United MileagePlus Rolling Out More Devaluations, Intra-Europe And Asia Business Class Prices Skyrocket

It began last week watching the prices for Lufthansa and ANA first class awards skyrocket but apparently United wasn’t done devaluing its MileagePlus miles.

Days ago business class intra-Europe over 800 miles was 27,500 miles. Now it’s 45,000 to 49,500. Short-haul business class is now 33,000 miles.

The devaluation stretches to intra-Asia redemptions as well. Naturally United hasn’t said a word to members letting them know their miles are now worth less.

United Airlines last devalued its miles 11 months ago, so maybe they figured that they were due? When the MileagePlus program 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.

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 and Delta. The ability to redeem miles all over the world across myriad partners has meant more ways to get where you want to go at reasonable mileage costs, even though they kept drip dripping partner award price increases 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.

  • 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. They got Chase to pay more for their miles in a deal extension in 2020. But they’re not playing a game that’ll get customers to drive increased revenue by spending more.

In some ways it’s hard to care too much about what United does to award pricing since they weren’t globally competitive to begin with. If you’re earning United miles from flying you want those to be as valuable as possible (and United has been better to fly lately) but if you’re collecting miles for any other reason it’s best to choose another program.

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. They’ve gotten away with it recently, surpassing charge volume on American Airlines co-brands (as that airline implied on its recent Investor Day). Perhaps they figure that customers won’t notice.

(HT: Dave Y)

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. I already sort of ditched UA’s program as a poor value for redeeming on non-UA flights. Unfortunately, when they are in such rapid-fire pseudo-stealth devaluation mode for partner airline flights, it brings forward the time when there will be a bad devaluation of the UA miles for use on UA’s own flights. UApologists might try to downplay, silence and disappear criticism of the UA MileagePlus negatives, but that won’t make the UA program any better for consumers.

  2. I have not invested in credit card spend for United airlines in years….and I’m glad I did not.

  3. to no surprise, UA has finally figured out how to make its airline operations as profitable as DL so want to tap into the revenue that comes from its loyalty program just as DL has done.

    As much as some people struggle to grasp the concept, loyalty programs exist to create loyalty from which the company benefits; once they have loyalty and a growing customer base, they can selectively target awards where customers perceive the programs to have value while reducing costs.

    UA is simply doing what any rational for-profit airline with a strong and growing airline operation would do – and in UA’s case, increasingly looking more and more like what DL has done.

    DL just happens to have a substantial headstart over UA in profits because of a number of non-transportation initiatives that include not just the loyalty/credit card program but also Delta’s MRO, Delta Tech Ops, and the refinery – which will be much harder for UA to replicate.

  4. UA has been devaluing all awards for years. It’s non-linear, with no rhyme or reason. But it’s gotten much worse in the last few years. Sometimes international business class is as high 900K miles one way. It used to be 60K or 70K. The price hikes don’t sync with fuel prices or inflation. It’s just pure greed and insanity.

  5. Let me check my cash back card…… yep, still getting north of 2.5% with bonus categories.

  6. Why would anyone put any spending on UA credit cards, when they can do much better with Chase’s other cards in ALL spending categories, and much greater flexibility? I have found little value in MileageMinus for a while, other than in a few minor instances (e.g. short-haul flights outside US or intra-Japan flights in Y).

  7. @ Tim — To paraphrase, once the airline has deceived you into being loyal, they then steal from you. Delta is the master of this fraud. Of course, only profits matter. No need to be ethical in any way.

  8. Looks like you can add African flights to it also. I was looking at an award ticket on ET from Accra to Addis. Didn’t pull the trigger. Yesterday it almost doubled in miles needed. Bastards.

    Like others, I wised up a couple of years ago and dumped my UA card for a cash back card. I see FA’s handling out card applications. They might as well be handing out those disgusting turkey and cheese sandwiches.

    I’ve been a 1K flyer for years. God bless them if they are generating more revenue from their “loyalty” program. But with each year it fits me less and less, to the point I’ve started shopping around more, primarily for international travel.

  9. The constant whining about “devaluation” across these blogs is crazy. I’ve been traveling (and in FF programs) for 40 years. The only constant is programs changing to require more miles for awards. Some of the benefits in the 80s were amazing (like Delta’s 2500 miles guaranteed first class round trip upgrade awards where you earned bonus miles for using them, at 1000 minimum a segment, so you actually earned miles on a connecting flight using them while also having a confirmed first class seat). There are many more examples from minimum segments, triple point promotions, fixed award schedules, etc but these all change or go away.

    I call this inflation not devaluation driven by 2 factors. One is the enormous growth in number of miles due to sign on bonuses, other ways to earn miles and hording during COVID shutdowns so more miles are chasing fewer awards. The second is cost of tickets going up. If 25,000 miles bought a $300 ticket you can’t reasonably expect to get a $500 ticket for the same 25,000 miles. Not accepting this is to deny basic economics.

    Most that whine and fan the flames are bloggers (dependent on credit card referrals) and newbies who use max spend or churn cards simply to get miles. Most “old school” long time travelers understand the situation, accept it and adapt. To not do otherwise only will frustrate you over something you can’t change. Not saying you have to like the changes but learn to understand and accept the changing environment

  10. @ Tim — Almost no company has raised prices 400% in 10 years. That is not just inflation, but greed.

  11. One month ago I saw that all the awards to fly with Azul within domestic or international flights have increased at Mileage plus too. Domestic flights usually appeared as 8k for short distance flights and now they are charging 12k. Long distance used to be 12,5k and now you see as 18k. CNF-CUR flying Azul last year was 22,5k.. Now it is more than 30k.

