Traditionally US frequent flyer programs offered to let members book any seat on any flight for twice the miles. That way if there wasn’t any “saver” award inventory, it would still be possible to use your miles.

Now it wasn’t always precisely twice the miles. Sometimes it was less than double!

Up until October 2006 United Airlines Mileage Plus offered awards from North America to Australia in business class at 90,000 miles roundtrip at the saver level — or 150,000 miles for what they called “standard” or rule-buster style awards where you could have any empty seat instead of constraining yourself to award space.

At the time that award struck me as one of the best in the world. Delta and Northwest at the time both charged 150,000 miles for their capacity controlled awards to Australia in business class. But United would give you any seat at that price.

The ‘double miles’ value proposition has already been broken, with airlines generally charging more than double for greater award availability especially in premium cabins internationally and also not offering ‘last seat availability’ at that price to all members.

United does both of those things, with last seat availability offered only to elite members and co-brand credit card holders.

Only American AAdvantage still offers any seat on any aircraft to any member for double the usual miles. (Asterisk: their new route to Seoul requires more miles.)

While most of the attention in United’s award chart devaluation that goes into effect February 1 has focused on the increased cost of saver awards, and especially the increased cost of booking awards on United’s partners, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that they’ve also increased the cost of ‘standard’ awards that offer extra availability on United’s flights.

The percentage increases aren’t as great as with partner awards, but the absolute mileage cost increases are still huge in many cases.

I’ve put together side-by-side comparisons between the current and new ‘standard’ award charts and you’ll see some big increases, and some very expensive awards. Clearly gone are the days of “double miles awards” at United!

The following are roundtrip costs at the standard award level, though of course if you find saver awards in one direction you could book that one way and book at the higher standard level only in the other direction.

The very notion of 400,000 miles for a single award seat is shocking to the frequent flyer conscience. Even Delta hasn’t (quite) hit the 400,000 mile level in their published award chart at the ‘high’ level. And United doesn’t even give all of its members last seat availability at that price. For shame.


  1. George from London said,

    I cannot imagine many people who can easily afford it fly North America to Australia using miles, now 390,000 at peak rate. Anyone who can afford the ticket buys it and then quite possibly doesn’t want to sit with someone who is constantly oh’ing and ah’ing all the way, drinking himself silly on free liquor the name of which he can’t read still less pronounce. Maybe United are trying to protect their paying market.

  2. Lantean said,

    Even tho I do have the credit card I have never used this. And I never will because honestly United Mileage Plus is no longer attractive. Better off crediting miles to Singapore.

  3. Lark said,

    Gary –

    You run an award booking service, right?

    In the past 500 tickets you have booked using United miles, or your favorite CSP UR points transferred to Mileage Plus, how many have been round trip at the standard level?

    I would guess that there have only been a few corner cases (popular destination, high travel period) where your client selected this option.

    The reason I pay you $250 per ticket (to book me a free ticket! :)), is because I trust that you will find me options that allow me to use my miles most efficiently. Which, of course, is not United’s Standard Award chart.

    Lark

  4. scibuff said,

    This is so misleading … no one ever buys the standard awards – if they do they are crazy!

  5. James said,

    Coincidentally, I was just checking North America to Paris this morning, August 30, 2014 to September 4, 2014. No saver awards were available in business class but standard awards were, which cost 125,000 miles each way = 250,000 miles. According to your chart they should have quoted me 300,000 miles.

  6. Nick said,

    I beg to differ – people do buy standard awards. I have one booked for Thanksgiving Sunday. Do they realize the miles have a tendency to move to where the money is?
    A last minute 25K one way domestic standard award is now possibly the best value redemption. What I suspect will happen is that they will realize this hurts them in that they would have sold those seats, so in a year or two or sooner they will follow Delta’s lead yet again and create a third tier.

  7. Gary said,

    @james this does not go into effect until feb 1

  8. Gary said,

    @Lark – I don’t charge to book someone a standard award, if what they want is a very specific non-stop flight where standard is the only option I tell them to book that themselves and save my fee

  9. scibuff said,

    @Nick using miles for economy domestic redemption is insane standard awards notwithstanding

  10. Nick said,

    It’s not insane, everyone says you get so many cents per mile flying first class. No one is actually buying those, no one actually spends $15K to fly across the pacific. A one way last minute transcon can easily be $1000, so 25K to save $1000 and have the flight I want. Not such a bad value, if it’s money you could rather spend for better value. I would rather spend $2500 on one of those business class sales than $1000 on a one way transcon.

  11. Lark said,

    Thanks for the clarification Gary.

    In how many cases then do you tell people to go book their own (Standard) award flight?

    Hopefully with your professional assistance they rarely have to go this route!

    Lark

  12. Scenes from the loyalty program class struggle – Personal Finance Digest said,

    […] United also announced a devaluation. Interestingly enough, the high end was affected more than the low end, with overseas travel and first class tickets seeing bigger increases. […]

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