Ouch: United MileagePlus Raises Partner Award Costs

Filed Under: Awards, United

Unbelievable. At a time when loyalty programs should be trying to woo customers, United Airlines is instead trying to push them away.

A couple of days ago United MileagePlus quietly revealed plans to make it harder to earn status on partner airlines. Well, now the program has eliminated partner airline award charts, and has even raised award costs on partner airlines in some markets.

United MileagePlus’ 2019 devaluation

In April 2019, a significant devaluation was announced to the United MileagePlus program for travel as of November 15, 2019:

  • United eliminated award charts and made award pricing for travel on United flights dynamic
  • United said they would eliminate award charts for travel on partner airlines, but would maintain the current pricing (they quickly backtracked on this, though)

In 2019 United introduced dynamic award pricing for their own flights

United finally pulls partner award charts

When the changes were announced last April, United said they’d eliminate all award charts, though up until now they haven’t actually pulled partner award charts from their website. That finally changed this week, as MileagePlus no longer has any sort of partner award chart online.

A United spokesperson explained this move as follows:

“We announced in April of last year that all award pricing will be dynamic beginning November 2019. This change is consistent with other major carriers and allows us to align information regarding all MileagePlus award flights, whether it is for travel on United or one of our partner airlines.”

In other words, United eliminated the partner award chart so that they can be consistent, and so that information (or lack thereof) can be aligned.

United MileagePlus has finally pulled the partner award chart

Surely United won’t raise award pricing, right?

When I initially saw that the partner award chart was eliminated, I assumed that the folks at United just had a bit of time on their hands right now, and got around to eliminating the award chart.

I didn’t expect that they’d actually raise award costs right away. Logic would suggest that frequent flyer programs will become more competitive and generous in the near future in light of circumstances, rather than less competitive.

United had said last April they had no plans to raise partner award costs as of November 2019, though that turned out to be a lie, as United immediately raised last minute award pricing, including for partner awards.

Well, as it turns out, United very much had a motive here. As soon as they eliminated partner award charts, they also raised award costs. In many/most regions, partner award costs have increased by 10%.

The below Detroit to Frankfurt business class ticket on Lufthansa used to cost 70,000 miles one-way, but the price has gone up by 10%, to 77,000 miles.

The below New York to Seoul Incheon business class ticket on Asiana used to cost 80,000 miles one-way, but the price has gone up by 10%, to 88,000 miles.

The below New York to Singapore business class ticket on Ethiopian used to cost 90,000 miles one-way, but the price has gone up by 10%, to 99,000 miles.

Pricing haven’t gone up across the board, but has in most regions that I’m searching.

United MileagePlus has just raised some partner award costs

Bottom line

United is taking the opportunity during a pandemic to not only finally pull partner award charts (which was expected), but to increase award costs on partner airlines by 10% in most regions. I can appreciate that MileagePlus is trying to cut costs, but it defies logic to be increasing award costs at a time like this.

Wow…

(Tip of the hat to my awesome colleague Jimmy)

Comments
  1. Ugh….Any idea how this will affect award ticket changes? I have two awards in June that likely aren’t happening due to border restrictions. Was originally going to redeposit them (as I don’t know new dates yet), but wonder if that is not the best choice now. Would keeping ticket to use later keep current award pricing?

  2. @Jamie I have the exact same question about an award flight in September that’s probably getting moved to September 2021.

  3. I saw this crap coming from a mile away. As soon as they start throwing out 100k mile offers and ‘miles never expire’, the end is neigh.

    I spent the last of my miles on ANA business class in November; I have only 3,000 miles left – I’m never transferring anything into this program again.

  4. Was about to pull the trigger on a saver award for next year. Today cost is up 10% from 80K to 88K. Seems every saver award with a partner leg is up 10%. This is looking at flights in 2021.

