How Do United’s New Award Charts Stack Up Against American and Delta?

With all of the furor over United’s massive award chart changes, I thought it would be useful to put together some context and compare United’s new February 1-onward award charts against the offerings of their two major competitors in the U.S., American and Delta. (I exclude US Airways because it’s a smaller carrier and still may merge with American.)

I’ve put travel between North America and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific side-by-side to have a look at United’s new award charts (for both United flights and flights on United’s partners) against the award charts of American AAdvantage and of Delta Skymiles as it applies to travel June 1 onward.

Each airline has a slightly different definition of which countries are in which ‘zones’ but this is a pretty fair comparison of like-awards I think. Note that I exclude off-peak award discounts, which American offers at certain times of the year.

Here’s the comparison of roundtrip awards between North America and South America, Europe, Middle East, and Africa:

Here’s the comparison of roundtrip awards between North America and Asia, Australia, and the Pacific.

United’s Changes Look American AAdvantage Look Really Good

American has gone the longest without making major changes to their award chart. That’s largely, I think, because their last round of increases made many of their awards much more expensive than their competitors, so other airlines have gone through rounds of increases playing catch-up.

But with these latest changes, American has a real competitive advantage. And it’s precisely how well American’s award chart compares to the new United charts that makes AAdvantage members nervous. Great deals rarely last long.

American is, in almost all cases, cheaper than United for premium cabin awards and certainly cheaper for premium cabin awards on partner airlines. There are a few exceptions — such as United being 5000 miles cheaper for coach to Africa, India, and the Pacific and United being cheaper for business and first class to Africa on its own flights (nut not on United’s Star Alliance partner flights).

But check out these incredible comparisons:

  • American’s first class award to Europe is 125,000 miles versus 220,000 miles to fly United’s partners (American’s major partner with first class, British Airways, of course incurs fuel surcharges
  • American’s first class award to Southeast Asia (e.g. Cathay Pacific) is 135,000 miles versus 260,000 miles to fly United’s partners (e.g. ANA, Thai, Asiana).
  • It’s not just first class, consider business class to North Asia using American miles is 100,000 (e.g. Japan Airlines) while it’s 140,000 miles on United or 160,000 on United’s partners.

United’s New Award Chart Actually Compares Favorably to Delta Skymiles Awards

Even after the major changes that United is pushing through February 1, they still offer a better value proposition I think than Delta Skymiles. There’s a reason that program got the nickname ‘Skypesos’.

Delta doesn’t allow one-way awards, while United and American both do.

Delta doesn’t allow first class awards. So whereas United’s worst devaluations are for international first class partner awards, the price using Delta Skymiles is even higher (in some sense, infinite).

MileagePlus awards on United flights (or on United flights plus a partner in a lower class of service) are highly competitive with Delta’s new award chart; either the same price or actually lower, and somewhat higher only to the Indian subcontinent. MileagePlus, of course, gets much better availability than Delta Skymiles does, and you pay extra for that availability booking an award on United’s partners.

And of course MileagePlus awards are easier to book, given the really good functionality offered by the United website access to awards on nearly all partners) which Delta doesn’t come close to replicating.

Conclusion: United Still Offers Good Value Versus Delta, But American Flyers Should Be Nervous

United has better partners, better availability, and better routing rules for prices that are competitive with Delta’s. Skypesos don’t look better than MileagePlus miles, even if United has very much gone down Delta’s path with these changes.

But American AAdvantage members now appear to have it really good in comparison. And that should make them nervous. It’s been quite some time since big award chart changes at AAdvantage. The best thing that American members might have going for them is the flux they’re in with the US Airways merger and a desire as they prepare to exit bankruptcy not to immediately alienate customers.

In the short-term there’s no question that AAdvantage is king amongst North American frequent flyer programs now. But that’s not a position that should give AAdvantage members comfort. On the contrary it suggests a certain degree of nervousness about the future is appropriate.

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. One thing to ponder is that the current “United” is basically Continental dba “United”. Before the CO OnePass program closed — all of two years ago — flying in BusinessFirst on an award ticket generally cost twice what flying in Coach did.

    And guess what it costs now? 🙂

    Sure, the biz class partners are a little more, but until recently, you could fly these partners at any price.

    So I think the better way to look at this is that there was a brief period where CO dba UA was uber generous, and that period is now ending. Certainly, the high demand for these premium partner awards created by the credit card churning opportunities and the constant drumbeat by these blogs to do that contributed to the “end of generosity.”

