United Devalues MileagePlus, Increases Points Prices Of Many Awards By Up To 46%

United MileagePlus has increased the cost of transatlantic awards on its own flights by one-third, and on partners by 39% – 46%. We’ll see what the effects are on other regions. I first saw the reference to United increasing the price of its own awards on Reddit,

  • Coach between the U.S. and Europe on United increased from 30,000 to 40,000 miles each way (1/3 increase)
  • Business class on United increased between the U.S. and Europe from 60,000 to 80,000 miles each way (1/3 increase

Nick Reyes mentioned this in passing today, “Side note: When did United begin charging 80K for one-way business class to/from Europe?” and One Mile at a Time points out changes to partner award pricing as well.

  • Coach between the U.S. and Europe on partners increased from 30,000 to 43,900 miles (46% increase)
  • Business between the U.S. and Europe on partners increased from 70,000 to 97,100 miles (39% increase)

United also charges a premium for awards booked within 30 days of travel – 4,000 more each way for coach and 10,000 more each way for business class – meaning that a “close-in” redemption for partner business class is now 107,100 miles each way or 214,200 miles roundtrip. Crazy.

So far Japan award pricing seems to have gone up while South America pricing remains the same.

When United eliminated award charts they eliminated any up-front promise of value. Every time an airline has done this, they’ve increased the prices they charge for awards. Every. Time. They can do it in stealthier fashion. They don’t need to tell members they’ve done it. The temptation is just too great.

Still, with devaluations at other programs United’s miles have remained competitive. The airline doesn’t make a lot of saver award space available on their own flights, but they’re part of Star Alliance which means they have more quality partners than competitors like American, Delta, and Alaska. That’s meant more ways to get where you want to go at reasonable mileage costs, even though they kept drip dripping partner award prices during the pandemic.

Several key takeaways: we already knew not to trust United or MileagePlus. They were among the worst during the pandemic (refusing refunds for cancelled flights, increasing mileage costs when no one was looking). These increases without notice make their miles worth less.

They presumably figure they can do this with Delta miles worth less than Venezuelan Bolivars and American eliminating saver awards on their own flights. However,

  • Spending on United’s credit cards is now worth less.
  • Transfers from Chase (and Bilt) to United are worth less. That marginally reduces the value of those transferable currencies.
  • And it’s probably counterproductive for United in any case, since around 2018 the revenue growth MileagePlus was seeing was accounted for in transfers from Chase.

When United has raised the price of awards in the past they’ve taken a hit on credit card charge volume, and that’s bad for their bottom line. Perhaps they are hoping this time will be different, that customers won’t notice, because – having eliminated award charts – they don’t have to tell anyone they’ve done this. Shame shame.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. This isn’t “new”, per se. I’ve been seeing increases in both domestic and international saver award pricing for a while. On some routes it’s intermittent while on others it’s persistent.

    For example, I’m seeing 70K one-way saver fares in “coach” to the Caribbean on dates when the cash fare for coach is $400. I’ve been seeing those for a couple months now.

    MCO has been elevated for a while on many dates.

    In some cases, international almost looks “cheap” compared to some of the domestic and Caribbean pricing.

  2. I still have a fair number of miles accumulated in my MP account, and I use a dedicated Chase card. However, in looking/planning ahead, I see that ALL my accumulated miles would not pay for one Business Class RT from the West Coast (USA) to Europe. (I was/am hoping for a trip to Italy in ’24.) The serial devaluations have literally destroyed all my patient accumulation of points/miles over the duration…so I have decided to simply use up my miles on domestic flying (where I fly Economy), to get at least a decent number of “small vakay” trips around the lower 48. sigh…I have been in UAL’s MP Program since the early ’80’s, when it was good and fun. I’m a older Senior now, and, well, it’s all a drudgery for the most part; time to “let go?”

  3. @ Gary — You’ve got to wonder if people will ever wake up and stop using airline credit cards for anything other than churning SUBs. I sure as hell won’t spend one red cent on any of them after I earn a sign up bonus.

  4. Thank God for the 60K partner biz sale last year. I cancelled AA awards to get the family to SE Asia on UA/TG instead (even though the AA routing was better), because it represented a unicorn chance to burn off my UA miles at a good rate.
    Of course I expect AA to follow suit in time, so its a race to burn burn burn

  5. Has anyone thought about suing United and the other carriers when they devalue points that have been earned? This is an unilateral action to take something of value from those who purchased in reliance upon a set valuation. How about a class action?

