I’ve taken a temporary break from hunting for premium cabin Star Alliance award space to recap the major downgrades United Airlines announced this week. In case you missed them:
In the wee hours of Friday morning, United published new award charts for tickets issued on/after February 1, 2014. While devaluation was expected, I don’t think anyone predicted that United would add a separate category for Star Alliance/partner awards where many of the new mileage amounts are enormously inflated (in some cases upwards of 80%).
I will give credit and respect to UA Insider for announcing them on the forums, but it would have been nice to send a blanket email to all MileagePlus members as not everyone reads Flyertalk or Milepoint. I posted a summary of the new ex-U.S. charts yesterday, but will reproduce them here and add a few clarifications below.
As far as award ticket changes post-February 1, UA Insider said:
Changes to awards that require a change in date do not result in a change to the award price. Any other change will require an add/collect in miles and fees for changes or cancellations will still apply as per our existing policies.
What I take that to mean is if you only change the date of travel but keep the exact same flights on the itinerary, changes to existing awards after Feb. 1 won’t reprice at the new award levels. However, if you change the routing or airline, you’ll fall under the new (higher) levels.
As far as mixed United/Star awards, UA Insider said:
Although there will now be two charts, it will be still be possible to combine United/United Express and MileagePlus partner award flights on the same itinerary. However, the MileagePlus partner award cabin level will need to be lower than that of the United-operated segment(s) in order to take advantage of the United Saver Award price. So, for a US to Europe itinerary where the long-haul segment is in United Global First, the intra-Europe connecting segment would need to be in Business or Economy (as they typically already are) to take advantage of the United Saver Award price. Similarly, for a US to Europe itinerary where the long-haul segment is in United BusinessFirst, the intra-Europe connecting segment would need to be in Economy to take advantage of the United Saver Award price.
For those of us who avoid United on the long-haul segment, this isn’t great news. Sure, a “little hop” intra-Europe isn’t bad in a lower cabin given the flight range, but it’s still not much of a consolation. If you book a business class award on United from the U.S. to Italy via London, for example, you’d have to fly coach from London to Italy on a Star/partner to get the “lower” United level.
Effective yesterday, United required ExpertFlyer to discontinue showing upgrade and elite award availability in its results. And it’s worse than I thought it would be previously. Here are the only fare classes you can now search on ExpertFlyer:
In addition to the upgrade and elite fare buckets being removed, Standard Awards (FN, ZN, HN) have been removed. Granted, I’ve never searched for those as they typically represent last-seat availability and cost twice as much as Saver Awards, but I was surprised to only see O, I and X classes left.
Finally, thanks to blog reader Ed, I learned about United’s downgraded first class meal service on flights of less than 900 miles. According to UA Insider:
Many of you have noticed this already, but effective Nov. 1, we are increasing the minimum flight length where we offer full meal service in North and Latin America leisure markets. Going forward, all flights 900 miles and above will have full meals at mealtimes, while flights between 220 and 899 miles will have warm scones at breakfast or a premium snack basket offered in the afternoon or evening. We do plan to have several 700-899 mile “carve-out” markets that retain full meal service at mealtimes. This is something we are indeed doing to offset rising costs and align ourselves with the marketplace.
Ugh. This can be considered a #firstworldproblem, but I hate that I’ll only get a scone if I book the 5:45 a.m. from Reno to Denver (804 miles). And if it’s the same “premium” snack basket as what appears mid-flight today, it’ll be pop chips, nuts, a banana and/or chocolate for lunch or dinner. I call B.S. on “aligning ourselves with the marketplace.”
It’s been a bad week for United loyalists. Let’s hope this is the end of it for quite some time.
– Follow Darren Booth on Twitter, @FrequentlyFlyin, for more airline, hotel and travel industry news, reviews and opinions.