United’s big devaluation also creates a more complicated mileage program. There are distinctly different award charts for travel on United (or Copa) and for travel on United’s partners.
The complication of course is that there are plenty of world destinations that United doesn’t serve. And they still want you to fly United for the major portions of the trip, since that redemption costs them less.
The initial clarification was that you could add a partner connecting flight in a lower class of service than your United flight without forcing the higher partner award chart price. In other words, they said they were going to allow you to fly US – Europe on United in business class, and then Europe – Your final destination in Europe on a partner in coach and you’d still pay the United business class award price. (If you flew United first class across the Pond you could include intra-European business class for no additional miles as well.)
In fact, the way this has been implemented is more generous than they said it would be. Matthew flags this clarification from United:
[W]e have made an exception for most itineraries which require connecting onto a MileagePlus/Star partner in First or Business for a short distance. Specifically, if a United/Copa award itinerary contains a connecting segment on a MileagePlus/Star partner that is wholly within one MileagePlus award region, then the United award price will apply.
For example: IAD-FRA in United BusinessFirst connecting to FRA-FCO in Lufthansa Business, will be priced at the United mileage award amount.
Note that this exception will not apply to a few specific regions and routings, such as intra-Africa connecting segments and certain fifth-freedom routes (e.g. BKK-KUL operated by Lufthansa)
As long as you only fly United between regions you can include a partner flight wholly within a region in the same class of service for the United-only award chart price.
The way this appears to be working is that if you add a flight on a partner that’s between regions, you either have to book that partner flight in a lower class of service or pay the higher partner award chart price.
If you fly DC – Frankfurt in business class on United, and Frankfurt – Tokyo on Lufthansa, then you either book Frankfurt – Tokyo in coach (to get the United price) or in business (and pay the partner business class price).
Wandering Aramean notes some routing complications. Since Japan is its own region, flying United to Japan and connecting beyond will mean that the partner airline takes you to another region. If you connect in Japan on the way to China, you have to book the flight to China in coach or pay the partner price.
If you want to pay the United award price and travel to North Asia, connect in Seoul, Taipei, or China instead.
Similarly, United only flies to Hong Kong in South Asia. So if you want to fly to South Asian destinations like Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, or Indonesia, at the lower United price and without downgrading your connecting segments, you need to fly United to Hong Kong as your transpacific segment.
My guess is that this is somehow IT-related, United couldn’t quite get the pricing to work as they had indicated. Regardless of the reason, though, and as bad as the devaluation may be — this outcome is still somewhat better than they had told us to expect.
It’s interesting as well that this new rule doesn’t apply everywhere (such as intra-Africa) or to all flights (it applies to Thai’s Bangkok – Kuala Lumpur flight but not Lufthansa’s). So United makes their program even more complicated still.