  2. You’re sugar coating the whole thing. The competitive pricing entails you to fly UA, which is a BIG negative in most people’s books. DL’s chart doesn’t have this sort of restriction. Even if it did, I find DL’s J product to be far superior than UA.

  3. I am sure AA/US both will maintain their levels for now, but I would expect drastic changes once they roll out the combined program. I told people AA would be the golden child in 2014, but 2015 things will start going downhill for most part. Do not expect free food in Y for EXP anymore, SWUs will have fare restrictions, award chart will inflate to match up with what competitors are doing, etc. It is inevitable, so enjoy it while it lasts.

    Back on topic to miles, I have decided that making award redemptions my primary criteria for selecting an airline to be loyal to is not a good strategy anymore. The landscape has changed and will continue to change at a faster pace. For me, I have decided to focus on day of travel experience as my primary criteria in the decision making process. Granted AA is best at this point, but I do not want to work to EXP in 2014 only to be slammed with what I went through with UA/CO and DL/NW all over again.

    Therefore, I am moving over to DL in 2014. At least, I have 1.2 million UA+AS miles to offer me the necessary flexibility when I want to book an award trip if DL does not have anything good available. At least with DL there is VS, VA, AF/KL who does release a decent amount of award seats, Chinese carriers, etc. I also have UR that gives me some flexibility as well.

  4. @avidtraveler – United’s partner pricing is often a little but not extremely higher than Delta’s pricing, but with better routing rules and generally better availability and also better partners. The most extreme United devaluations are for partner first class awards which is something Delta doesn’t even offer at any price.

    I don’t think any one can really accuse me of sugar coating the United devaluation, if you scroll though the posts I’ve made since Friday!!

  5. @Gary – Fair enough, but if you’re going to pitch better availability on UA, which remains to be seen ex-post since a builk of the redemption will shift towards UA flights, and better PARTNERS then you should compare the pricing with the partner metal chart. In all cases, the new prices are higher than DLs for J. Am I wrong?

  6. It was only a matter of time given how many 5x categories via chase ur and United figured that out. For American dining or shopping are pretty much the only wats to get 5x. +. I’d worry than if AA has a cc partner with 5x categories more than I do now about AA making changes.

  7. The term skypesos you coined was completely justified, and at first I thought you didn’t have any bias against DL. Now I’m beginning to think you have some agenda in all this. I’ve never been a fan of DL, but after this devaluation I do believe that skypesos > stardust.

    I’m seriously considering moving to earning MQMs now. I flew a couple of DL J (both transcon and transpac) and thought that their hard product and food wasn’t too bad. DL has pretty good RDM bonus too for mid-tier elites.

  8. @avidtraveler

    I think he hates DL because they don’t offer first class award tickets so no caviar for him.

  9. For those of you using stardust, please look it up on line. It connotes, magical, romantic, basically very positive. I don’t think that’s the point people are trying to make!

  10. Thanks for putting these comparison charts together. They sure do help when trying to evaluate everything that just happened.

  11. @Kate – The thought of using UA miles for F class partner metal redemption is a mere romantic notion. Good luck with that.LOL

  12. @avidtraveler – I think Delta runs an excellent airline, and also believe they offer a good inflight product. I just believe that their mileage program is really unattractive with no one way awards for half the cost of roundtrip, no first class awards, very poor award availability, a broken award calendar and a pricing engine that often forces awards to price more expensively than they should, and partners whose products tend to be inferior to their primary competitors in Star and oneworld. That’s not really a bias, I don’t think.

    That said, and even with price increases Delta has in place, the program remains the best to obtain the two toughest awards — French Polynesia (because they partner with both airlines flying from the mainland US to Tahiti) and Australia (because they partner with Virgin Australia which has really good business class award availability).

  13. @avidtraveler – United’s PARTNER awards are less expensive to south america and australia/oceania. But their business class partner awards aren’t that much higher in many cases either and that’s where my analysis of tradeoffs in terms of routing rules and quality of product kicks in. Remember that Skymiles even incurs fuel surcharges on some partners (eg Air Tahiti Nui, China Souhern) and has international origination surcharges for trips beginning in Europe and that’s on top of the mileage cost.

  14. A post prompted by the recent United devaluation turns into a pump job for AA and a hit job against DL. Welcome to the spin zone.

    The AA (favorable) award chart discussion downplays serious availability issues to Europe. UA’s “UA-only” award chart is compared to DL’s “DL+partner” chart or “Biz+Econ” is compared to “Biz-only”.

    And the US award chart is ignored even though by-and-large it presently offers access to exactly the same award availability and partners as the UA chart.

    Maybe one should be thankful there isn’t an affiliate link in here?

