Fallout from the United award chart obliteration

Last week we learned that United has decided to eliminate their award chart.  Just like Delta (how many times have we written those words?), United awards will cost whatever they cost.  Overall, this will probably be good for those who don’t understand how best to use their miles.  But it will be bad for those of us who seek to maximize value.  It is very likely that United miles will offer better value on flights with low cash prices, but much worse value for expensive flights.  That means that good value aspirational flights on United metal (is that an oxymoron?) are out the window.  To be fair, United says that their partner award pricing isn’t changing, and so United will remain a good option for booking partner flights, especially since United doesn’t pass along fuel surcharges.  Still, I think it is fair to call this a devaluation since it’s very likely that United business class and expensive economy flights will cost significantly more miles.

Please also see the flip side to this post: The bright sides of the United award chart purge.

The Domino Effect

For those of us who seek out high value awards, United miles have devalued.  But that’s not the end of the story.  This change has an effect beyond the obvious…

United MileagePlus Credit Card Perk Devaluation

With United miles arguably being worth less, credit cards that offer United miles are worth less too, but that’s only part of the story.  Most United credit cards were already a poor choice for value from spend.  The less obvious devaluation is with the credit card perks.

Two (previously) great perks of the United MileagePlus credit card are better economy saver award availability and last seat standard award availability.  The former used to mean that you had a better chance of finding those 12.5K one-way domestic awards.  The latter used to mean that you were guaranteed the ability to book a one-way domestic economy flight at the standard award level (25K in most cases) if there was at least one seat for sale on the flight.  I’ve used both benefits in the past.  A few years ago I wrote about using last seat availability to save my wife from Montana.

It’s unclear what will happen with these benefits in the new paradigm.

Better saver award availability: Supposedly saver awards will still exist, but there’s no way to know how much they’ll cost.  How great of a benefit will this be if the extra saver awards are super expensive?  I’m not at all ready to write off this perk as useless in the new paradigm, but it probably won’t be as valuable as it is today.

Standard last seat availability: This is the perk that seems to me to be virtually useless in the new chart-free world.  Yes, you’ll be able to book that last seat with miles, but I’m not sure you’ll want to.  Consider this: the value in the perk is the ability to book a standard award at a reasonable rate when your flight options are limited and cash prices are crazy high.  Post November 15th, that “standard” award could cost hundreds of thousands of miles instead of 25K today.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Devaluation

Do you remember when United was the single best transfer partner from Ultimate Rewards?  That changed in 2014 when United massively devalued their award chart.  Still, United has continued to be an important transfer partner, especially since Chase lost the Korean Air partnership.  And, as long as United continues to price partner awards as they do today, United will remain an important transfer partner, especially since they do not pass along partner fuel surcharges on awards.  Still, as the overall value of United miles decreases, so does the overall value of Chase Ultimate Rewards.  At least, a little bit.

United Bonvoyed Marriott

One decent use for Marriott points is to transfer points to airline miles.  The standard exchange rate is 60,000 Marriott points transfers to 25,000 airline miles.  Thanks to the United / Marriott partnership, though, transfers to United result in 10% more miles.  That was a decent deal when you knew that you could get outsize value from your United miles. With the latest United changes, I’d no longer recommend this option unless you plan to use those miles on partner flights.

Frequent Miler: More work for me

You didn’t see this one coming, did you?  United’s announcement has led me to finally accept that I need to re-work my Reasonable Redemption Values (RRVs).

For years I struggled with the goal of developing objective values for points & miles.  I first did this by developing Fair Trading Prices (FTPs).  FTPs were estimates of the cost to acquire points & miles.  FTPs are useful for some things, but they fail to tell you how much travel value you can expect to get from your points.  To crack that nut, I developed Reasonable Redemption Values (RRVs).  RRVs give you a conservative estimate of the potential redemption value of each point.  You can expect to get that much travel value or more if you use your points wisely.

To create RRVs I had to make a lot of simplifying assumptions.  The key assumption that made it all possible came from the understanding that most airline miles are redeemed for domestic round trip awards.  Since many airlines charge a fixed 25K for round-trip economy saver awards, I was able to calculate the average value of miles by comparing the 25K mileage price to average cash prices.  From this logic came the idea that most airline miles are worth 1.4 cents each.  See: Airline Miles are worth 1.4 cents each. A simplified approach to Reasonable Redemption Values.

When Delta threw away their award charts I knew that I should come up with a new way to estimate RRVs for Delta miles.  But I didn’t.  In my experience Delta miles were still worth at least as much as before for domestic economy flights, so I decided that it was OK to keep the RRVs as-is.  In other words, I was lazy.

Then Air France did away with their award charts.  And I continued to be lazy.

Now, United is pushing the issue again.  That’s the last straw.  The current RRVs don’t make sense when there’s no promise of 25K round trip domestic awards.  I need to come up with a new way to calculate RRVs in these cases.  And the way I see it, I have until November 15th 2019 to do so…

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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Points Pinnacle
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Points Pinnacle

I have never booked an economy flight on United ever so im not really bummed at all. Well ok i did once to Hawaii. All my united miles would be used for business/first class to Europe or Asia on partners. All my domestic flying is on Southwest.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Good for u Go for it .I’m booking my OGG>ORD on Tuesday as in Cheap seats .I’ll be set then till May 2020 then Paris if they didn’t burn it down yet.

CHEERs.

