Frequent Miler’s interview with United regarding their massive award chart devaluation

This morning I woke up to the news that United had overhauled their award chart.  Beginning February 2014, the value of United MileagePlus miles for international travel will drop to turd-like levels.  For example, round-trip Star Alliance awards to Europe in business class can currently be booked for as low as 100,000 miles.  Beginning in February, the same awards will cost 140,000 miles when partner airlines are included in the itinerary.  It’s even worse for First Class awards which go from 135,000 miles round-trip today to 220,000 miles round-trip in February.  That’s a 63% increase!

I was lucky enough to be able to get a top United executive on the phone this morning to answer questions about their award chart devaluation.  Here is the enlightening transcript of the interview:

Frequent Miler: Thank you for taking the time to answer questions this morning!  I’m not surprised to see higher prices in United’s award chart, but I’m shocked by how extreme the changes are.  Why did United decide to go from near best-in-class awards to bottom of the dung pile?

Top United Exec: It’s all about pleasing our customers.

Frequent Miler: What?!  How can higher award prices please customers?

Top United Exec: Customers regularly complain about having trouble finding saver level partner awards, especially for international business class and first class trips.  With our new award chart, we expect that customers will no longer look for these awards since they’re so expensive.  That way, they won’t complain about them.

Frequent Miler: MileagePlus awards on United flights will now be less expensive than awards on partner flights.  Won’t that increase competition for United-metal awards and make it harder than ever for customers to find those awards?

Top United Exec: Yes, at first that will be a problem.  Soon, though, most of our loyal customers will defect to other airlines.  That will result in two positive changes: there will be less competition for awards, and there will be far fewer customers complaining.

Frequent Miler: Surely you could have come up with a better plan for pleasing your customers?

Top United Exec: Of course we’ve tried!  Last year we briefly offered awards to Hong Kong for only 4 miles.  And, recently, we offered flights for free – no miles required at all!  Both of these were hugely popular promotions, but our accountants claim that they didn’t help our business.  There’s no pleasing accountants! 

Frequent Miler: Aren’t you worried about the negative publicity that will ensue with these changes?

Top United Exec: Not at all.  I remember in Marketing 101 class that we were taught that all publicity is good publicity!  Or, something like that.  Anyway, we’re going to get lots of publicity for free!

Frequent Miler: I still don’t understand why you’re willing to risk losing your loyal customer base.  There must be some other reason for this?

Top United Exec: A big motivator was Delta-envy.  Ever since Gary Leff coined the term Sky Pesos to represent Delta Sky Miles, we’ve been jealous about not having a similar “in the know” name for our miles.  Personally, I’m hoping that Gary will pick up the term “Stardust” when talking about our miles.

Frequent Miler: Stardust?

Top United Exec: Yes, we are part of the Star Alliance and dust isn’t worth much, so Stardust would be an appropriate name.  Catchy too.

Frequent Miler: Oh, OK…  Thank you for your time with this interview.  I need to go now and book awards to use up all of my United miles.

Top United Exec: Too late.  All saver level awards have already been booked by others trying to dump their United miles.  But, thank you for this chance show the world the value in our new award chart, and to underscore how we always put customers first!

Note about this interview: This interview was entirely made-up with the intention of bringing some humor to today’s award chart tragedy.  This is intended to be comedy and therefore, hopefully, exempt from any adverse actions that might be taken by United’s legal teams.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Does this increase go into effect starting Feb or is it for any reservations made now for travel start in Feb and beyond?

    • Patrick: Only awards booked Feb 1 and later will be under the new prices. You can book now with the old prices for trips after Feb 1. Gary has the details here. Or, look at just about any other blog for details 🙂

  2. This is a destruction of CHASE UR points indirectly and massive devaluation of UNited miles on international flights
    Absolutely disgusting!

    jeff.smisek@united.com needs to hear from everyone

    twitter/united facebook united airlines

    Two tier award charts? What’s the purpose of being in an alliance, then??

  3. Boo hoo! I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I’ve tried various airlines for biz and first and it wasn’t worth the extra miles for me anyway. I just want to get to the destination. Maybe this will temper the CC signup insanity perpetrated by so many bloggers who sell readers on the glamour of unlimited free first class travel. More seats left for the rest of us.