  12. Wow United Airlines sucks. What a dumb move to devalue miles by so much when they are the driver of profits.

  13. I forget I even have United miles sometimes. I certainly don’t try earn them, they just show up as a result of flying. I don’t even use their rental car portal because the ‘bonus’ miles you get aren’t worth the fee the rental car company charges you for giving them to you.

    And I pretty much exclusively fly United. (Mostly for the generous Same Day Change policy.)

  14. @Tim Dunn As long as there are fools in the US who actually think that domestic airlines actually deliver good value, this will continue. From a Tech Ops perspective for Delta – it’s gonna be a rough summer according to the people I know on the flight ops side. Big shortage of aircraft and parts. Lot’s and lots of ancient 757/767/717’s (28% of fleet) that are getting harder to keep in the air. Of course UAL has an even older fleet than DL. I was surprised when I found out that AA has the youngest fleet of the 3 majors, and by a sizeable margin. DL 15.3 vs AA 12.6 vs UA 16.3.

    Even though I am ATL based I have only flown 18 of 429 (15.5K of 1.2M miles flown) flights on DL over the last 11 years. Of those only 5 have been $$ paid flights. The other 13 were booked via VS or AF on points. Any DL miles I ever accrue get used on partner awards from EMEA to AsiaPac.

  15. I wonder where the people who were so pro airline merger are right now. This is a direct result of being an oligopoly, a logical monopoly, where there is very limited competition. Where are you going to go, Delta ? How can you avoid us now ?

    So keep expecting degradation. This is not the end.

  16. Working away from Uniteds MP card and got the Chase Sapphire as we live in Spain and fly Iberia often. America Carriers are greedy. United puts on a good facade, but nickles and dimes ya for all extras. And what is up if you want to take your windsurfing or surfboard. Vastly Limiting size and still charging you exorbitant prices. European carriers are fair in pricing and will take your gear no Pasa nada.

  17. Thanks for covering this. It would be great to see a long article from you on the history and current state of devaluations. From following you and others for years, it seems to have gotten so much worse over time. And there seems to be no standard for airlines to follow or be held accountable for.

  18. Coming the fall of 2024: United puzzled why so many have defected from its Mileage Plus program this year.

  19. I live in Mexico, a 1way business class ticket jumped to 500k miles… Without notice, that’s criminal to keep moving the goalpost.

    I think the US government should make the covid money given to airlines a loan and require it to be paid back, retroactively.

    Take a page from the airlines playbook and see how they like it.

  20. Not as catchy perhaps as Skypesos, but perhaps we need to start calling the program “MileageLess” after all these devaluations. All my searches over the past 2 years for award tickets resulted in terrible options with United, so I haven’t flown them at all and instead gone with other options.

  21. Cancel. Your. Chase. Cards. The only thing that will slow the devaluation is to impact the credit card business. United doesn’t care what you think. They care what Jamie Dimon thinks.

  22. why dont all of us get together and start a class-action lawsuit against the airlines and their worthless programs….As you noted, they dont have to even tell us they are devaluing or changing…sounds pretty monopolist and anti-competitive to me….WE were the ones that bailed the airlines out during COVID with our hard-earned tax dollars the Government gave them…and what did they do to us ? raked us over the coals, and continue to do so….when is enough, enough….I was an American follower for long time and currently United….but with the continuing devaluing, as you said…it’s worthless….and has been for a couple of years now.

    SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE…WE’re SUPPORTING them…and the CEO’s paychecks….shameful to say the least

  23. Will Delta follow suit and devalues flights not originated or ended in North America?

  24. The only thing United has going for them in the frequent flier realm is Mileage Plus X since nobody has anything similar right now.

  25. In 2020, a biz-class award ticket for PEK-BKK on TG went for 45K UA miles. Four years later, the same award ticket costs 49.5K miles or “just” 4.5K more miles. Given that devaluations are a fact of life, that is “devaluation” I can live with.

  26. Maybe United loyalists will speak with their credit card use. I haven’t used my Delta Reserve AmEx card since last year, when the changes were announced. I used to do $60-$75,000 a year on that card. I’m only keeping it to use the companion ticket this year.

  27. I think United is going to have a problem long term. I stopped caring about their frequent flyer program a long time ago. Until now I’ve used United to credit my flights from other Star Alliance carriers. Not sure I’ll do that going forward. Perhaps Avianca or TAP are a better choice. My various credit cards have plenty of mileage transfer options.

  28. Got two Business Class MP tickets last week for 60,500 miles each way on Copa from Orlando to Lima. I just checked and now they are at 300,000. This is for December. Used up all but 1,400 miles. No more. My Sapphire Preferred points will be saved for buying tickets at a 25% discount.

  29. I’ve made sure our family has options besides United, and boy, have we used them! Southwest to Florida and California instead of United. Alaska Air to California instead of United. Bus/train to NYC instead of United. Boats from the East Coast to Europe instead of United. TAP Airlines to USA instead of United, etc, etc… By now, I figure United lost tens of thousands of dollars of our family’s business because of its outrageous prices and mediocre service… not to mention late or cancelled flights…

  30. They just keep chipping away at the loyalty aspect of the program. I’ve been loyal to United for years, but I think this is the end.

  31. Some people are calling it inflation, which it is, but when redemptions jump 30-50% or more in some cases that’s not anywhere in line with inflation at all. It’s greed and also the fact they don’t tell anyone is stealthy. At least when SQ raised their miles a couple of times since I joined they had the guts to actually email you and tell you it was changing, and with advance notice

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