  5. We looked at some mid week flights for ORD-ARN for July. Several options were 70k yesterday and now are all 77k. This is for the non-stop on SAS and one stops on LOT, Swiss, and Austrian. I though dynamic was supposed to take into account demand? Most of these flights are EMPTY. This isn’t dynamic pricing….it’s strictly a 10% increase on the dates I checked.

  6. Contrary to the lie from United PR, this is NOT consistent with other major carriers. American still has a published partner award chart. So does Alaska.

  7. The issue was you believing that dynamic award pricing wouldn’t eventually lead to price increases.
    And yet skypesos are still out there….

  8. Interesting take that ff programs will compete and be more generous. My assumption is that they will collude to be much less generous #strongertogether

  9. Is United paving the way to another bankruptcy filing?

    Is this is a new management strategy? It is a certainty that alienating your employees and your customers at the same time doesn’t lead to success. United is a company that only seems adept at shooting themselves in the foot.

    Going forward there will be lots of seats chasing skeptical buyers and what better way to move them to other companies than to destroy an already devalued loyalty program?

  10. Now that United is continuing to go through partner devaluations, the one getting hurt the worst may be Chase UR. They only had two useful and unique transfer partners: United and Hyatt. United’s value proposition is disappearing. So in my view, the value of a UR shouldn’t be worth more than a Hyatt point now…

  11. I’ve been watching flights ATH-LAX the last few days, and just booked 3 saver business yesterday afternoon. Today price is 10% higher.

  12. Like how AA, sneak in a higher bag fee.

    This is the best time to sneak ‘improvements’ in. Time to wait and see what DL will be sneaking in.

    The difference is AA bag fees affect basic economy, the less loyal.
    The problem with UA, is this is driving loyal customers away. I guess UA really thinks they want their loyal customers to fly AA/DL.

  13. Just remember this next time they try to sell you miles, “with a great bonus,” or all that credit card spending so you can “rack up the miles.” Only a sucker would continue to do this.

  14. Is Kirby really that out to lunch? He’s the one making these calls as the “numbers guy” and they are just exceedingly poor choices when the company needs to do their utmost to make engaged loyalty members feel valued. Instead they’ve repeatedly give loyal members a big middle finger this week and last when they’ll need these customers the most during this crisis. How can it possibly seem like a good idea to piss off your customers just before you ask for them to demonstrate their loyalty?

  15. As far as United is concerned this is a great time to be pulling shit like this…no one is flying anyway and by the time travelers come back, people will have forgotten already and this will be the new “norm”

  16. I also noticed UA metal with a partner short haul is pricing higher. March 23 of next year ORD-MUC 60k in biz. ORD-MUC-ARN is 66k.

  17. @Ben I’m going to use my PlusPoints and switch to another carrier. Too many years of buying more expensive tickets and inconvenient routings – just to keep my status up. What are other options we ought to consider if we want to remain within Star Alliance? I’m thinking of doing the minimum necessary to keep Star Gold with another airline + mid-level status with another alliance.

  18. Frankly, a big issue here is how much Delta has done over the years in terms of devaluation of miles both on delta and partners, tiny legroom in first class and the back, two tiny lavs squeezed into the back wall of their A320 aircraft, and the same tired coffin seat redone with a plastic door. and all the while… you and other bloggers instead write scathing articles about the carriers like AA and UA that are forced to match them in many aspects and give Delta largely a free pass. Start writing about the ridiculous things Delta did over all these years instead of acting like a frog in a gradually warming pot when others are forced to match.

  19. Dear Readers- UA MP miles are a liability on their books. They are reducing the liability by increasing the miles on redemptions.
    Not sure how this works with the bankruptcy conspiracy theories floating around.

    It’s hard to know what StarAlliance partner routes and schedules will be returning.

  20. @Richard You are quite correct about Delta’s FF program. But United is in the danger zone here when it comes to retaining loyal customers like me. The only reason I stuck with United over a more convenient (and frankly better) airline like Delta was because of the FF program. If MP is just as bad as SkyMiles, then I will switch to the better airline (Delta) or AA (better FF program) or an easier to earn status program like Turkish or become a free agent.