    • frequent churner: I think there are many who would agree with you. Personally, I love how good business & first class flights can make the journey as much of the vacation experience as the destination. I completely understand and appreciate your view of it though.

  4. Stardust – brilliant!

    @Jim: agree on the alliance point. NZ did the same thing and it killed (from a value perspective) the vast majority of their partner redemptions.

  5. @Jim Totally agree, just price the damn award at what you need to for the alliance, 99.9% of people aren’t going to know which metal they’re flying for an international trip, so won’t understand the redemption price…hopefully United agents will be among them.

    Also agree this is a devaluation of UR for me, luckily we can still cash out those points.

    @FM next piece is which *A partners are best to book awards on United metal with taking into account new award prices.

  6. It shamefully took me about halfway through the interview before I realized it was fake. Well done, sir.

    And boo to United. But, really, is there anything we can honestly do about it?

    How about instead of MileagePlus, it’s now MileageDust?

  7. So, miler. You are a Delta captive like me. While I know none of us were delusional to think Sky Pesos were better than United Miles, what say you post devaluation as a Delta guy like me? Combined with my status, I think Pesos may now be pretty close if not better thanks to Korean, China Southern, and Alitalia awards.

  8. This is a shut up response to all bloggers that keep bragging about flying Star Alliance first class when they can barely afford a coach ticket. It is clear that airlines want first class people on their first class cabins and not point and miles hoarders that get into their first class cabins and start taking pictures of even a paper napkin. That is what all airlines will do and they are only protecting real first class customers that pay $15k+ for that seat and do not want to share the cabin with people that do not belong there.

  9. Halloween is the most appropriate day to unleash such a spooktacular change on the miles junkies.

    @FM — I agree with you completely about aspiring to try first class, but now it’s priced in line with what you’re getting. People are just pissed because they can’t get something for nothing anymore. They were getting a gifted horse and expecting it to have a diamond grille.

  10. THEsocalledfan: Unless you know the secret handshake, you can’t book Delta awards for low, as the search engine is broken.

    Well, only if you want to go to Australia you can, just you can’t get to the West coast to start your trip.

    United is still worth way more than Delta.

  11. Ok, lets face it. Someone did some analysis and figured out that too many people were signing up for two/three credit cards, and then redeeming very expensive F tickets on their partners.

    This is the nature of arbitrage, you find hole, you exploit it until it closes, and then you move on to next hole that you find.

    The people who really have a right to be angry are those who earn miles the old fashioned way – through flying.

  12. Not surprising they’re charging more for their partner awards…after all, it’s not like anybody actually *wants* to get stuck on United’s first class long haul product.

  13. Wow that was awesome. I didn’t get it until the third “top United Exec.” However not so funny for people who are heavily invested in United. Glad to have 0 united miles but all in Chase UR and Amex MR. Diversity for the win.

  14. On a sad note…I better savor my first class ticket coming back from Singapore in April. Looks like I’ll NEVER be doing that again since they’re basically jumping the miles required up 100%. (HOLY SHIT!!)

  15. Bloggers times (X) = Bubble bursting! Did anybody think this could go on forever with now 100’s of bloggers pimping “Free Travel, Ask me how!). Seminars, TV interviews, quote’s in travel mags and newspapers… the bloggers have killed the golden goose over cc referrals. Traveling the world for peanuts wasn’t good enough for them, they had to try to get rich while doing it!

  16. I could not resist not frowning while reading the post, and end up with a big laugh at the end. Thanks for making fun of the United devaluation news. 🙂

    I learned about this news early this morning also. Guess I will say bye-bye to first-class United partner flights, because of 60% increase. Business class flights are still manageable. I do like to support United, but they have to deliver great business class and first class flights first.

    Have a great day

  17. IF there is a silver lining, it is for people like me who travel Economy and have never been able to accumulate enough points or miles, nor have had enough money, to travel Business or First. Economy Awards have been left mostly untouched, so for those who still want to travel, although not “in style”, there’s still a way to do this. Having said that, his is a bummer because I was actually getting close to having enough miles to get business class, so now I have to keep working on that. I’m new to the miles & points game, but haven’t put all my eggs in one basket. I have United miles, American and some UR through Chase Sapphire Preffered. I still have a long way to go in acquiring more points and miles. I’m really sorry this happened. I follow a lot of travel bloggers and it’s been a huge blow today and for that I’m bummed because I’ve learned so much from you guys. Onward and upward, though.

