United Eliminates Partner Award Chart, Makes It Harder to Earn Elite Status When Flying Partners

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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.

United Polaris Business Class Seat

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:

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.

Capped Earnings

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 mileageplus@united.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.

Singapore Airlines Premium Economy

Bottom Line

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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Comments

  • Elliot Siegel says:

    I think this is laying the groundwork for partner awards to get more expensive. They may not raise rates right away, but this will make United a less attractive option going forward.

  • United’s move makes no sense. Why do something negative at this stage of the economy. A lot of fliers will be getting offers from UAL competitors when travel opens up, and some will jump to other carriers because of UAL’s devaluations.

  • I think it is bad news, especially since United is not associated with any of the main alliances (One World; Sky Team; Star Alliance) It will be increasingly difficult to get award tickets.

  • i’m boycotting United even more now. Guess they just don’t care about customers

  • It really is a shame that United wants to make a bad situation worse.

  • Just one more reason to be disappointed in United Airlines. What was once the best for me to redeem has now become the least due to their various changes.

  • That is very disappointing but not unexpected that they are moving towards dynamic pricing for partner awards. The more airlines move towards dynamic pricing the less incentive there is to bother collecting miles.

  • I believe the effective date for partner awards to go dynamic is for flights after November 15th.

  • The attitude inherent in United’s hostile timing and actions make me wish that I was a loyal (and lucrative) elite so that I could vote with my feet (and seat) and depart for more favorable alliances.

  • no reason to chase status on any airline that doesn’t value your business. For domestic trips I’ve been well covered by Southwest and Alaska schedules.

  • Partner awards are where the real value (somewhat remained). This is a very disappointing trend. Perhaps they are making this change now while almost noone is booking and hoping we won’t notice too much.

  • This was bound to happen. All we can do is figure out how to maximize our earnings and status by the new rules. There will always be some who might benefit and others where it will encourage them to move on to another program. With the current travel situation, these things will take a very long to to figure out. In the end, it’s best to focus on a program that words best for your paid travel and take any extra benefits as added bonuses.

  • Glad I stopped flying UA and burned my miles awhile back. You’d think airlines would be trying to incentivize passengers these days, but you’d be wrong 😂

  • Dan Rogers says:

    I’ glad I don’t have any United miles .

  • I suppose that’s going to be the “last straw on the camel’s back” for a whole lot of people (including me). Within a span of days, they devalued partner PQP earning rate AND devalued their MP program. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising as this was expected to be the “Kirby” effect. So now we are going to get “Kirbyed” (and this is even more drastic than getting “bonvoyed”).

    Let’s see if DL/AA can capitalize on this.

  • The coronavirus probably motivates all these devaluations and cuts in benefits.

  • another reason to leave this FF program

  • Devaluation of points at the wrong time. Not sure how this affects their books but, makes me cringe for being their loyal customer.

  • Interesting, it would seem, that at a time of reduced travel demand, if, anything United would have gone the opposite direction and made it easier to book rewards at a lower mileage cost.

    • Unfortunately, the industry is facing such a existential challenge right now that they simply need as much cash as they can scrounge up. And, that means they need to encourage as many paid fliers as they can get. Allowing folks to easily fly free on rewards, and at a lower mileage cost, is too much to hope for, I’m afraid.

  • Delta hid their award charts some time back to obfuscate your ability to benchmark how good/bad of a deal you were getting at any point. Now United joins the opacity bandwagon and can apply demand-pricing at any time without providing that baseline reference. Such is the danger of the inevitable further consolidation of the airline industry in the new normal, providing travelers with ever fewer options.

  • @ron – It’s easy right now, with most everyone’s attention either distracted, or focused on more essential issues to basic survival… now is the perfect time for UA to make this move. It’ll largely go unnoticed.

  • This is the absolute worst time to be reducing/eliminating customer incentives as rapidly as they’re making these announcements. I’m looking towards the future and making plans for when this is over, as I’m sure most are. Moves like this just take United out of the equation for a lot of people, and anger those who have accumulated rewards that are being devalued one after another. I hope they have a plan for recovering once the economy gets moving again, because at this rate it won’t be the customers who bail them out in the end.

  • Very disappointing at this time, especially with what’s going on in the world.

  • Terrible news

  • So United stopped publishing partner award chart but even worse as you say started increasing the miles necessary for some awards.
    I wonder is this is a good move in this pandemic period.

  • I’ve had it beyond my limit with United Airlines! Now their system has canceled my flight and not returned my airline miles nor my taxes?!!!! Because of a flight time change, a reservation was taken over by Air Canada. Air Canada says they cannot and will not refund miles nor taxes! My beef is… The reservation was made with United Airlines and miles! My agreement was with United Airlines! How the heck does Air Canada just take it and say they cannot give it back!?????

    • Hey Mara, I’m so sorry to hear this. It should absolutely be possible for United to cancel the ticket and refund the miles. They may not be able to make changes to the reservation, but they should be able to cancel and redeposit your miles. I’d recommend the “hang-up, call back” method with United until you find a CSR supervisor that can sort this out.

  • United,

    This is not the time to make things more difficult for your customers

    Sincerely,
    jm p

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