United MileagePlus® calls itself “the world’s most rewarding loyalty program,” but we beg to differ. After years of continuous mileage devaluations and award availability restrictions, the MileagePlus program is dealing the ultimate blow to frequent flyers and holders of mileage-earning credit cards: It is completely eliminating its award redemption chart (umm…what happened to transparency?) and removing a cap on the maximum number of miles required for award flights.
Yep, the program is giving itself the right to charge whatever it wants for award tickets based on dynamic pricing, a similar move made by Delta few years back. In the case of Delta, the introduction of a dynamic pricing model saw prices of award tickets for destinations like Europe skyrocket from 50,000 miles in business one-way to as high as 320,000 miles.
Not only is this bad news for United loyalists but this devaluation has us rethinking the elite credit cards we use to bank United miles, such as the United Explorer credit card and more importantly the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Chase Sapphire Preferred ®. If United miles are going the Delta route of giving us a 1% return, then there’s no point in using a credit card to earn United miles. More and more, it seems that a cash-back-earning card might be the best option. (Recently, we looked at earning up to 2% cash back from elite credit cards.)
At least the program has given us some kind of warning so we can attempt to use our miles before all the changes take place. The award chart won’t disappear until November 15, 2019, and flights before November 15 should still reflect the current, fixed-pricing system. According to United, the demand-based dynamic pricing model should make some routes cheaper than they are now, but we haven’t seen too many examples of this yet (except some short routes to smaller airports in the United States and domestic flights on partner airline Air China). To help soften the blow of its announcement, United says it is removing the close-in fee for award travel booked on or after November 15. That’s a nice gesture, but if you can’t even find an award ticket, what’s the point?