United Airlines rolled out a massive devaluation of economy class awards last week and now has devalued premium cabin awards as well on both United metal and on partner carriers. This represents a gut punch to MileagePlus members and a steep reduction in the value of your United miles. That said, do not panic: I’ll address below what I plan to do with my (large) balance of United miles.
United Airlines 2023 MileagePlus Devaluation: Even Without Award Chart, Prices Rise By As Much As 47%
I began tracking this last week when I noticed that last-minute economy class awards rose from as little as 33K to 47K one-way. Now this pricing has spread to premium cabins as well and impacts both United metal, partner awards, and mixed awards.
For example, business class awards between the USA and Europe on United that used to cost 60K are now 80K. Last-minute partner awards that were anywhere from 73-83K now cost as much as 107.1K one-way (as little as 97.1K if you book more than a month in advance). Last-minute economy class awards on partners now run 47.9K miles each.
A couple of exceptions I’ve found. First class awards have not (yet) gone up in price.
There’s a no-brainer upgrade if I’ve ever seen one…
Flights outside the USA also have not risen in price. For example, one-way nonstop awards in Europe are still 6.5K miles each:
Another sweet spot between Asia and Australia remains reasonable in business class:
But the flights I’ve booked the most for myself and for Award Expert clients are business class tickets between the US and Europe as well as domestic flights, both of which have gone up in price.
It’s not just so-called “saver space” as well. One of the best uses of United miles has been a one-way “anytime” award between the USA and Europe. Whenever a partner segment was added, the price was capped at 158-178K one-way in business class. These days, that was a great buy. So for example a one-way ward from San Francisco to Frankfurt might have been 298K one-way in business class, but adding a segment from Frankfurt to Stockholm on SAS dropped the price in half. That was the sort of deal I expected United to put an end to, but I did not expect such a massive devaluation of partner awards.
These anytime awards are now routinely running up to 398K one-way between the USA and Europe: that’s almost as bad as Delta SkyMiles…
Even more from Latin America:
As One Mile At A Time reasons, the cost to United for these awards has not risen overnight and the changes are downright punitive. This is sad news.
What To Do Now With Your United Miles?
First, do not panic. This is sad, but it’s done…and I do not expect it to roll back. But I also do not expect another devaluation for the next several months. United usually rolls out devaluations at once and then is done for a year or two. With a devaluation this steep, I hope United is done for a while.
If you are outside the USA, these devaluations may spread to other markets so booking travel within Europe or from Europe to Africa or the Middle East may make sense now if United decides to devalue other regions.
But the price is price…there’s no fighting it. Start saving again for the trip you want and book it as soon as you have the miles to do so. With dynamic pricing, I do expect we will occasionally see reductions in pricing as well, at least on United metal.
I’ve been hoping to use my miles to book four one-way tickets on Austrian Airlines from Vienna to Los Angeles this summer. What would have been 33K for economy class or 77K for business class will now be at least 43K for business or 99K for business class. That hurts, but I’ll continue to wait for that space to open (though I may use another currency if we find that United does not devalue award travel wholly outside the USA).
This Move Reflects Very Poorly On United
United can smugly say “we have no award chart therefore this is no fixed pricing therefore this was not a devaluation” until its face turns blue, but we know that is not the case. Most awards still followed fixed pricing even if there is no award chart published.
Finally, this devaluation makes Air Canada Aeroplan program all the more valuable. Aeroplan transparently publishes award charts and announces devaluations in advance.
It’s time for you to cut up your United Airlines co-branded credit cards from Chase and shift spending to a more flexible currency like Chase Ultimate Rewards points via a Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card.
The devaluation is bad enough, but not giving MileagePlus members any sort of heads-up really stings. We’ve reached out to United for comment, but I expect a vague response about how United periodically adjusts pricing, blah, blah, blah.
As I always have insisted, points and miles are generally depreciating assets and you should not consider them a nest egg, but a currency to be used sooner rather than later. This devaluation just reinforces that trend.
United Airlines should be ashamed of itself for such a steep devaluation without notice, especially on partner awards. Award chart or not, there is an implied contract of good faith between United and its members. When pricing rises by almost 50% without notice, it shows how much disdain United has for the very people that fuel its most profitable division. This is shortsighted greed and is a pathetic move by the bean counters that want to kill the cash cow that MileagePlus has been precisely because it offers reasonable value to its members.
I’m not waking away from United over this – the route network is far too convent for me and I still very much like flying on United – but that does not mean United gets the last laugh here. I’ve long stopped using any co-branded MileagePlus credit cards. If enough people do this, United will get the message…or at least Chase will.