  6. @Breton Lobner – there is no case and not even the lowest ambulance chaser wouldn’t take it. If you read the terms of the airline programs they clearly state that miles remain the property of the airlines and that the airlines can make practically any change to either award pricing or how miles are earned at their sole discretion.

    Not sure why you think a lawsuit would accomplish anything. It is sad that when something happens people don’t like their first reaction is to sue without even knowing anything about the legal status of the situation. SMDH!

  7. I wonder when AMEX and Chase get fed up forking over billions of dollars to airlines and get increasingly worthless miles in return. Do credit card companies really want to be the bag holder?

  8. Using United miles for Air Canada from Yul to Lax just went up 20-30 percent in economy and business

  9. I can’t wait for Wall Street to wake up and notice their collateral has just become worth less. They won’t be happy. Expect airline downgrades soon.

  10. Self proclaimed travel expert gleefully participates in systems which floods the market with miles from credit cards.

    Self proclaimed travel expert then complains when predictably those miles become less “valuable.”

    Can’t have it both ways. Don’t need to be an expert to see that.

  11. What do you expect when Delta gets away with charging 1 million miles for business to Europe and New Zealand?

  12. To AC: Regarding no lawyer would ever take such a case, you might do some reading about unconscionable contracts and adhersion contracts which can invalidate clauses in agreements that reflect overreaching, unfair business practices, unever bargaining positions, confiscatory clauses, corrupt practices, bait and switches, collusion, failure to fully disclose, failure to obtain a full and knowing waiver and more. The days of caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, anything goes if one signs the contract went out with the dodo bird. The fact is that the airlines are simply taking advantage of customers in many ways – – – this reduction in the value of miles is just another example. A deal was struck when we earned the miles. What right should the airline have to change the deal after the fact? Do we have the right to increase the value of miles? Just because an airlines says it reserves its rights to change the value doesn’t necessarily mean it is so. What the airline unilaterally and completely voided all the miles? Would that be OK with you? I view the airlines’ actions as confiscatory without legal justification. Perhaps some enterprising, talented and aggressive attorney will file a class action and see if it flies. Remember, judges and their families earn miles too. Just sayin!

  13. @Breton – it is a one sided agreement but participants agreed to that to join. All the leverage is with the airlines and no court will ever rule against them even if you feel that should be the case.

    Suck it up and deal with it. I’ve been doing that through 8 million miles over 40 years.

  14. United is free to devalue their miles however they want as I stopped charging to any card that earns United miles long ago unless I’m saving 25% on … wait the wifi almost never works and they have to refund it anyway. Are they lowering their costs on miles earned by flying? Sure. Are they also making absolutely sure no one uses their credit cards when there’s a Chase Sapphire to use instead? Definitely.

    I still fly United pretty much solely for the generous 24-hour change policy.

    *Fairness to United, the INTERNATIONAL WiFi has served me well.

  15. @Breton: The problem is, you get miles for free. They are given to you under well-advertised conditions. No one is MAKING you take the miles.

  16. Using Chase Sapphire Reserve points is looking batter and better. Getting a $1500 ticket for only 100000 points is a great deal, IMHO.

  17. @Ed:

    Amex (and Chase etc) will stop paying for miles when heir customers stop earning /converting them as currency.

    Right now I earn on Chase, get 1.5 to 1$ on travel with them, so the only way United gets my miles money is if the United mileage redemption beats the Chase 1.5.

    The problem we have is United can pad their bottom line by devaluing any currently held mileage balances.

  18. To AC – If we all just sit back and take what the airlines dish out, shame on us. Some in our country over the years have to decided to rock the boat, even though there was a contract, a law, a regulation, an accepted procedure or process, that said “This is the ‘way’ it is!” Some with courage and fortitude fight the system and sometimes things do change. The apathy and complacency of some Americans is downright embarassing. Some things like this mileage devaluation are somewhat minor while other issues are major. Some people would still be riding in the back of the bus were it not for Rosa Parks. Women still would not be voting but for Susan B. Anthong. You talk about United’s provisions that say it can devalue to its heart’s content, but how about what the courts have ruled with regard to non-compete clauses (also agreed to), to certain non-closure agreements after actual payment of money, to releases from liability where there has been a failure to fully disclose? Just sayin!