  18. well done FM! haha. But the problem is this is not made up. I had the same call with a UA exec and he was totally serious! lol
    .
    I think UA has every intention to make many people dump UA miles and then stop bothering with miles all together so that next year they can come out with some statement like, “Well we did what our customers wanted and got rid of the MileagePlus program and we are now a rev based airline!”

  19. United’s Newest Customer Unfriendly Campaign: Increase the Cost of Award Tickets,raising the mileage redemption levels for some awards over 60%. We don’t have to take this sitting down!
    -Retweet my Tweet here and send your own tweets to @United with the hashtag: #UnitedUnfriendly
    The more you post the quicker mainstream media will pick up on this story. Let’s get it trending!

    -Express your displeasure to Chase (Twitter: @Chase, @Chase Support) about these changes. Chase buys billions of dollars of United miles and isn’t likely to be happy that they’ve been devalued. They’re especially not going to be happy to lose customers to cards like the Starwood AMEX. If anyone has the power to put pressure on United it’s Chase.

    -Contact United CEO Jeff Smisek and let him know how these changes will affect your travel patterns and credit card spending. He can be reached at jeff.smisek@united.com

    -If you feel that an 87% increase is just flat-out unfair you can also file a complaint with the US DOT. Sure United is free to do what they want, but this devaluation simply doesn’t happen if Continental and United were still competing. Delta and Northwest miles have gone from being worthwhile to being worthless thanks to their merger. Let the DOT know that you feel an 87% increase in the cost of some awards is unfair to consumers and that you want to see the DOT keep fighting the American-USAirways merger in court. If that merger goes through you can be sure we’ll be seeing more painful changes like this one. To Europe
    Business class increases by 7,500 miles to 57,500 miles each way on United flights and by 12,500 miles to 80,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Business class increases by 20,000 miles to 70,000 miles each way on Star Alliance flights and by 42,500 miles to 110,000 miles each way in First Class.

    This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    4. To India

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 42,500 miles on United flights. Business class increases by 10,000 miles to 70,000 miles aeach way on United flights and by 10,000 miles to 90,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 42,500 miles on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa etc. Business class increases by 20,000 miles to 80,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights

    And increases by 60,000 miles to 140,000 miles each way in First Class. It used to be 160,000 miles for a round-trip!

    This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    5. To South Asia (Thailand, Singapore etc.)

    Coach award increase by 7,500 miles to 40,000 miles on United flights. Business class increases by 10,000 miles to 70,000 miles each way on United flights and by 10,000 miles to 90,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Coach award increase by 7,500 miles to 40,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, etc. Business class increases by 20,000 miles to 80,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights.

    And First Class increases by 60,000 miles to 130,000 miles each way. This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    6. To Australia or New Zealand

    No change to coach awards (40,000 miles) on United flights. Business class increases by 2,500 miles to 70,000 miles each way on United flights and remains the same in First Class.

    Coach awards remain the same (40,000 miles) each way on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, etc. Business class increases by 12,500 miles to 80,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights.

    And First Class increases by 50,000 miles to 130,000 miles each way. This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!
    7. To Japan

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 35,000 miles on United flights. Business class increases by 5,000 miles to 65,000 miles each way on United flights and increases by 12,500 miles to 80,000 miles each way in First Class.

    Coach award increase by 2,500 miles to 35,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa, etc. Business class increases by 15,000 miles to 75,000 miles each way on Star Alliance partner flights.

    And First Class increases by 42,500 miles to 110,000 miles each way. This is clearly designed to get you to stop redeeming for First Class awards on partner airlines!

  20. Hilarious post. Hopefully UA and Chase biggies will take a slice of the slap and change some redemption rates….Sighs!

  21. Thanks for the heads-up. I just cashed in almost all my United Points for a trip to Asia.

    I guess I will have to redeem these UR points elsewhere going forward.

  22. Hello Barclay’s LH card…..into the shredder goes the Chase UA cards………and once the Hyatt shoe drops then the Chase card value will sink like a rock……..

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