  21. My theory is that they assume no one is paying attention right now since so few people are flying. And that’s probably mostly true, we’re not the majority and UA doesn’t really care what we think or do. This won’t jeopardize their corporate contracts when business travel starts again.

  22. Richard:

    You’re new here, aren’t you? Google “SkyPesos” and you’ll see how long lack of value in the Delta ecosystem has been written about in the miles and points blogosphere.

    Also, if Delta jumps off a bridge, nobody is in any way “forced” to follow them. It’s a choice.

    Finally… Delta actually runs the planes on time. You get a little more leeway in a value proposition if you have a good operation. Delta gets that; copycats don’t.

  23. I agree that this is a series of dick moves by United, instigated almost certainly by Kirby. That said – I’m tentatively planning travel to Australia and New Zealand in the late fall (assuming travel restrictions are lifted). While devaluations and price increases are never welcome, there’s still a question of relative value. A simple search for the dates I’m looking at reveal Delta/Skyteam to be more than double the price (in miles) to travel compared to United. I admit that Asiana, Singapore, maybe even EVA or ANA might end up being cheaper, but it’s not by much. This won’t last much longer – true, but in the meantime, as angry as I am at the changes, I’m sticking with United. If this drives away others at the margins (or more), all the better for me and all the other UA/*A elites.

  24. Just to add another Data Point – was looking at MLE-IAH in March 2021

    Last night was 85K, now 93.5K

  25. hello. youre right about partner awards not increasing across the board. thankfully domestic japan flights are still 5000 united miles each way.

  26. Have to assume that United saw or foresees a huge amount of award space opening up on partner airlines and, correctly, assumes that mileageplus members will be grabbing it by handfuls (rather than using their miles on united) costing United a whole lot of cash that they don’t have. They need to fill their own planes, not fill someone else’s and pay for the privilege. Again, a short sighted survival move by management who know how to deal with difficult times and bail out when the results of those survival moves crater the business in the long run.

  27. As a long time United flyer, Premier Executive back in the day, I feel like I am in an abusive relationship.
    It is only because I live in a hub market and value non-stops above almost everything else, that I keep taking the hits, but don’t leave.

  28. Has the 10% increase only been applied to *A partners? I’m seeing it consistently on LH and SK transatlantic or infra-EU segments, but not seeing it on EI segments.

  29. Sorry if I’m being the “bad guy” here, but while any change that has a negative impact on customers is also not something I appreciate, if it is “only” a 10% rise in prices it’s not as dramatic as the various headlines on websites like this had me thinking! I’m banking my miles at Aegean Airlines and in November they devaluated a good portion of their award chart for partner airlines overnight by as much as over 50%! In fact this affected all the routes I booked in 2019 with miles (the last of which ended up costing me 50.000 more miles than it would have, had I booked before the change)! Even so I still consider it the most rewarding FFP for me (with my very specific interests of course). I don’t particularly like United, but perhaps they’re getting a bit more bashing than they deserve for a mere 10% raise.

  30. ugh

    Been eyeing a flight in Dec for our family of 4. Went from 70k to 77k miles which means 28k more miles now.

  31. Actually, their move(s) make perfect sense.

    If you are hub-locked, well, tough to be you. It’s United or OMG-how-many-stops-does-my-itinerary-take!. It’s not like United will lose you as a customer. Plus, if they do, they will lower their price by about $10 and you (or, some of you) will come back.

    On the other hand, United may or may not have pre-sold a god-forsaken amount of “miles” (or whatever they call their unit of accounting). And some of you may have been planning some fancy trips. Their liability is very very high.

    So, put on your business hat and ask yourself, what to do? You can be nice and pretend that you are in a competitive market, or you can accept the world as it is. Those customers? They will come back. No need to cultivate any loyalty. Those liability? Now that’s a problem.

    (Plus, once this thing is over, United needs you to pay cash for your tickets, not those miles that they may or may not have sold at dirt cheap level).

