The (Unofficial) United MileagePlus Partner Award Chart

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This past week, United removed its partner award chart from its website, finally following through on an announcement in April 2019 that it would launch dynamic award pricing. At that time, partner awards saw only an adjustment for close-in awards. MileagePlus members exchanged a close-in booking fee for an increased award cost. While this news certainly removed one of the benefits of United elite status, it provided non-elites with less out-of-pocket cost on awards booked within 21 days of departure.

Within a day of removing partner award charts, United started to implement award cost increases for partner awards. Early search results led many to believe that award pricing had increased by 10% across the board on partner awards. But, we gave it a closer look and found that's not quite the case.

Pick Your Partner Carefully

Once news broke about increased award costs, I immediately needed to see for myself. I routinely search award space for various global routes, and earlier in the week I had not seen higher award costs. Lo and behold, the first route I searched showed a 10% increase to partner awards. Instead of 30,000 and 70,000 miles for an economy or business class award entirely on TAP Portugal metal (i.e. on an aircraft operated by TAP Portugal) from Newark to Rome, the new mileage cost shows as 33,000 or 77,000.

But, for the same exact date and route, flying entirely on Aer Lingus prices at the same 30,000/70,000 rate as previously charged.

Flights Partially Operated by United

One quirk of the now-removed United award chart is that United charged less for flights on its aircraft than on partners. For example, flights between the U.S. and Europe used to cost 60,000 miles in business class on United flights or 70,000 miles on partners. As we found, flying on a mix of United metal and partner metal still adds a layer of intricacy to these award prices.

Again for the same date and route, flying transatlantic on United metal and connecting onward on Star Alliance partner metal will cost 10% more than the price on the now-removed award chart. However, this is a 10% premium on top of the cost of United-operated awards, not partner awards. Instead of charging 60,000 for business, United is now charging 66,000 miles. As we saw before, flights operated only by partners now cost 77,000 miles each way.

Non-Star Alliance Partners

Further searching confirmed that not all partners follow the same rules. The selected route from Newark to Zurich connects in Milan. United operates the transatlantic flight, and Helvetic Airways AG operates the connection. Helvetic Airways does not belong to Star Alliance, but the “details” for the flight clearly show this is really a Swiss Air Lines flight operated by Helvetic Airways. Despite the presence of a partner airline on the itinerary, the old mileage cost applies.

Similarly, a March itinerary between the same cities offers a route entirely on partner airlines. Yet, because it includes a segment (even an intra-Europe one) on a non-Star Alliance airline, the old partner award pricing applies.

Timing Matters Too

All of the above award searches include travel in early 2021. Using flights from the U.S. to Europe as a barometer, a definitive “switch” flips on July 1, 2020. The same exact flight prices differently on June 30 versus July 1.

Ordinarily, a change such as this would still allow travelers a window of opportunity to redeem miles under the old award prices. However, given the worldwide hiatus on travel, United's timing severely disadvantages award travelers. Not only does United make an impromptu change to their award pricing practice, but also they give little to no opportunity to redeem miles before the new pricing applies.

The New (Sort of) Partner Award Chart

By searching each of the 17 United award regions, I constructed a makeshift updated Star Alliance partner award chart. The below table details the changes, by region, for travel originating in the United States or Canada (excluding Hawaii).

Overall, a rule of thumb of 10% increases across the board holds up fairly well. Lower cost awards may increase by a slightly larger percentage in order to end up with mileage costs that are a round number. While the chart above only shows awards for one region, the same holds true across the others.

Our Take

If you have plans to redeem a stash of United miles for flights once travel picks back up, consider the carrier operating the flight.

For instance, flying in business class from the United States to Europe on a direct flight on United metal generally costs just 60,000 miles. After June 30, 2020, the same cabin and route operated by a Star Alliance partner will cost 77,000, more than a 28% difference.

This new rule applies to short hop connections as well as long-haul direct flights. A key distinction, whether intentional or not, is that non-alliance partner-operated flights skirt the 10% increase. The flight in question can be marketed by a Star Alliance airline, as long as they do not actually operate the flight.

With United raising award costs, think about booking Star Alliance awards through other frequent flier programs. Aeroplan, ANA, Avianca, Singapore Airlines, and Turkish Airlines are all partners of the major transferable points currencies and all are Star Alliance members. Depending on where you want to go and who you want to fly, it may make more sense to book through a program other than United.

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Comments

  • Florencia says:

    Thanks for the article, it is very interesting. If I have 60,000 miles at United, and would like to change them to fly in Turkish, when transferring, do I keep 60,000 miles?

    • JT Genter says:

      Unfortunately, you can’t transfer United miles to Turkish miles. However, you can transfer Citi ThankYou Points or Marriott Bonvoy points to Turkish, or you can still use United miles to book a Turkish Airlines flight.

  • B1BomberVB says:

    Florencia. as JT says, you can’t transfer–but the good news is, you don’t need to! You book a Turkish Airlines ticket directly from your United account. If the Website can’t handle it, phone UA to book. UA will tell you the price of your TK flights in UA miles + taxes to be paid with real money.

  • Devaluation, again.
    Now that United miles last for ever -they are not worth collecting…
    This is bad news.

    • Yes, at least at this point in time in the travel loyalty game, it seems like we can only have one or the other, only one good thing, but not two.

  • I expect award points and miles to be worth a lot less after Covid. But devaluations coming.

    • Unfortunately you’re not wrong. There’s a reason airlines and hotels are running tons of promotions on buying points. The devaluations will be coming some time thereafter.

  • It’s so weird. Good thing I only have 8k miles in United… Not really wanting to transfer any more in from Chase.

  • It is really disappointing that they have removed the award chart. As we have seen with others such as Hilton it allows the airline or hotel to massively increase the points or miles required overnight and without notice.

  • It started as a 10% increase, but I’m afraid as time goes the jump could increase to 20%, 30%, and so on.

  • Just the first shoe to drop in devaluations that will keep happening – airlines want you to burn more of those miles they keep selling you for cheap-ish (either directly or through CC spend bonuses) so they can make some cash.

  • Focusing on transferable points rather than airline miles seems to be the smart course of action given the constant devaluations.

  • It seems so that they increase the awards of about 10%.
    The worst thing is that they implemented this change without announcing it.

  • The complexity of air travel award travel is quite literally off the charts. The difficulty is real and only gets worse to figure out this game.

  • It’s never a good thing when they remove an awards chart. I almost always fly partner airlines when using UAL miles. The partners offer more direct flights (or at least flights with one stop instead several) from my airport, and that’s my number one consideration.

  • Great article. It’s moves like this from United that makes me glad I no longer “chase” any form of status with them.

  • Very informative, especially since I frequently fly in/out of EWR. I suspect we’ll see these award charts continue undergoing changes as the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on air travel.

  • Thanks for the in-depth research. I hope devaluations are not so significant once this covid-19 is mostly over.

    Are the 8K miles for short flights still available though?

  • Kathryn Metson says:

    Thanks for this, very useful. I don’t chase United miles but they gradually have accrued over the years and a redemption chart – as above – is a great help. Katy

  • It is tragic that the new award pricing system is too dynamic / complicated.

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