Black Friday Is Truly Dark. United Decides Their “Friend”ship Costs More, Raises Many Award Prices

I woke up this morning to an announcement on Milepoint by United Airlines about award chart increases.  At first, I didn’t really think it was that bad.  But, the more I dug into it, more I realized this was a bit of a “Black Friday” event for mileage folks and not in a good way.  These changes don’t go into effect until February, so you have a bit of time to plan your next trips, but it’s pretty bad.  I don’t have a ton of time to summarize this morning, but here are just a couple of brutal examples:

Flights From Mainland US to Hawaii:  Coach saver award seats see an increase from 40,000 miles round-trip to 45,000.  40,000 was already high, considering American Airlines only charges 35,000 for saver awards.

Flights From US to Europe:  In Business Class, these saver award flights are currently 100K miles.  And that’s regardless of whether you fly on United or one of their partners like Lufthansa.

In the new chart, there’s a distinction between United and all other Star Alliance partners, and it’s not good.  Heck, the United portion isn’t great.  A Business Class ticket to Europe goes up to 115,000 miles round-trip, or a 15% increase.

Want to take advantage of Lufthansa flights to Europe instead?  No problem, that will set you back a stunning 140,000 miles round-trip, or a 40% increase in cost.

The narrative here is that United has decided it doesn’t really want you to spend your miles on their Star Alliance partners, or at least at the values using the current award chart.  They’ve drawn a big line between their own metal and carriers they have strong partnerships with (like Lufthansa).  Charging 25,000 more miles to fly Lufthansa overseas versus United is a really painful blow to the value of United’s program.

Today, I can see pages and pages of flight options to get from the US to Europe on United, something that I’m a bit more limited on when it comes to American.  Don’t get me wrong, American has gotten better, but United certainly has more ways to get to Europe in Business Class at 100K miles.

Now, instead of having 20 or 30 different itinerary choices at the new “cheap” level of 115K, most folks will have only 3 or 4 choices on United.  Those convenient Lufthansa flights?  25K more per flight, or another whopping 100K miles for a family of 4.

It’s certainly disappointing to see United drawing such a clear line in the sand between themselves and their partners.

And, while some early reactions are that this devaluation makes Chase Ultimate Rewards points less valuable since United is a primary transfer partner for many folks, I do think it’s worth giving this a bit of a second thought.

I generally recommend something like Chase Ultimate Rewards for its flexibility.  And, while United is a less worthwhile transfer partner today (or in February) than they were yesterday, these points still have much more flexibility than if you had been putting all that spend on a United credit card.  At least now you can decide whether it’s still a good value to redeem selectively on United or push those points to Hyatt or other Chase partners.

The unfortunate likely development here is that since the legacy US carriers tend to copy each other, I wouldn’t be surprised to see American do something similar in the future.  For now, their awards are not nearly as punitive on partner airlines, though they do have fuel surcharges on some, with British Airways being specifically high.

And, this certainly means you need to give some more thought to my recommendations for saving miles, made just a few days ago.

I’m still in favor of having some extra miles lying around for a variety of important reasons, but today’s news makes that harder to do.


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  1. I’m so happy I deserted UA 2 years ago even with being 1K ! They just made me sick after incident after incident and I felt like they were really losing any credibility. I think I made the correct choice to move over to AA.

    1. Dude26, I agree. I always used UA as a utility because I live near IAD so they’re more convenient than AA, my favorite airline. I suspect AA will follow these changes in some form or fashion, but AA is still way ahead in customer service and catching up quickly on J seat quality. They’re obviously way ahead on in-flight wifi.

    1. True, John. And it is the end of the year, a typical time for a double EQM promo, though I still think it’s unlikely. But, AA may also choose to lay low in the face of DOJ and their own potential award chart increases.

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