My Greatest Fear

My greatest fear is that the awards offered by airlines and hotels will go away, that the great values will disappear. What if I can’t use 60,000 Cathay Pacific miles to fly British Airways business class to Europe anymore? What if 90,000 United miles no longer buys a business class ticket from the US to Australia?

I have this recurring nightmare, I hope speaking it aloud doesn’t make it more likely to come true, and fortunately it’s just my worrying and not something based on insider information.

United’s award chart is so much better than any of their U.S. competitors’. Many other airlines devalued their award charts in the past few years while United was in bankrupty (the Qantas term for it was ‘rebalanced’). United didn’t make award chart changes, I assume they didn’t want to alienate their best customers at such a fragile time. Will they change their award chart now?

United was printing miles like mad during that period of time (in part due to bankruptcy, to retain customers, etc). And I suspect that some concessions were made on the Mileage Plus revenue side with Chase bank which issues the co-branded visa and provided debtor-in-possession financing, exit financing, and favorable terms on credit card processing.

More miles alone suggests revaluation. Superior chart relative to competitors suggests revaluation. That most others have gone through revaluation and not United suggests that they may follow. Separately, Randy Petersen has said that he expects Mileage Plus to “relaunch” this year. The implication was that it would be a positive relaunch, but I’m not so sure. Re-launching an already excellent product scares me. Think New Coke.

Whenever I see real value, I assume it’s going to disappear. And the United chart really is quite good for international premium class travel.

Take a simple comparison between Northwest and United.

Northwest is 100,000 miles in coach to Australia. United is 90,000 in business.

Northwest’s standard business award to Australia is 150,000 miles. That’s the price of United’s “rule-buster” equivalent. United offers last seat availability for the same number of miles that Northwest makes you scrounge for seats.

This difference is little understood. When people say that not all miles are created equal, they’re usually referring to the ease of finding award inventory. But award pricing is perhaps even more important.

And relative to many competitors, United’s is just so much better that it almost has to be revalued. Doesn’t it?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So why are you suggesting this to United? Surely someone at that company reads your stuff. No one wants to establish a general expectation of devaluation of miles.

    How about an article praising United for keeping its competitive advantage through its excellent pricing of award ticktes?

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