Friday’s award chart changes at United were biggest for redemption of awards on their partners and especially for first class awards. Coach awards, and most awards in North and South America, saw modest changes.
USA Today quoted me describing the crux of the changes:
Frequent-flier expert Gary Leff described the changes as “really nasty,” adding in his View from the Wing blog that “the biggest bloodbath is to first class partner award pricing.”
When the changes first came out they were myriad. I focused primarily on the way they added a new, separate award chart for redeeming miles (more expensively) on their airline partners as opposed to on United flights. While partner awards do cost MileagePlus more than awards on United flights, it still surprises me that they would charge more for award seats even on joint venture partners like Lufthansa. This isn’t just a crackup of alliances, this is a bifurcation of United versus its profit-sharing partners.
With all the changes going on, I didn’t focus initially on the changes to upgrades and that led some commenters to assume that there weren’t any. One meme in the comments was even that the changes would be good for upgraders — fewer people taking award seats, more seats left for upgrades which would be unchanged.
But as Wandering Aramean points out, that isn’t correct at all.
There are some significant rule changes for upgrades in “regional” international markets, however, which are universally negative.
For flights to/from Northern South America (i.e. narrow-body service to the region) and within Asia MileagePlus Premier members will no longer be eligible for complimentary upgrades.
This applies to both instant-upgrades for full fare tickets and the regular CPU process the week prior to departure. These routes will also no longer be eligible for upgrades with Regional Premier Upgrade (RPU) instruments.
And, while Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) instruments are still valid these routes will have a minimum fare requirement (W or higher) in line with routes typically operated as BusinessFirst or GlobalFirst, despite these regional flights having the lower service levels and cabin configurations in most cases.
Finally, bringing these routes in line with other GPU-only markets, Premier members are no longer exempt from the co-pay portion of the upgrades when flying in these markets. The changes to the upgrade rules are effective immediately, not in February 2014. That’s doubly bad news for customers in these markets.
Upgrades are already not a great use of miles. They were once the best, most leveraged use — but increases in pricing and the addition of cash co-pays make them generally uneconomic, especially compared to mileage awards or at last compared to the prices of those awards for the past several years up through these changes.
The additional restrictions on elite upgrades are a further devaluation of the program.
And in this case, the program has been devalued in ‘the Americas’ more than the award chart changes discussed earlier initially revealed.