  19. @Breton – so equating needing more miles for a fee ticket to the civil rights fight?!!! Really – how entitled are you?!!

    BTW you can fight and whine all you want but you won’t win this one. unified has a contract and the law in their side.

  20. @Gary – I’m not the first person to point this out, but the only thing that will slow this is if devaluations result in reduced credit card revenue. If enough people cancel their United Chase cards and cite this as a reason, the beancounters will take notice.

  21. I have substantial mileage balances in a dozen different programs, and I just finished burning through our balances on the first one, ever — United. In the event that I ever need an award ticket on United, it will be with TAP or Lufthansa miles, since United has basically pulled out of Avianca’s program, for business and first-class seats.

    Still, United is not as bad as Delta, the all-time, forever and ever worst.

  22. Throughout my life i have been pretty good at recognizing “warning shots across my bow” and this article triggered that feeling. I have a sizable stash of AA miles and am increasingly worried that one of these days i will wake up to read an FM post about a huge AA devaluation which renders AA miles almost worthless. Is there any logic in hoping/assuming AA won’t fall into the increasingly popular loyalty program graveyard? Are my fears irrational? In light of the fact that AA is more or less the “last man standing”, perhaps this is worthy of a post all it’s own?

  23. @ Todd — Huh? AA already had a massive devaluation. Have you looked at the cost of a round-trip J award US to Europe on AA lately? The price is 300-500k unless you choose BA flights, which add $1,500 of fees.

  24. @ Chris Raehl

    No, you do not get miles for free. You and your employer pay for them. The costs are factored into the price point of your everyday purchases and card transaction fees and interest payments.

    Airlines loyalty programs can continue to take advantage given such fundamental ignorance and attendant abject apathy of their loyalty program members.

    The apparent easy flow of and fixation on miles per credit cards in the USA may contribute to such apathy in that particular country *hint we play the game differently in other countries.

    The legal recourse for the consumer may indeed be limited, so change must come from individual members raising their knowledge and becoming more active in seeking value. That would indeed be revolutionary within the context of airline loyalty, which encompasses a colossal flow of cash in the global system.


  25. @ Doug

    Or folk will simply churn to cash back cards if they are smart enough to work out that they are better off than earn and burn miles *if indeed that they are

  26. @ Todd

    There is still outstanding value in AA miles if folk are not stuck on domestic redemptions and prepared to travel on partners such as Qatar and Air Tahiti Nui . Miles have no value until redeemed.

  27. @ AC

    Award tickets are not free. Miles are not free. Those who play the game poorly are subsidizing those of us who clean up, whether self entitled in your opinion or not, written whilst sitting here in sunny Lisbon on a RTW first class award seat itinerary in a 5 start hotel paid in points…

  28. @Platy – so you used your employer’s money huh. Worse than “free”.

    Look – I’m lifetime elite on AA/DL/UA, lifetime Marriott Titanium and Hilton Diamond (for 23 years) so understand the travel and spend requirements to earn 8-10 million airline miles and many millions of hotel points. That being said, it is a marketing campaign that can be modified, or even terminated, at the vendor’s sole discretion and points are then devalued or even confiscated. It is within their right and there is nothing legally anyone can do to stop them.

    Best advice is use the miles as quickly as you can. Anyone saving for years to get something like 2-4 international J seats is doomed for disappointment. The program will almost certainly change and those tickets get more expensive or May not even be bookable by the time you get 250,000-500,000 points in your account

  29. @AC

    Taking a cue from you earlier posted statement, if you believe that miles are free and awards are free, you completely misunderstand loyalty programs, no matter how many you belong to and whatever status you have ever attained.

    One wonders if you achieved such on personal spend or with employer spend. If any of the latter your snide personal attach, whilst predictable, is entirely hypocritical. FWIW I am the founder and CEO of the only business through which I earned some of my own miles in their millions over several decades that being relevant only in the tax deduction on the spend and earn, and tax benefit on the burn by avoiding cash payment from salaried earnings on certain travel expenses. Its business. My money either way, dude, so your critique is an own goal.

