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United has been busy in the last few days. On the heels of announcing elite status extensions and halving Premier status requirements, United has just updated the earning structure to make earning status more difficult. As if that wasn't enough, all partner award charts have disappeared overnight. They say bad things come in pairs. In this case, they were right.
Dynamic Partner Awards
Ever since United made the switch to dynamic award pricing for its own flights last year, loyalty members have been (optimistically) wondering if partner awards were going to share the same fate. Now we have an answer.
As of this publishing, United has—without notice—removed all partner award charts from its website, paving the way for dynamic pricing. Zach Griff—who first reported this change—quoted a United spokesperson stating:
“We announced in April of last year that all award pricing will be dynamic beginning November 2019. This change is consistent with other major carriers and allows us to align information regarding all MileagePlus award flights, whether it is for travel on United or one of our partner airlines.”
This makes it seem as if we should have expected this, although I don't recall United being so definitive before.
Increases Have Now Started
At first, partner award rates remained unchanged despite the removal of the partner award charts. However, it didn't take long for United to start making changes. On Wednesday afternoon, One Mile At A Time noticed that United has now raised mileage prices on partner awards by about 10% across the board.
For example, let's take Lufthansa awards between the U.S. and Europe. On the now-removed partner award chart, this route would cost 30,000 United miles in economy or 70,000 United miles in business class. Now, we are finding rates that are exactly 10% higher:
If you've been eyeing any partner awards, you’ll want to consider booking now—especially if you find an award that hasn't been increased yet. There's no telling when United will make more changes to its partner award pricing.
Earning MileagePlus Premier Status
The MileagePlus Premier Program has gone through a lot of changes in the past year. Among the most significant of these changes involved United redesigning the metrics used for earning elite status in 2020.
Previously, you earned United status by meeting the required Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) plus either the required Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) or Premier Qualifying Segments (PQSs).
The updated program replaces PQDs and PQMs with one metric: Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs). These are earned from United airfares (excluding taxes and government fees), as well as some other United purchases and partner flights. Moreover, United replaced PQSs with Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs)—which are essentially the same thing.
If you fly on a partner airline with a ticket not issued by United, your PQPs earned are calculated by:
- Dividing your total award miles earned by 5, if flying with a Preferred Partner
- Dividing your total award miles earned by 6, if flying with a MileagePlus Partner
The result is that in general, United fliers have to spend more money to earn status this year than they did last year—with one caveat. Thrifty flyers could shortcut their way to Premier qualification by leveraging the more favorable earning scheme offered for flights booked with—and flown on—Star Alliance partners.
Apparently, that opportunity was too good to last. TPG caught that United updated its website to include a limitation for the amount of PQPs you can earn on flights with partners. For any flight on or after July 1, 2020 and ticketed on or after April 29, 2020, the maximum earnings will be:
Additionally, any MileagePlus member who booked a ticket before April 29, 2020 can still earn pre-limit PQPs by emailing email@example.com with ‘OA PQP Review' as the subject line.
This limit is a significant blow to the strategy. To put it in context: a round-trip itinerary in premium economy between Los Angeles and Singapore on Singapore Airlines can regularly be booked for $1,100. Before the newly imposed limit, you would earn around 2,923 PQPs total. Now you'll be limited to receiving 1,000 PQPs.
There is one ray of hope worth highlighting. Since this limit is per segment and not per itinerary, there should still be some opportunity to leverage partner bookings for status. The strategy will now be to find reasonably-priced, premium itineraries with multiple medium-haul segments.
Over the last few days, United has made earning elite status harder and removed partner award charts. Both without any notice whatsoever.
No matter which way you look at it, this one-two punch represents a significant devaluation. The timing alone—halfway through a new program year and in the middle of a pandemic—is enough to make you scratch your head. The lack of notice just adds insult to injury.
How will this affect the value of United miles? Do you think partner awards are going to become more expensive?
This post has been updated since publishing to reflect the increase in partner award rates.
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