Improved Pricing for Mixed United/Partner Awards

MileValue shared some great examples this morning of instances where awards that mix travel on United Airlines and its Star Alliance carriers are pricing out better than we expected — at least according to the original rule changes.

In announcing the changes, UA Insider posted on FlyerTalk some explanation:

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. … 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.

I had coffee with UA Insider in Chicago on Friday, and though he was pretty clear that he could only share public information about the company, he did hint that we would discover soon enough that this rule isn’t going to be enforced in quite the same way it was originally proposed.

The exception, as UA Insider posted publicly today, is that short-haul flights on partner carriers to complete the remainder of a long-haul United itinerary will usually be permitted at the same United Saver Award price and can be in the same award cabin level.

Updated handling for mixed UA-Partner United/partner award itineraries: As we shared with the initial announcement, the Star Alliance/Partner partner award pricing will apply to Business or First awards for itineraries that include at least one flight segment operated by a MileagePlus partner carrier in Business or First.

However, as a customer benefit we 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)

Why the change of heart? Because the new partner award chart is intended to reflect the higher cost of travel on some United partners. Whether that is true or not — and we didn’t debate this at length — UA Insider did say that these short-haul flights from, say, Frankfurt to Zurich, are not that expensive even in business class. It isn’t United’s desire to taint a trans-Atlantic trip in United BusinessFirst with a crummy seat in economy class once you make your European connection.

It’s possible to mix United and partner segments in other ways. For example, you could fly United from Newark to Frankfurt and Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Tokyo. In this case, you would still need to book your Lufthansa seat in economy class and your United seat in business class to take advantage of the lower United Saver Award price on the entire itinerary. Frankfurt-Tokyo is a lot longer than Frankfurt-Zurich and the service level in business class is completely different.

Is March 15 the Deadline for 100K American Miles?
Three Days of Emirates: Win an Emirates Amenity Kit, Pajamas, Upgrades & More!
  • Paul

    Still sucks

  • HiIslands

    So how, for example would HNL-TPE via NRT work? United no longer flies the NRT-TPE route, so ANA is the partner involved. Any advice for booking future trips on this route?

    • Wandering Aramean

      You’re crossing regions so you’re still screwed. Japan is a special case and messes with a lot of other options. I detailed a bunch of it in my post earlier today: Essentially connecting in Tokyo is a losing proposition with the new scheme unless your final destination is in Japan.

    • Scottrick

      Seth is correct, and I was going to cite his post as an example.

      My original plan when United announced the new partner award chart was to spend more time looking at other Star Alliance loyalty programs like ANA, Miles & More, and KrisFlyer. You won’t always have the same generous routing rules, there may be fuel surcharges, and the award prices may still be just as high, but there are also times when the award will be cheaper, you can transfer from other currencies like Membership Rewards, or you may have greater award availability as a member of that airline’s loyalty program. You could also look at switching to Hawaiian Airlines, which I think operates a nonstop HNL-TPE.