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United Devalues Its Miles Yet Again

“Loyalty, schmoyalty” is the airline view of frequent-flyer miles these days. The programs are cash cows, and if the line’s bean counters say to squeeze you a little bit more, they squeeze. In case you need any more evidence, United just devalued its program—again. The new award charts, effective February 1, make several important awards more expensive, with no offsetting benefits whatsoever.

The good news is that the miles required on United and United Express flights for three of the most popular frequent-flyer awards—the low-mileage limited-seat “saver” awards in coach/economy class—won’t change. From the contiguous 48 states and Canada, with mileages required for round-trips:

  • Travel within the region will remain at 25,000 miles.
  • Travel to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central America will remain at 35,000 miles.
  • Travel to Europe will remain at 60,000 miles.

But coach/economy awards on two other popular routes will increase a bit:

  • Travel to Alaska will go from 25,000 to 35,000 miles.
  • Travel to Hawaii will go from 40,000 to 45,000 miles.

Awards for first class on two-class planes and business class on three-class planes will remain the same as before:

  • 50,000 miles within the 48 states/Canada region.
  • 60,000 miles to the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico.
  • 80,000 miles to Hawaii.

Although the new award chart doesn’t specifically say it, United informed me that, as before, the mileage listed for “business” class will apply to a first class seat on two-class airplanes. That means the business mileage will provide first class on most domestic and short-haul regional routes other than the three-class 757 nonstops from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The bad news is for those of you who believe (as I do) that the optimum use of frequent-flyer miles is to escape from the economy class cattle car on long intercontinental trips. Sadly, you will find that avoiding the crunch will eat up more miles:

  • Business-class round-trip requirements on United flights will go up from 100,000 to 115,000 miles for Europe, from 100,000 to 110,000 miles for Southern South America, from 120,000 to 140,000 miles for Japan and North Asia and 160,000 for South Asia, and from 130,000 to 160,000 miles for Australia. Requirements for other routes will increase in similar fashions.
  • Business-class awards for travel on partner airlines will go up even more: From the 48 states and Canada, travel to Europe will go up from 100,000 miles to 140,000 miles, travel to Asia will go up from 120,000 to 160,000 miles, with corresponding increases on other routes.

Of course, “standard” awards with almost-unlimited seat availability will remain at double the new saver levels in North America and more than double saver awards on intercontinental trips. First-class intercontinental awards will also increase—by huge margins, in some cases—but business class has become so opulent that, for most of you, the only time to consider a first-class award is when business-class saver awards are not available but first-class saver awards are still open.

For the most part, United remains close to par with American or maybe still a little better. But when you compare awards on Delta, keep in mind that you stand a fair chance of getting a saver award seat on United or American when you want one but your chances of getting a lowest-mileage seat on Delta are slim to none.

Don’t be surprised to see other lines devaluing their programs, as well. As I’ve said so often, nothing catches on in the airline business quite as fast as a bad idea.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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