In this morning’s post about overvaluing flexibility, I called out what appeared to be a major devaluation on United Mileage Plus awards. One Mile at a Time has since reported on the extent of the devaluation, but I think there are a couple of nuances to add to what Ben reported. First, while SWISS business class awards appear to start at 97,100 miles one-way, most partner awards now cost 102,400 miles each way and as he reported the close-in booking surcharge increased substantially — though if there is one less negative piece, it is that the close-in booking surcharge no longer applies to all itineraries within 30 days of departure but rather appears to apply to a closer window (perhaps within 2-3 weeks of departure?). Economy class awards increase by an even-more-brutal 46% on partner awards.
Business class to Europe now far more expensive (and set for dynamic)
In this morning’s post, I noted the cost of business class on United metal ringing in at 80,000 miles one-way as in this February 2024 example from Brussels to Newark.
That is an increase from the previous rate of 60,000 miles as shown in this 2023 example I used in a post a couple of months ago:
An increase of 33% is a massive devaluation (and as noted in my post this morning, it makes the expected value of booking with United Mileage Plus miles to be a losing proposition unless you’re going to cancel a large majority of your award tickets since you could likely book for far fewer miles with partner airlines).
Speaking of partner airlines, that’s where this latest devaluation really ratchets things up a notch. Ben at One Mile at a Time notes that transatlantic partner business class awards start at 97,100 miles one-way and increase to 107,100 miles within 30 days of departure. The key words there are start at. While SWISS appears to be 97,100 miles each way, most partner award flights cost more. An example from this morning’s post was an award from Munich to New York JFK that costs 102,400 miles one-way — and this was not within 30 days of departure.
In fact, most partner awards to Europe that I’ve searched are ringing in at 102,400 miles. As one of many additional examples, see this itinerary in February 2024 on TAP Air Portugal pricing at 102,400 miles in business class between Washington DC and Lisbon.
As you can see, economy class awards are even more brutal at 43,900 miles each way on partners. Those awards were previously 30,000 miles one-way, so that’s an increase of 46%!
Interestingly, I think the close-in redemption rates are working a bit differently than in the past. Ben at One Mile at a Time cites an example between the US and Zurich where redemptions far in advance cost 97,100 miles one-way on partner SWISS or 107,100 miles close-in, which led Ben to say that there is now a 10,000-mile surcharge for booking within 30 days of departure. In actuality, I think the close-in window isn’t quite 30 days and the surcharge isn’t 10K miles but rather close-in partner bookings seem to all cost 107,100 miles.
For instance, take this Lufthansa itinerary within 8 days of departure — see that it costs 107,100 miles in business class.
However, on June 8th, the rate drops to 102,400 miles.
The close-in booking cutoff appears to be less than 30 days in advance (maybe the cutoff for the higher close-in fee is within 2 weeks of departure?). As shown above, flights on other partner airlines continue to cost 102,400 miles one-way in business class even many months prior to departure.
SWISS in the only partner I’ve seen so far that is charging 97,100 miles for partner awards. As in the example above, most partner awards have priced at 102,400 miles when booked at least a few weeks from departure. Those within a week or two of departure are pricing at 107,100 miles one-way in business class. Note that the close-in booking surcharge was 3,000 miles previously — the new increase appears to be 4,700 miles close-in on most itineraries (raising the redemption from 102.4K to 107.1K) on most partner awards, which is a 56.67% increase in that surcharge. It’s just worse than that on SWISS since that close-in fee appears to be 10K miles on those awards, an increase of more than 300%.
United Mileage Plus has implemented a major devaluation for awards to and from Europe. I wouldn’t be surprised if we also see devaluations to other regions. Unfortunately, when United dumped its partner award chart, this was bound to happen — and the fact that they are pricing some partner awards differently than others is an ominous sign for the future of dynamic pricing. While it is possible that we’ll find routes pricing below expectations, at this point everything I’ve seen has increased substantially, with awards on both United and partners increasing by 33%. That’s really disappointing. This devaluation certainly increases the appeal of partner redemptions — even those that are less flexible.
Looks like AA might be joining the devaluation party. Business class one way tickets to Tokyo on JAL have suddenly all increased from 60,000 miles to 80,000 miles, a 33% increase. Didn’t take them long to match United’s devaluation.
It still prices at 60K for me. I looked at ORD-TYO and SFO-TYO, both show 60K
I don’t see it anymore either, glad to be wrong!!
I will dump my UA cards. I think the only way to stop this is to punish back these companies.
This also appears to hold true for award tickets from Asia to Europe. I’m seeing everything at 49.5k miles for one-way economy.
