Earlier this week, United announced a devaluation of its award chart. Starting February 1, 2014 the airline will not only require more miles for redemption on United metal, but will also implement separate redemption rates for partner awards, which are signficantly higher. A summary of the devaluation can be found here.
In the past, we’ve touted MileagePlus miles as one of the most valuable rewards currencies out there. It was easy to redeem awards online (still is), their award chart was reasonable (though higher than fellow Star Alliance partner US Airways), and the currency gave us access to a huge route network on some terrific foreign carriers. So what should you do now that some of that appeal is gone? Here are six ways to weather the storm:
1. Fly United. They don’t fly everywhere, but their routing network is still strong. Simply fly United metal and avoid the huge markup in miles.
2. Fly Economy. Here at Frugal Travel Guy, we are advocates of seeing the world at prices everyone can afford, which includes traveling frugally. Not only do economy flights largely remain at previous levels, but currently the program is offering discounted United economy award redemptions of 48,000 miles roundtrip to Europe. These rates are valid for travel between January 13 and March 11, 2014 and must be booked by November 19, 2013.
This isn’t as low as other airlines’ off-peak awards (35,000 RT on US Airways, 36,000-40,000 on American), but there’s some incentive to redeem your miles at better levels.
3. Switch to US Airways. If it’s Star Alliance partner awards you’re after, US Airways has more reasonable redemption levels than United. Of course, that could change at any moment (especially if the merger takes place), but for now you can still fly business class to Europe with a stop-over in Asia for just 90,000 miles roundtrip. Sure, you’ll have to actually call and talk to a rep to book those awards, but that is worth the lower rates.
There certainly aren’t as many options to stock up on Dividend Miles, however, you can still use the US Airways Premier Visa Signature card for a generous 35k,000 sign-up bonus after first spend with the unofficial card offer, or transfer Starwood points to Dividend Miles at a 1:1 ratio (plus a 5,000 bonus per 20,000 transferred).
4. Earn & Burn. If you’re sitting on a pile of miles and you can’t fly United metal, book your trip now. D-day is February 1, 2014 so book your trip by January 31 to ensure previous Saver levels. Keep in mind that non-elites will have to pay a $75-$100 fee if plans change, though no additional miles will be deducted. So weigh that against the extra miles you’d otherwise be paying and see if it’s worth it. Personally, I would make sure travel plans are absolutely set before booking.
5. Settle for Less. You can still combine United/partner flights into a single award at United Saver levels- if the partner segment is a lower cabin class. For example, you can fly United BusinessFirst to Frankfurt and then take Lufthansa economy to Munich. The award will be priced at the United BusinessFirst level. Not ideal, but at least it is possible to still fly that partner segment if you need to, without forking over a hefty chunk of miles (or buying a separate ticket with cash).
6. Re-evaluate your loyalty. Just like the airlines can reevaluate and change their programs at any moment, so can you. I’m not a mileage runner and status doesn’t matter to me. Thus, I’m not too concerned about where to redirect my loyalty. For those who earn miles through credit cards and other financial products, like I do, it shouldn’t be too tough to direct your spending to a different card.
This devaluation isn’t the worst thing in the world if you want to continue redeeming miles with United. However, if you’re really fed up with the MileagePlus program, you have other options. All is not lost.
How has the MileagePlus devaluation affected your travel plans?
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