THE UNITED DEVALUATION
As you may know, United’s award chart took a hit recently. Actually, it’s more like a broadside with a gun like below.
While the economy-class award chart wasn’t hurt too badly, the premium awards – especially partner first-class awards to Asia – were absolutely destroyed. United, post January 31, 21014, will now differentiate on redemption prices when flying Star Alliance partner airlines versus just on United metal, which seems to negate the value of being in an alliance in the first place! Airline alliances are supposed to help you get to places you could not on a single airline due to legal or economic reasons, but United has decided to punish customers for taking advantage of the very fact why alliances exist! It’s doubly ridiculous because United touts their membership in the Star Alliance in television commercials and how it offers the most destinations globally.
I made two charts showing the devaluation – the first chart lists the current award redemption prices in miles at the “saver” and “standard” award prices, while the second lists only the Star Alliance partner award redemption prices, which seem to only have 1 price according to United’s website.
Why did I only show the partner awards in the second chart? Frankly, I don’t want to fly United overseas – I would much rather fly Lufthansa or THAI or SWISS, for example, and get pajamas, plated meals and better champagne. Anyway, take a look at the charts below. I bolded the major differences in the “First” column, in the second chart
While a devaluation was expected since other American airlines had recently done the same, the magnitude of United’s was dissimilar. I was dismayed and frustrated. Put another way, United doesn’t fly to Thailand, so if I wanted to go to the beautiful island of Koh Samui again, the trip would cost 260,000 miles, instead of 140,000 miles, since part of the flight would be on partner airlines, specifically THAI.
I’m using the first-class redemption saver prices, by the way – I don’t play the credit card game to park my behind in the plane’s rear and I would never spend 320,000 miles to fly anywhere!
The only redeeming factor about the redemption was that it only affects flights booked after January 31, 2014. This means I have less than 2 months to get all the United miles I can to redeem at the old price!
THE PHONE CALL
Since I don’t fly 100,000, 50,000 or even 25,000 revenue miles in a year, I don’t have any kind of status with United. My only way to show displeasure, besides stopping the purchase of United tickets, was to cancel my Chase United Explorer credit card, or at least get some bonus miles or a statement credit from customer service and then cancel the card. Conveniently, the one-year anniversary of the card membership was due soon, and I was actually planning on cancelling the card anyway, since I didn’t want to pay the annual fee of $95.
So, early last month and a couple days after the announcement of the devaluation, I called the customer service number on the back of the card and told the CSR that I was thinking of cancelling the card and wanted to talk to the retention department. I was surprised when the CSR told me that she was in the retention department, but slogged ahead with the facts – I was disappointed in United, the miles were now worth much less and I wanted some show of faith from Chase. That meant miles or a statement credit, or ideally, both. The CSR said she understood my concern, but couldn’t offer me anything. I mentioned that I had spent over $10,000 on the card since I opened it, but she wouldn’t budge on miles or money. She did offer me 2, one-time United Club lounge passes, which United sells for $50, but since I don’t have huge layovers because I don’t travel for business, this offer meant basically nothing. Of course, I accepted the passes because they were free, but I wasn’t mollified in the slightest.
However, last night I called up the number on the back of the card, went through the same spiel – this time to someone in the retention department – and was offered a $100 statement credit. Since the annual fee is only $95, I would now be ahead $5, plus keep what I would consider the main benefit of the card – one free checked bag. This saved me $50 on a recent weekend trip to Austin. However, if I decide to stop buying United tickets, this benefit is useless.
I then asked if there were any other offers and the CSR mentioned the only other option was 10,000 United miles, which would be credited after 1-2 billing statements. I jumped on this offer, as I would be paying less than 1 cent per mile – remember the $95 annual fee – and keep the benefits of the card. Scaled out at that price point, I would be paying $950 for a roundtrip business-class ticket to Europe (100,000 miles x .95 of a cent per mile) or $1140 for a roundtrip business-class ticket to Japan (120,000 miles x .95 of a cent per mile). Since these are often the starting price points for an economy-class ticket to either destination, buying miles at the above price is a purchasing decision I will make most of the time!
Do I feel better? Yes. Does this make up for United’s devaluation? Not even close. I’m going to wait until the miles post and than cancel the card. Ruthless, I know, but you have to fight flames with flames, sometimes, and Chase is just as complicit in this as United.