Very ironically on our IAH-FLL flight day before yesterday, the purser was hawking the UA CCs during the last 30 min of the flight. She was also standing by the exit holding those applications forms. The pitch was, “our flight was chosen as promotion flight that would let you get extra 5000 miles on top of the 60,000 miles sign up bonus when you apply use the code (the crew got commission on that I am sure). That means you will earn 2 round trip domestic tickets and you also can fly free forever when you earn the miles thru spending on the cards…”
Still try to fool the mass…
I don’t know how to quantify this, but I think the big question is how frequently UA is/will provide saver availability to its partners. Those partners (Aeroplan and Lifemiles) have easier to obtain miles (transfer partners of Amex, Capital One, etc.) than UA (only a transfer partner of Chase, and most are probably transferring to Hyatt) anyway.
United has removed most of Polaris award availability to London and Tokyo from partner programs (Aeroplan, Lifemiles, etc.). There was a ton of Polaris award availability last week, now it’s all gone!
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It looks like UA devalued saver award redemptions to Hawaii as well. Economy saver awards are now 25k, up from 22.5k. Not sure how much first/business class redemptions have increased because I (unsurprisingly) can’t find any first class saver availability to Hawaii.
I hate to say this here but I think all these blogs about how to get outsized value made easy are a likely culprit. But then the banks may step up with better bonuses and the devaluations will be less painful.
Ah, have you seen cach prices for flights or are aware of this thing called inflation? Your expectation is that award points on flights will forever same or the root cause in rise is bloggers posts?
Throughout my life i have been pretty good at recognizing “warning shots across my bow” and this article triggered that feeling. I have a sizable stash of AA miles and am increasingly worried that one of these days i will wake up to read an FM post about a huge AA devaluation which renders AA miles almost worthless. Is there any logic in hoping/assuming AA won’t fall into the increasingly popular loyalty program graveyard? Are my fears irrational? In light of the fact that AA is more or less the “last man standing”, perhaps this is worthy of a post all it’s own?
Nope, and nope.
(But yes to your last question.)
AA has already stealthily devalued its miles by seldom offers award space on its own metals on TATL flights. BA is often your only option which costs A LOT OF SURCHARGE and AA shares the spoils with BA thru their JT Ventures.
You will pay $800 out of pocket on a 55K AA miles business class award from LHR to US on BA flight… That was up from $600 last year, and it was already very high.
Surprised you have not noticed this.
As of today, AA still offers tremendous value but the list is shrinking. I have been traveling half of the time for the past year and a half and i am doing my best to burn up my AA miles. My problem is that i still have a few million of them from the simplymiles promo and i worry that they will become air pesos before i am able to successfully burn them all. I am seeking alternate uses for them but dont even know where to begin….
In addition to the impact on the value of United miles, it impacts Chase. United added value to Chase as a unique partner. Chase is now overly dependant on Hyatt.
PS United’s free cancellations are nice but can not make up for the award prices.
PS Update redemption value of United miles?
We definitely need to update, but not because of this.
Our reasonable redemption values are not at all influenced by international awards. The vast majority of airline miles are redeemed for domestic economy class awards. The theory behind our valuations was that for many years all of the major programs charged 25,000 mi round trip for a domestic economy class flight. So we figured the average cost of an economy class flight within the United States and compared that to the standard saver 25000 mi round trip and kept the value of miles consistent across airline mile programs. Since nobody has award charts anymore, we’ve been in need of re-examining that. The hard thing is that there’s no easy objective way to do that. There are just so many variables if you try to analyze all of the various awards. We’ve never wanted to have a finger in the air approach, but rather something more scientific, however, it’s not very easy to do that.
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Want to voice my appreciation for FM, which helped me burn all but a few hundred of my United miles during the biz class sale last month. If not for you, I’d be sitting on those miles and crying into my beer.
Same, I had ~120,500ish before the March window Polaris fare. Booked a one way to CDG for 60k each, now only have ~500 miles, which will sit there, likely for eternity at this point…
Greg: You should have sold the blog .
Nick, you say in a comment above “The US programs make the vast majority of their money by selling miles to the banks.”
True, so how can this massive devaluation be good for UA? If people start steering clear of signing up for and putting spend on UA credit cards then Chase needs to buy fewer miles from UA, and UA loses, right? I’m lost.
Clearly they don’t think that will be the case.
Any time a business increases price it is because they think there is the demand to support it. Given the general availability trends and airfare costs, I’m not sure they are wrong. You and I aren’t going to redeem 100K miles for a business class flight that we could book with 45K Turkish miles or 70K Air Canada miles, but I bet there are a lot of people who will, particularly if this price point makes them willing to release more seats (and I guess there is enough demand for partner awards as well).