  32. This is also quite a devaluation for Chase UR points, since United was a unique transfer partners.

  33. @Chris. Agreed. Been holding onto UR / CSR for a while accruing miles for a likely use on UA, but it seems I should just go all in on MR and forget about this award program for reasonable redemptions moving forward.

  34. Once again, United setting the standard for the airline industry’s race to the bottom. Then again, if you didn’t know that United was the devil incarnate (all of them are out to get us, but United is the self-appointed dictator)… This also for the airlines for the worst “premium” class for international, i.e. coach in “Polaris.” I feel sorry for everyone who doesn’t really have a choice but to fly with them.

  35. @Lucky sez: “A couple of days ago United MileagePlus quietly revealed plans to make it harder to earn status on partner airlines.”

    First, United did not “make it harder to earn status on partner airlines” because partner airlines decide that. United can only decide how hard or easy it is to earn status on United Airlines.

    Second, and to my point, I am no UA defender but I think you and everyone else negatively hyped something that should not have been hyped at all because it made complete business sense!

    The short of it is that all UA did was to close a HUGE loophole that would have made earning UA status *much easier* by flying and spending money on partners airlines That is, UA did not make it harder to “earn status on partner airlines.” It smartly prevented earning UA MieagePlus status from being *much easier* by spending money on partner airlines!!!

    If you want the long of it, you’ll need to read my comments to your post yesterday, where you will see the update I posted that made the difference: the PQP caps on partner airlines are *per flight segment* and not per ticket. It makes a big difference, et vive la différence!

  36. Funny how crises bring out the best / worst in people. UA has now eclipsed AA in terms of gratuitous customer abuse.

  37. As for the demise of the partner award chart, I do not think that the chart disappearance per se is a big deal, and that is a perspective from someone who patronizes Hilton Honors, which did away with their award chart only to emerge as the dominant and more rewarding hotel loyalty program. 😉

    It it true that United has just raised partner awards by 10% *across the board*, which bodes well because the way I read it is that such an *across the board* adjustment of award costs is likely to remain at the same level for a good while, and could just as easily have occurred even without the demise of the award chart.

    I just checked a few of the award costs for my most recent Asian Year-end Escapade(tm), and they are now all 10% higher than a year ago:

    TPE – NRT: Business, from 30K+$15.90 to 33K+$16.70
    NRT – ICN: Business, from 30K+$33.30 to 33K+$34.10
    ICN-PEK-BKK-CMB: all business, from 55K+$38.30 to 60.5K+$28.50

    I can live with the increase if it will stay there for a good while. The cash costs remain one of the great pluses of booking awards through UA due to lack of so-called ‘fuel surcharges.’

    Since I will be patronizing both SQ and UA and I now have the bulk of my miles as Chase UR points, I’ll have the flexibility to book *A awards either with UA miles or SQ miles, which ever gives me the better deal or value.

    The sky has not fallen.

    G’day!

  38. @DCS

    LOL, You are a UA defender, a hardcore one too, up until they screwed you over the new 1k qualification. After that you dropped to a UA defender. I still hope you, and rest of us, can still have some Far East vacation again this year.

    Anyway, I just want to help @Lucky clarify what others understand and you misunderstood. So you don’t make some people even more confused.

    “A couple of days ago United MileagePlus quietly revealed plans to make it harder to earn ***United MileagePlus *** status ***when flying*** on partner airlines.”

  39. @Eskimo — Address the arguments in my posts instead of trying to read my mind, and I will address you. Otherwise, let’s just continue to avoid each other. I sort of liked it that I did not have to address you after you did precisely the same type of mind reading to tell me what I was feeling.

    Great that you clarified what @Lucky meant to say, but it does not change the point I intended to make.

    G’day!

  40. Well, for those complaining about being hub captive, maybe time to move to cities that have many other choices? Airlines are not going to choose hubs around you, it’s the other way around.

