 worth of miles for each direction of travel. On the surface, it may seem like a redemption is definitely the way to go, until you consider the potential earnings from a paid ticket.

Screenshot courtesy of United.

MileagePlus members can net up to 11x miles, depending on their elite tier — not to mention credit towards earning status for another year. As a Premier 1K member, I’ll earn at least 5,038 miles on a paid ticket, worth $66, based on TPG’s valuations.

Then, if I pay with The Platinum Card® from American Express, I’ll earn 5x points for the purchase — at least 2,345 Membership Rewards points, worth $47, based on TPG’s valuations (note starting, Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). In total, I’ll earn $113 in redeemable points and miles, bringing the starting net cost of a paid ticket to just $356.

Alternatively, elite members may want to book economy tickets — starting at just around $100 each way — and upgrade for 20 PlusPoints. Generally, whenever the airline offers premium-cabin saver availability, confirmed upgrades are available as well.

Award tickets do offer more flexibility, however. While United is waiving change fees for domestic travel, you may lose value if you move to a lower-cost flight. MileagePlus members who redeem miles for domestic flights can redeposit their awards free of charge — the only risk in redeeming is that your miles will be tied to the reservation, and unavailable again until you cancel and redeposit the award.

Screenshot courtesy of Avianca.

You should also be able to book these same flights via United’s Star Alliance partners, potentially at a lower redemption amount. Avianca’s LifeMiles program is pricing one-way business awards at just 25,000 miles each way, for example. Depending on the program, you may not have the same flexibility when it comes to changing or redepositing awards, however.

Note that you can easily boost your United balance by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards — points transfer to MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio, and are instantly available in your account. You can earn points with a handful of cards, including Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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