I work for Costco in the PNW. There are tons of people with Alaska cards. It’s the second most popular card to pay with besides the Costco Visa… theres days when I like to ask people how they redeem their miles. I have never gotten an answer that I would personally use my miles on. The typical answer is flights to Hawaii. But some say anywhere I need to go like Fort Lauderdale or San Diego. I’m waiting for the day I ask the right person and they respond JAL to Japan, Air Lingus to Europe, heck even AA to Peru! Basically airlines can devalue because most people don’t look at the value… they just want a “free” flight once in a while.
How does Delta still sell miles to Amex? I guess there are still people using Delta Amex cards or at least signing up for SUBs and upgrade offers.
I was debating picking up a United card for increased saver availability but guess I don’t have to do that anymore. Thanks, UA.
Up till this devaluation, it does help to see increased saver awards, some J awards priced at over 100K would show a cross across the original prices and show the enhanced pricing, some all the way down to the 60K. I saw those when monitoring our recent flight back from Europe. Did change our tickets several times as the enhanced saver pricing showed up on better itineraries as departure closing in.
I guess now it would be at least over 90K.
I’d say it’s still worth it. The first year on the Explorer card is free and then you can downgrade to the Gateway Card which has no annual fee. I wouldn’t make a United Card a priority but depending on your needs there can still be value especially if you are willing to travel in economy once in a while. Because of the Explorer Card I was able to get 8 economy tickets (yes 8! Parents, siblings and kids) PDX-Peru for 320k United miles and $540… would have been $7200+ in cash. Without the card there were 0 days with saver awards for more than 2 people. Even for 1 person the availability of saver awards opened to almost everyday. May not be the sexiest redemption but being able to take my entire family back to Peru for the first time since leaving 37 years ago is priceless to me.
You say that everything that you’ve seen has increased substantially, but don’t your first screenshots show the economy price of that BRU-EWR coming DOWN from 35k to 25.7k?
Everything I’ve searched for economy has gone from starting at ~30k to starting at ~40k, but it’s interesting to know there may be exceptions?
Well, OK. We do sometimes see UA offer its equivalent of “web specials” where economy class awards cost less. All business class redemptions and all partner economy class redemptions increased substantially. Yes, you may still sometimes find unadvertised deals on United economy since they are dynamically priced. But there appears to be no business class on United under 80K.
Where do you even find business class seats to Europe?! I’ve been searching since January for the month of June, for departures from Boston. Extremely low inventory, even five months in advance, on all Star Alliance: Lufthansa, Turkish, TAP, Swiss, United, Air Canada. Just a handful of options on United and Swiss. The demand must be astonishing, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Have you not seen anything like it in June before? Summertime months usually go that way — you typically either have to book about a year in advance or within about a month for summertime awards. Last year, just about every major blog covered the near total absence of saver awards all summer long (we noted that we talked about whether it would be possible to do our 3 Cards 3 Continents challenge, which was in September, given the widely-reported dearth of award space in the months leading up to it). Summertime business class awards have been tough to get for a while now, but notably so last year and this year.
You might want to expand your net beyond BOS though. I just checked a bunch of routes via SeatSpy between EWR or IAD and some European cities and I found a fair amount of business class availability from Europe to those cities — though nothing in June from those cities to the European cities I tried. Again, that’s not entirely surprising given the way summertime award availability has been for a while.
That said, just last week, I booked 4 seats in business class on an Aer Lingus flight from IAD-DUB in June. I booked via Alaska, but could have booked via UA. Note that I see that route available on 7 our of the first 9 days in July on the way to Europe (nothing useful for the way back from Dublin, so you may have to position elsewhere to get back home).
I’ve years under my belt and no, I’ve never seen anything like it. 2022 was ok, I had no issues booking in March for June and also for August, for 3-4 passengers on Lufthansa, Turkish, Air France and KLM, in business. Boston is very well connected to Europe so I never had to reserve a year in advance.
One thing to note is that the economy seats for June are about 30-50% more expensive than last year.
LX used to offer a lot of awards from BOS, but you’re right that now BOS kind of stinks. Try LH close to the departure date.
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LOL I have a hard time finding West Coast to Germany flights in the Summer for less than 155k miles ($175/245k are shown too).
Would love to find 60k-80k business flights.
@Lanteen … first class? On which airline? Who still uses international first that can be booked with UA miles?.
Only Lufthansa. I didn’t even mention it since it is so tough to find.