    I don’t know why people bother with chasing status with these airlines. It’s a lost cause. Chase card really needs to up its game. I’ve started to move my spends to Citi and Amex.

  41. @Bobby J ~ I would re-think your plans to fly to Australia for the foreseeable future. Our borders are closed to all but a few essential travellers, and American tourists are definitely prohibited; in fact are likely to be prohibited long after other passport holders are allowed to enter.
    Australia (along with NZ) is almost at the eradication stage of COVID-19, unlike the US where it is an uncontrolled shit-show, and will not risk a second-wave happening.

  42. Tend to agree with @Ben (not Lucky) . This really is a case of the frog in the pot. Slow steady devaluation. Wasn’t all that long ago as a 1K you got double award miles. A RT from the east coast to BKK netted about 40K miles. I have to assume these guys understand the risk they are taking. I’m just one person but I’m close to bagging my long time 1K MM status with them and doing something different. You can be absolutely sure this is not the last move of this type.

  43. @DCS
    So what you are saying about reading your mind is an arguments in your posts, or I’m just reading your mind that you think I think I am reading your mind. 🙂

    I didn’t try to avoid you at all (you are reading my mind now?).
    Now I just read your mind that you are thinking I am trying to avoid you. Oops I did it again.

  44. There is another thing they started doing as well. they are blocking air newzealand akl to rar segment. Aeroplan shows on 3/16/2021 or so that there are seats and united does not. they have no been blocked before.

  45. @Eskimo — Well, I avoided you. In any case, I just agreed with your recent comment over at OMAAT’s post titled “United MileagePlus Makes It Harder To Earn Elite Status On Partner Airlines”, and even paid you a compliment of sort: “Believe it or not, I agree with what you just stated above. Stick to the facts, avoid psychobabble and you just might be an interesting commenter ”

    Take that for whatever you think it is worth.

    G’day, mate!

  46. To me, this is the last nail on the coffin. “Loyalty programs” as we had been introduced to some 40 years ago has turned into an extra currency (points), that are pretty much worthless. The programs now has absolutely no link to loyalty creation, and may well be an expense to all travelers. What was a good idea forty years ago to fill up empty seats now is a bait and switch game played by banks and airlines (and now hotels following suite).

  47. Here’s why this devaluation of partner awards makes perfect sense *right now* from United’s perspective:

    As a result of the coronavirus pandemic disruption of commercial aviation worldwide, which has forced all flying activities to a screeching halt, frequent-flyers **globally** are now flush with points both from refunds for all cancelled award travel and from all planned award travel that did not happen or won’t happen until business resumes.

    I ask you: is there a better time to devalue than when there is a glut of currency? I think not.

  48. Lucky, all,
    I do have the same question as Jamie and Stephen: Can I change the dates on an existing award ticket without the ticket being repriced to the new (higher) level ? If so, how far in advanced can be booked ? The United website that tickets are valid 24 months from issue, but you can only book flights online 11 months in advance at United. In my case it would be a partner award on Asiana metal.

  49. @Leon — Actually, I think that you are mistaken. I believe that we are about the reenter that age of loyalty programs that you long for because, after years of things moving away from the concept that “the consumer is king and always right” toward programs dictating the terms of loyalty, the pendulum is now poised to start swinging the other way. The reason is that loyalty programs are about the relearn humility that they lost when they felt that they ruled the world and could do anything because planes and guest rooms were checking in full day in and day out.

    Well, a little invisible bug is about to dramatically change the dynamic to where loyalty programs will have to relearn humility and the concept that the “customer is king and always right” because that is what it’ll take to lure back or retain customers who will remain scare due to the dire economic conditions and lingering anxiety about COVID-19 that will inevitably follow the pandemic. It will require the discovery an effective vaccine to normalize things again. But even then, planes and hotel guest rooms will not return to filling to capacity again until many years down the road.

    So, Ladies and Gents, loyalty programs do not know it yet, but we are about the reenter the “Golden Age of Loyalty”, and you heard it here first… 😉

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