Make no mistake, it’s huge, some awards go up 87%!
At the same time it’s not as bad as we think. It all depends on how you use your miles.
- The biggest increases are in international first class partner awards. That’s where you’ll find the 80%+ increases.
- International business class partner awards go up too, that’s where you’ll find increases of ~ a third.
- They’ve created a separate category of United flight awards that do not go up as much as partner awards, you’ll see increases there of ~ 15%.
- Flights within the Americas, and coach awards, don’t really change in a material way.
If you redeem for coach, the ‘devaluation’ doesn’t really hit you (except that higher prices for other awards may mean more people are trying to redeem for coach who used to redeem for premium cabins, making those awards harder to get). If you redeem for domestic US travel, Canada or Mexico, or South American then don’t worry so much.
I saw this change as a Very. Big. Deal. because my preference is for international first class awards.
But the truth is that United miles really had a sweet spot in international business. First class awards were a reasonable value, I’ve long though, but for a US-based frequent flyer, given availability, business class is where it’s at.
- Transatlantic: United, Lufthansa, and Swiss offer first class cabins. But Lufthansa only releases first class award seats to partners within a couple of weeks of travel, and Swiss doesn’t at all. That means United is the only realistic first class option for most passengers, and their first class is really a business product by world standards.
- Transpacific: Singapore doesn’t release premium cabin long haul awards from the US to its partners. ANA almost never does (cities with 2 flights in a day might, during Winter especially) except at the last minute. You can find space on Asiana and Air China, and on Thai from Europe to Bangkok and intra-Asia. Those are your real first class options.
I tend to find American AAdvantage miles much more useful for international first class awards — Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, even British Airways (with fuel surcharges, and less availability than there used to be), Etihad. I even have a Qantas first class booking to look forward to, though those are hard to get.
I’ve burned through some United miles in advance of the devaluation, but I’m done and I’m not going for zero. I’m down to about half a million miles, and I recognize that there’s still great availability on Star Alliance airlines in business class. It’s good to keep a stash of United miles going forward. For business class, even on partner airlines, United’s new chart actually remains competitive.
First class is nuts, but that’s not how the points are most valuable for most people anyway. I’m saving some points for one-way business class awards. And some business products, like EVA Airways, are really top notch. I’d take an EVA Airways business class long haul flight on their 777-300ER over United Global First any day.
Now, if you want to redeem for first class before the end of the month, I’d focus on:
- US – South Asia via Europe, flying United first class to Europe (or Lufthansa business) and Europe to Bangkok on Thai.
- US-Asia on either Air China or Asiana.
- Intra-Asia on Thai, you can get first class award seats Bangkok – Hong Kong most any day, Bangkok – Beijing frequently as well. Bangkok – Tokyo is tough unfortunately and most routes don’t have first class. But the goal here, if you’re looking for experience, isn’t the Thai flight but the first class ground experience departing Bangkok. You get that even flying Bangkok – Hong Kong.
And if you don’t get in on booking international first class with United miles before February 1, remember that some awards actually go down in price. North Asia – Australia goes from 130,000 miles roundtrip in first down to 100,000, so Beijing – Bangkok – Sydney in Thai first is going to be fewer miles than before.