  15. @Gary, as an FYI I just tried changing an award issued this year one way to BKK to fly NYC to TLV in June. The UA website is pricing it at 130,000 miles for ECONOMY on Turkish Airlines…

    Sounds like they’ve already programmed the new chart in…You may want to take a look. If it’s a glitch, it needs to be fixed, if it’s intentional, it’s in very bad faith.

  16. @AS I stand by my comparisons, which I think are pretty transparent.

    * AA’s chart “downplays serious availability issues to Europe” note that (1) Delta has huge availability issues to Europe (and elsewhere!) and that I mention fuel surcharges on British Airways in the post. (2) I note United’s superior availability for business class to both Europe and Asia.

    * I compare United’s United-only and United Partner award chart to Delta’s award chart, show me how I’m hiding cheaper Delta awards? I am showing Delta’s low award prices only here! And I show all three classes of service as well.

    * The US Airways award chart is good, very good in fact, and I explain in the post why I do not include it in the comparison.

    I put the three largest US airlines’ award charts side by side. The numbers are in the post.

  17. I am a content DL “Skypesos” Diamond. We do earn miles a little faster per mile flown than on United so award charts are quite even between DL and UA when taken into account. Having flown international Business and First with United I am quite happy with DL’s hard and soft product in comparison.

    United here is a big loser.

    American Express Membership Rewards is a winner for me as it transfers to both SIngapore and Emirates for my aspirational travel needs.

    Chase is a loser. I will use my UR points for Hyatt and maybe a trip on Korean sometime but doubt I will ever transfer to United.

    American Airlines is also a big winner by comparison. You are right…they are almost too good to be true at the moment. The next year for them will be interesting.

    We need a good recession to tilt the balance of power back in our favor 🙂

  18. Where does AA N.A. to N.A. in F for 80K come from?

    High-end could be 65K or 130K RT (3-class LAX-JFK for example). 2-Class could be 50K or 100K (LAX-MSY for example).

    I ask because I think you are showing an artificially lower AA redemption than is reality!

  19. Good comparison. Indeed, UA basically pegged to the SkyPeso.

    I wouldn’t exclude US from the comparison, though. They’re smaller, but still a *A carrier with access to all (most?) of that same partner inventory – sure you need to call, sometimes ask for a long sell, but they can do it. Plus, it may be to their competitive advantage to not inflate, especially if the merger doesn’t happen.

  20. AA vs UA partner awards to Europe are apples to oranges. Virtually the only AA miles availability for premium cabin TATL I can find lately is with BA. Especially if looking for two seats on the same flight. Looking as far out as I can book, going to Europe, AA only offers me 2 FC seats ORD to LHR on Sept 21 with BA; nada anytime with AA metal. LH currently is offering 2 FC seats on UA metal ORD to FRA on Oct 3 at the Saver level.

    Sure, the miles required for AA FC partner awards may be less than the upcoming UA partner awards, but they come with hefty BA fuel surcharges. So the real question is: would you rather pay an extra hundred thousand points, or an extra thousand dollars? Depends on which you have more of, I guess. 😉

    Of course, you can easily fly AA FC TATL. Just get an Anytime award. But now you are at double the miles, so then the UA partner award prices below the AA Anytime award.

    But if forcing nearly all UA FF to fly only UA metal now means that UA FC TATL availability become as scarce as AA metal availability, that will change the equation again. But UA partner Saver awards to Europe will still be below AA Anytime levels. If they are available; Lucky says LH FC awards with UA points have basically disappeared, even within the former two week time frame.

    So the above charts are pretty meaningless without adding in the availability factor, which we won’t know anything about with UA until after Feb 1st when UA partner awards jump up in mileage price. 🙁

  21. I have to be honest, I don’t see this deval as the end of the world. You see, I actually want to visit the destinations I go to, I just don’t want to do it in coach. Biz really is good enough for me.

    As Robert Hanson points out, f availability is a big issue anyway. It’s hard to get it on UA partners, period.

    What’s also unsaid is that f may not be long for this world anyway. CX has already launched longhaul aircraft that lack an f cabin. Some carriers have reduced the size of their cabin.

    This pales in comparison to hilton.

  22. Yet one more reason I hope the Justice Dept fights AA/US tooth and nail. I want the merger killed. It will force AA to innovate and compete. And I think we won’t see too drastic a devaluation if AA is standalone. If Dougie gets AA, then we AAdvantage folks are screwed.

    Gary, I’ll give you the new nickname for AAdvantage miles if Dougie is the winner, so you can get started using it now: pAAsos. 🙂

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