Earlier this week, United quietly devalued transatlantic awards on its MileagePlus program. For the time being, it appears that this only affects flights to and from Europe; however, there could be changes to other regions at any time.
To add insult to injury, the increase in pricing affects flights with both United and partner airlines.
United MileagePlus Hikes Transatlantic Awards
Earlier this week, transatlantic flight awards operated by United and partner airlines were increased by at least 30% across the board with United MileagePlus. The hike mostly affects economy and business class awards, while premium economy pricing appears to have been spared.
Recall that MileagePlus has long done away with award charts and instead uses a form of dynamic pricing for flights operated by United and its partners. This leaves the door open for pricing to change at any time, and changes are a bit more difficult to spot than with programs that use a fixed pricing model.
To illustrate the extent of the no-warning devaluation, let’s take a look at a few examples.
Economy Saver awards for a flight from Washington DC (IAD) to Paris (CDG) now cost at least 40,000 miles, whereas previously, this route would’ve typically cost as few as 30,000 miles. This represents a 33% increase.
Meanwhile, a United Polaris Business Saver award on a flight from Washington DC (IAD) to Amsterdam (AMS) now costs at least 80,000 miles, whereas the same flight previously cost 60,000 miles, likewise representing a 33% increase.
United MileagePlus also applies dynamic pricing to awards with partner airlines, giving them free rein to increase prices at any moment. Unfortunately, transatlantic partner awards weren’t spared from this round of devaluations.
For example, a flight with TAP Air Portugal from Washington DC (IAD) to Lisbon (LIS) is now priced upwards of 40,000 miles for economy and 80,000 miles for business. This is an increase from around 30,000 and 60,000 miles, respectively.
You can see similar trends for other Star Alliance partners, too. For example, a Swiss business class flight from New York (JFK) to Geneva (GVA) now costs 88,000 miles.
But it’s not all bad news, as there are still some Saver awards that can be found for the pre-devaluation cost, at least for now.
For example, it’s still possible to find a flight from Newark (EWR) to Amsterdam (AMS) with tickets priced at 31,800 miles.
As mentioned, Premium Economy Saver awards don’t seem to have increased in price with this devaluation. Going back to the example above, you’ll see that premium economy is still priced at 45,000 miles, and you can see the same pricing for many other transatlantic flights.
Consequently, the difference between an Economy Saver award versus a Premium Economy Saver award is narrowed to 5,000 miles, making the upgrade a no-brainer.
While there haven’t been any changes to award pricing on other routes, it’s very possible that these may follow in the near future. If you have any points sitting around in your MileagePlus account, you may want to lock in a booking soon to avoid any other changes that may come.
Should You Book Flights to Europe with United MileagePlus?
It’s worth noting that booking transatlantic flights through United MileagePlus wasn’t the best option before, and it’s now just become worse.
Clearly, this is a good opportunity become acquainted with other Star Alliance loyalty programs, if you haven’t done so already.
The first two programs that come to mind are Aeroplan, which is a transfer partner of American Express US Membership Rewards, Capital One, and Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Avianca LifeMiles, which is a transfer partner of Amex US Membership Rewards, Capital One, and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
With these two programs, you can expect Star Alliance partner awards to be priced lower than United MileagePlus. Let’s use the examples above.
A one-way business class award with TAP Portugal from Washington, DC (IAD) to Lisbon (LIS) costs 60,000 Aeroplan points or 63,000 LifeMiles.
Similarly, a Swiss business class flight from New York (JFK) to Geneva (GVA) is also priced 60,000 Aeroplan points and 63,000 LifeMiles.
Some quick math shows that the cost of the same flight is around 30,000 points less when booked with Aeroplan or LifeMiles instead of United MileagePlus.
As illustrated by the examples, simply diverting your credit card points to another Star Alliance program could save you a tidy sum of points or miles versus booking the same flight with United MileagePlus.
Between Aeroplan and LifeMiles, Aeroplan is arguably the better option for transatlantic awards, given that the points are easier to come by and the program’s many other features.
United has devalued its MileagePlus program by increasing transatlantic award prices on its own flights and on partner airlines. On average, transatlantic business class and economy awards now cost 30% more, while premium economy award prices still remain the same as before, at least for now.
Booking transatlantic flights with MileagePlus wasn’t the best option before, and now it has only gotten worse. Aeroplan and Avianca LifeMiles price transatlantic awards on partners like TAP Portugal and Swiss much lower than United MileagePlus does, so it’s better to focus your efforts there instead.
Devaluations are the primary reason why you shouldn’t hold onto miles and points for too long. With post-pandemic travel demand not showing any signs of letting up, we’re likely to see more devaluations to come in the future, which is unfortunate.