Reminder: Major United Airlines frequent flyer changes ahead

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Members of MileagePlus, United’s frequent flyer program, can be forgiven if they feel like a rug has been pulled out from under them.

As an important reminder, as of February 1 business and first class partner award tickets will cost a whole lot more than they used to, with prices rising 30-70%. This represents the most significant devaluation of United’s frequent flyer program in its entire history.

Falling Man

To pile on, United also removed award availability from its website for Singapore Airlines last month.  That means you can’t search and book Singapore flights on United.com anymore, and you’ll have to call a phone agent instead.  If you don’t have elite status, expect to pay $25 to book, even though it’s the only option United now gives you to book Singapore Airlines flights.  Thanks for nothing, Jeff Smisek.

For an airline that prides itself on being part of “the world’s largest alliance”, they sure don’t want their frequent flyers using their miles on any airline except United. Being part of Star Alliance used to bring meaningful benefits to United frequent flyers.  Not so much anymore.

Here’s what you need to do before the big change takes place on February 1:

  • For any travel you plan to book using United’s partners in first or business class, book it by January 31 if possible.
  • If you can’t find award availability, book the flight you want on any day that it is available, remembering that you can book award flights up to 330 days in advance. If you make a change only to the date of your flight, United will not have to reissue the ticket (or charge you any fees) and you’ll retain the award at the pre-February 1 price.
  • If you’re as mad as I am about these changes, ditch United and get a status match somewhere else.  I chose Alaska Airlines.  Remember that your United status expires on January 31, so be sure to get your match before it runs out.

There are still mileage programs out there that provide excellent value in exchange for loyalty.  For the time being, look to Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and US Airways among U.S.-based carriers.

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Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

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