Kai
Guest
Kai

Do you think United will continue to allow partner flights to be booked significantly cheaper than United flights? They will either hide them from online search (best case scenario) or devalue together so that people don’t just end up booking on all partners which will cost United even more

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Kai
I asked that on Sunday Who Knows ? I have a ton of Singapore points But United is a sure thing they added the day I wanted last nite and my seat too. .
CHEERs

Albert
Guest
Albert

I think United is already restricting partner premium seats. There was plenty of Thai business and first class to and from Australia when TG came back in February. Now I cannot find any of those seats after June.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

I bet they are booked my Hawaii flt @ 5am . I can use Thank you points on LH for 5/2020 Cool ..By then I can get a brunch CC’s for travel 9/2020 .
CHEERs

Markj
Guest
Markj

My Chase Sapphire Reserve card is getting sock drawer status. Once the best now not so special.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Ditto!

WR2
Guest
WR2

The value of points is the price at which you are indifferent between buying and selling points. Your RRV is inflated because it doesn’t factor in the fact that points are much more restrictive than cash, the best case scenario for redemptions don’t always work out, risk of future devaluations, expiration policies, etc. Granted my method is more subjective, but I’m sure you could look at mile reseller sites and get a decent estimate based on their buy/sell prices.

Blue
Guest
Blue

I’ve got 144K United miles. There’s a 70K Biz partner ticket in my future and then that’s it.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

I flew them Bozo’s back from OGG in Feb. I was seating in my widow seat perfect .In order not to bother the lady in the aisle seat I switched rows .Flt person said GET BACK OR A $150 fee .Nuts they are now they watch .They need another Sue Job hope I can help them will that .
CHEERs

mark
Guest
mark

Credit card perk I use is the $ spend waiver for elite status. I will still need to spend for the waiver.

Greg
Guest
Greg

I am planning a trip to SE Asia for the summer of 2020. I will be able to book my flights by November when they plan to eliminate the charts. Most likely I will be flying with partners and not United. But, any idea if I will be able to use the charts in September when I book the flights for July 2020?

Mike
Guest
Mike

I’ve also been looking into redeeming for Vietnam and Laos for 2020, and I’ve so far learned July is the apex of the monsoon season in much of the region. YMMV.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Color me confused. I’ve been seeing 60,000 saver one way economy tickets east coast to Europe for some time, and 155,000 one way business class.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Depends what day .ORD>CGD 30k +$36.5/4 one stop Cheap seats..Way to late for May I get non-stop for same Look @ Sept 5 nice weather Kids are in School.
CHEERS

John thompson
Guest
John thompson

I don’t think these are saver awards. Saver business is 60K on United so maybe those are anytime award rates.

Barney
Guest
Barney

Last Christmas season I had booked 2x rt to New Zealand from the east coast; down was economy plus and back was business class. Total was 250k miles. Looking at a booking this coming December to NZ, 650k miles gets me to economy class rt. Trying to use up the miles before 11/15 then it’s goodbye United and goodbye Chase card.

Christopher Minich
Guest
Christopher Minich

The bigger question is how much longer will the points be of any value at all. With MS on its deathbed compared to 5 years ago and the option for multiple new CC accounts every quarter severely curtailed its only a matter of time before points are a joke. I could keep up with the devaluation of the miles themselves by increasing MS and CC aps but thats no longer an option. It was a great game while it lasted but I fear the end is near.

Nick
Guest
Nick

The biggest losers are the “amateur enthusiasts” who blindly put significant spend on their Mileage Plus cards with the hope of taking their family to Hawaii every other summer. (Or a similar trip) The semi-pro mileage junkie is already diversified into at least 5 other currencies and was expecting this change, so shouldn’t have had more miles than needed for 2 RT tickets. CSR/CSP users can always redeem for Southwest or Hyatt so their exposure is limited.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Nick
Most correct no points the best the Glory days are not over it just takes MORE Time..The Blogs will Show You the Way !!!!!!!!!
CHEERs

Ron
Guest
Ron

Well, it will be interesting to see if they incorporate benefits for credit card holders. Perhaps they’ll offer discounts on miles needed, similar to the way they offer increased points to CC holders when shopping via their portal.

Farnorthtrader
Guest
Farnorthtrader

One possible perk, if they are telling the truth about improved saver award availability, would be better availability through partners. I have long used United miles to fly air Canada (no surcharges) and Aeroplan to fly United (no late booking charge and some better rates to some places). Also might make Krisflyer moles more valuable if it opens up more availability.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Saunter into any Econ 101 classroom and you likely won’t finish your coffee before somebody says “ceteris paribus”, or all else being equal. Doing anything in economics without employing assumptions is like searching for a black cat in a dark room at midnight after the cat’s gone.

Peter
Guest
Peter

You do realize that it’s because of websites and blogs like this one that has caused airlines and hotels to change partnership agreements, devalue miles, and make it more difficult to achieve status? Don’t call the kettle black idiot.

trackback

[…] I published a mostly negative look at United’s decision to eliminate their award chart: Fallout from the United award chart obliteration.  But the news isn’t all bad.  There are, or may be, big […]

Josh
Guest
Josh

Hey Greg, any idea about the excursionist perk?

Michael
Guest
Michael

I concur that the availability of United and especially United partner/Star Alliance business class saver award flights has pretty much gone to the dumper… EVA, Thai, etc. even Asiana are now all gone. A year ago I was able to book a round trip business class ticket from LAX to SIN on Singapore Airlines… that is now wishful thinking at best. Hope to see a glimmer of hope on the other side of the new program launch.