That is why I consider it a unicorn. Maybe you find a seat on limited routes 2-3 days out … or you might win mega million. 🙂
I am wondering if this is in preparation for summer travel and we will see better pricing come November. Who knows.
So first class is now only less than 20% more miles than biz. If one can find availability, why even bother with biz then?
Well yeah. That whole “if one can find availability” is a pretty darn big caveat. Lufthansa is the only carrier with first class to Europe bookable with miles (sure, Swiss also has first class, but apart from a couple of hours-long mistakes, they don’t make that available to partner programs).
brutal. So much for saving those UA miles for TATL flights to Europe next summer at 60k per pop. Now, if Chase dropped their 5/24 nonsense, maybe the UA card might be worthwhile, but now? I think I might pass. Chase’s partner suite of cards is becoming less desirable by the year.
Now execs at AA and AC will be thinking “ maybe we can do this too “. Thanks United.
Who knows, but I pretty strongly doubt we’ll see this type of move out of AC. The US programs make the vast majority of their money by selling miles to the banks. The entire population of Canada is about 10% of the population of the US. Making US customers interested in their program gives them access to a market so many times the size of their home market that they have a lot of incentive to be attractive. They don’t have home field advantage in the US, so they need to compete in some other way — and I think the gamey award chart and huge list of partners is specifically to get people like us excited and talking about them so they can get a piece of the US market.
You make a very convincing argument. I hope you’re right.
Devaluations happen over time, its a fact of the game. What makes United’s so bad is that since they lack an award chart, there’s nothing stopping them from devaluing further again next week if they want to. When someone like Hyatt devalues, I know I probably have 2-3 years before they’ll do it again.
I’ve picked up United Chase cards every 2 years or so and the welcome bonus on the cards tends to increase with award costs over time, but I’m much less likely to get a Chase card (or to credit star alliance flights to United) now because there’s no stability in what they’re offering. For Aeroplan, American Airlines, and others, I know how many miles I should save up to buy a given award and thats no longer the case with United. I cant imagine they couldve designed something that decreases loyalty to the program than this. They might as well rip the bandaid off and peg award costs as a fixed rates to the revenue cost of flights like Jetblue does. No reason to fly or credit to United if other opportunities exist.
Hopefully Aeroplan and Avianca don’t go down this path.
The only problem with Aeroplan is that they often have subpar routings that force you to connect in Canada when there is a direct flight on another *A carrier like UA. For example, I live near a UA hub (SFO) and was looking at flights from SFO to mexico. Do I pay more for the direct flight from SFO-CUN, SFO-MEX, SFO-PVR or go to Air Canada, pay less miles, but have a connecting flight up to YVR or YYZ and double the flight time & add a connnection?
Air Canada is great when there is partner availability but I’ve found it very challenging finding good flights because I’m often always routed via one of their hubs in Canada.
In the spirit of climate change, connecting flights that backtrack, e.g. the first flight is literally flying away from the final destination should be banned (excluding small airports that have few connections)
Seriously SFO -> YVR -> MEX , wtf
Completely agree, which is what makes AC so frustrating because I see the value in terms of lower miles, but the routing is sometimes just crazy! (same thing with for example flights from SFO – South AMerica—always wants me to go north to canada to connect, only to fly south again!). Sometimes I’ll get lucky and find something that doesn’t have crazy routine or if I’m flying to Europe where a connection in Canada is reasonable.
It’s not that Air Canada “wants” you to route through Canada, it’s that if United doesn’t release any saver award availability to partners (which is frequently the case), then there are no good routings to offer you on a route to Mexico City. And being SFO-based, you’re going to run into the same problem going to Europe because UA so rarely releases availability on domestic routes. So you’re correct that if there is no partner availability, then United is going to be your best bet — but you are likely to get a subpar value for miles then (and it may well be a better deal to use Chase points or Amex points at 1.5cpp).
I do like the flexibility of full refundable award tickets on UA and other carriers that have no change/redposit fees and so often I’m inclined to book using points/miles instead of cash because of the potential need to make a change or redeposit.
Does booking through the AMEX portal give you that same ability to cancel/change or is it treated like any cash fare on the airlines which typically is a credit toward travel good for 1 year from the original booking date?
The Aeroplan program simply sucks for those of us who are based on the west coast. Aeroplan award prices are super-high from the US west coast to, well, everywhere. Bloggers (who either live on the east coast or are just clueless) ignore this.
@Nick Reyes Reyes, I’ve played the book UA and then rebook using Aeroplan or LifeMiles if UA opens last minute saver availability. Whenever they offer Saver on UA.com, I find they offer that to partners at least on international flights.