United MileagePlus devaluation coming in November: how it affects us in New Zealand

GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 3 minutes
POSTED: July 17, 2017
UPDATED: April 17, 2019
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: United MileagePlus
STATUS: Starting April 2019, redemptions for United Airlines-operated flights moved to a dynamic pricing model affecting travels from 15 November 2019 onwards. Learn more in our analysis here.

Following the lead of Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Avianca LifeMiles and Malaysia Airlines Enrich, United’s frequent flyer program MileagePlus has become the fourth major frequent flyer program to announce a devaluation to its award chart this year.

MileagePlus miles are usually accessed by travellers based in New Zealand through their regular buy miles promotions.

Do note that you can still redeem at current prices for travel after 1 November as long as the flight is ticketed before the changes come into effect.

Here is a summary of how the changes will affect New Zealand-based travellers:

1. THAI First Class sweet spot disappears

The First Class redemption that currently represents the most value to travellers in our region is an award seat on THAI between Sydney and Southeast Asia for 40,000 miles – that’s a steal! This will increase to 65,000 miles from November.

I actually have a MileagePlus booking from Hong Kong to Sydney via Bangkok in THAI First Class for September and would encourage those who want to try it to book a redemption before the changes come into effect.

THAI also flies from Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to its hub in Bangkok but does not offer First Class on these routes.

2. Business Class redemptions to South and North Asia increase

Business Class availability on Thai Airways and Air China is usually wide open from New Zealand, and these redemptions represented great value.

Business Class redemptions on Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways to South Asia, including Hong Kong, will increase from 30,000 miles to 50,000 miles.

Business Class redemptions on Air China to Beijing will increase from 40,000 to 55,000 miles.

Star Alliance redemptions with Air New Zealand will start to look like better value at this rate!

3. Flying to US on United and partners gets 10,000 miles more expensive

Finding Business Class award space on a direct flight between New Zealand and the US is very difficult, so the increase in United’s pricing on its Auckland to San Francisco routes from 70,000 to 80,000 miles isn’t much of a worry in practice.

Plus, based on my experience of United’s 787 Dreamliner Business Class from San Francisco to Sydney last year, I wouldn’t recommend it.

However, if you have more time up your sleeve and can transit through Singapore with Singapore Airlines, then a one-way Business redemption will increase from 80,000 to 90,000 miles, which isn’t a huge change but still notable.

4. Lufthansa First Class between Europe and North America stays the same

Luckily, you can still access Lufthansa’s fantastic onboard First Class product and First Class Terminal in Frankfurt for the same price.

However, keep in mind that Lufthansa still only releases premium cabin award space to its partners like United 14 days before departure, so this is a last-minute redemption opportunity.

5. A much less significant change

As KrisFlyer does, United differentiates between Saver and Standard Award pricing, with the latter being more expensive.

MileagePlus will replace its fixed (but expensive) Standard Awards with dynamically-priced Everyday Awards, which will be pegged to the revenue cost of the ticket.

Standard Awards have never represented good value for frequent flyers, so this change isn’t very important.

The current vs new award charts

Here are the current award chart in interactive form (for awards ticketed up to 31 October 2017) and new award chart in table form (for awards ticketed from 1 November 2017.)

Summing up

The last time MileagePlus devalued its award chart was in February 2014, so it is understandable they are wanting to increase prices, and giving four months’ notice is quite generous.

Having said that, if you have a specific flight redemption in mind and are sitting on some MileagePlus miles, you may want to book in your plans before the changes come into effect in November.

Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines.

United MileagePlus devaluation coming in November: how it affects us in New Zealand was last modified: April 17th, 2019 by Matt Moffitt