Mileage Plus? Try Mileage Minus.
Or that’s what it should be called after United Airlines devalues its points starting Feb. 1, perhaps the most dreaded day of airline travel in 2014.
The price of a free airline ticket is going up — way up — 10 to 85 percent for premium air travel. But how can something free become more expensive?
As it turns out, award tickets aren’t free to begin with. Right now, each United MileagePlus point is worth about 5 cents when used to purchase a Business-Class upgrade on international flights, according to a study published in July by IdeaWorks Co. Business Class to Europe will increase by about 20 percent, and First Class on partner airlines to Europe and Japan will climb about 63 percent and a whopping 87 percent to the Middle East.
The good news is there’s a way to beat the system:
1. Get your award ticket by tomorrow and it’ll be valid one year from the issue date. This allows you to extend the validity of the current chart for almost a year. Note that you won’t be able to change your specific routing, connecting airport, reward type or class of service. So make sure you book an itinerary that you actually foresee using.
2. You’re free to cancel the flight, say, one week later. BUT DON’T CANCEL THE AWARD.
3. As soon as you lock down the dates you want to fly, search for availability and rebook using the same, original ticket. As long as you look for the same route and cabin, you’ll incur no mileage increase. But beware: if you guess wrong, you’ll be slapped with a $150 fee per ticket, unless you have top United elite status, in which case fees will be waived.
Still strapped for ideas on how to use your awards?
1. Lufthansa First Class: It’s one of the nicest products in the sky, and the seat morphs into both a recliner and bed. The awards cost about 67,500 miles each way, but starting Saturday it’ll be more like 110,000! Lufthansa awards can be tricky, but it’s completely worth it if you can muster the patience.
2. South African Airways Business Class: South Africa is a wonderful, beautiful place, but it can be a hassle to get there. South African Airlines flies non-stop to Johannesburg from Washington Dulles and New York, which sure beats flying to Europe and then an additional 11 hours to South Africa. The redemption will cost 60,000 miles each way, but it’ll raise to about 80,000 each way come Saturday.
3. EVA Royal Laurel Class to Taipei and Beyond: experience the much-touted Royal Laurel business class to North Asia for about 60,000 miles each way, but will jump to 80,000 miles on Saturday. Just be sure you’re on the new 777-300ER for the Royal experience.
4. ANA First Class Square Suites: Flying to Tokyo? A mere 67,500 miles will get you there from New York, compared to 110,000 miles after Saturday. It can be hard to find availability on the 777-300s, which feature the new First Class Suites, so be prepared to have your work cut out for you.
5. Singapore Airline to the Maldives: You can search Singapore award space on United.com, and Singapore is very tight on premium award space for partners, but seats to the Maldives only cost 80,000 miles in Business Class right now and will cost a whopping 160,000 miles after Saturday.
6. United to Australia: It may be more fun to fly Virgin Australia and Qantas, but if you’ve got the miles, it’s worth it to book a trip to Australia on United. The good news is Business Class flights will only increase by 5,000 miles each way after Saturday.
7. Ethiopian Airlines 787: Try out the Washington Dulles to Addis Ababa flight, which takes 14 hours, on the newer, more comfortable planes. It’ll cost 60,000 miles each way now and 80,000 miles each way starting Saturday.
Just because United Airlines is devaluing your awards doesn’t mean you have to let them!