    The legal situation may indeed be weighted in favor of the airlines but not be as absolute as you portray. The relevant legislation may be rooted in consumer law rather than financial regulation depending upon the jurisdiction. Some airlines reportedly publicly declare a 3 month notice period and then ignore the contract. Others sell miles and have purchasers lose reasonably expected redemption value overnight. We dont know what individual claims have been successful subject to confidentiality clauses. We can assume that airlines could settle rather than allow a legal precedent.

    There are various angles from which airlines may not be in their rights. Whatever they attempt to enshrine in a contract with an individual can never obviate rights ordained in the legislation.

    That said, absolutely correct. Earn and burn as fast as we can. Be diverse. Be flexible. All excellent advice.

    But there is more….

  30. @ Gene
    As of today, AA still offers tremendous value but the list is shrinking. I have been traveling half of the time for the past year and a half and i am doing my best to burn up my AA miles. My problem is that i still have a few million of them from the simplymiles promo and i worry that they will become air pesos before i am able to successfully burn them all. I am seeking high quality alternate uses for them but dont even know where to begin….

  31. I’m struggling to find ANY value with these programs, including hotels, and that extends to Chase/AmEx points that transfer into these “worth less” programs. This whole mileage game has more losers than winners these days and it’s just getting worse.

  32. May I assume we al are going to contact Mileage Plus and advise an immediate halt to use of their card. Instead tell United that cchaarges will now go to Amex or AA with Chase as last resort.

  33. what gets me is that the government bailed them out for COVID…and ONLY after the bailout, have the started devaluing the awards….i would fly from IAD – BKK- CAN a few times per year for no more than 170,000 mile total in business class, and would take like 28 hours with one layover….TODAY…if im lucky…its 240,000 – 300,000 EACH WAY and sometimes more (like 600,000 each way) ! I mean come on….granted i have 1mm miles on united…but who in their right mind think spending these type of mileage requirement is a good deal! ? NO ONE…United (and even American) should be ashamed….AND the government and Pete…think its acceptable to fleece us all…..there should be no question, that there should be some sort of legal recourse here…the airlines took the bailout money from the government which we all pay in taxes, and in turn the airlines screwed us all.

    At the very least we should all put ALOT more pressure on Pete and the Transportation Dept, Mr Biden, and democrats and republicans alike to do ALOT MORE, rather than take money from the airline industry

  34. @m cia – “devaluations” have happened since the programs began. To assert it was only after COVID is incorrect. I’ve been a member of FF programs since the mid 80s and can assure you it was totally different then. Every year or 2 there is a major change to how miles are earned or increase in amount required for an award.

    One thing that changed recently is the large sign up bonuses offered and also fact many built up larger balances due to COVID restrictions or unwillingness to fly. This increases the liability on the airlines’ balance sheets. Also, like any other currency, when there is more out into circulation (think large sign up and referral bonuses) of course there will be inflation.

    The lack of basic economics or business profitability among people on these blogs is amazing. You think you have some right to use the miles as you feel best or that the airlines “owe” you. Both are mistaken views.

  35. @ AC

    Sure, devaluations have been ongoing and there could have been an accumulation of miles due to the pandemic.

    But miles are like currencies in some ways and not others, so perhaps we need to be cautious about how we presume basic economics apply.

    Several comments above appear to confuse dymanic pricing with traditional award chart pricing. I am still seeing LAX to SYD on UA biz for 80,000 miles as it has been for some time.

    Under dynamic redemptions the real issue is the retail price point of the seat being purchased with miles or goods being redeemed for. Where miles needed is pegged to that price point the variation is arising from the price changes in the end product not necessarily the number of miles in circulation since it is the supply of reward that is the ultimate limitation and in dynamic pricing that supply is the same as retail supply.

    QF pushed non award seat redemptions very hard to lower accumulating miles balances and rising liabilities during the pandemic.

    Airline loyalty programs feature deferred rewards. It is perfectly reasonable for members to expect some consistency so that they hva time to amass miles before devaluations undermine their trust in the program.

    These programs are making a promise to the consumer of a reward for their loyalty. To pretend otherwise is facile.

    When these programs are making profit of over 30% then you have to ask where the balance between unconsionable practice and smart business lies.

    Opinions on mistaken views thereby can differ.

    Be well and travel safe.

  36. @ ChadMC

    IME there is still value, but it is harder to find and seems to be easier for non US hotels and international rather than US domestic air travel.

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