How United’s new awards compare to Delta, American & US + What you should do

by on Sat November 2, 2013 • 13 Comments
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United miles were some of the most lucrative available to flyers, and the wide range of options to use them on Star Alliance carriers made them especially valuable, particularly for premium Business Class and First Class awards.

United’s new, less lucrative award chart for 2014 changes a lot of that. But how does the new United MileagePlus pricing compare to the biggest alternatives – Delta SkyMilesAmerican AAdvantage, and US Airways Dividend Miles?

We’ve highlighted the differences in the tables below – scroll down to see the % differences and extra miles United will charge versus Delta, American, or US Airways. United’s Saver awards are now up to 93% higher than American for some routes, but the differences are not universal and worth looking at for your travel region.

What should you do?

If you were focusing on accumulating United miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards points before the change, here’s a run down of how United stacks up now and some thoughts on what you should do. Of course, your own experience will vary…

  • Economy Class Globally – United OK. There were few changes here, and no other program offers more destinations with generous Saver level availability than United. Whether it’s the Caribbean, Asia, or even the lower 48, United miles are the most versatile for global economy class travel. American is also worth considering, as it always has been, for international destinations and Hawaii thanks to its ‘off peak’ awards. It’s also the most competitive to Alaska via its Alaska Airlines partnership now that United is charging extra for awards there. Southwest and Avios also have good uses, but that hasn’t changed from before.
  • Business / First Class within North America – United OK. If you’re staying in the Lower 48 or heading to beach destinations United still offers good Saver level award seat availability at the prices you’re used to. American is also competitive here.
  • Business Class to Europe: United / Delta / American not far off from each other. This is a tough one to call at 115,000 miles for a United award, 140,000 miles for a Star Alliance partner award. US Airways looks best for now, with access to Star Alliance Business Class at 100,000 miles. But with the American merger that may change  quickly.
  • American still charges only 100,000 miles roundtrip but imposes $1,000+ fuel surcharges on Business Class tickets with its biggest partner to Europe, British Airways. And there is very little availability on its own flights, often leaving you stuck going through Berlin or Madrid on Air Berlin or Iberia for awards without a fee.
  • United and Delta appear to be similar now for award pricing for Business Class to Europe – Delta at 125,000 miles and United at 115,000 to 140,000 miles, averaging to 127,500 miles. United has the advantage if it maintains higher award availability on its own flights than Delta. Delta’s biggest partner, Air France / KLM, offers poor availability, but its new Virgin Atlantic partnership opens up new capacity, and this is worth watching over the coming months.
  • Business Class to Asia:  American or US Airways best. American and US Airways for now have the most favorable Business Class award charts to Asia, with US Airways at 90,000 miles to North Asia, but this may not last long, given the pending American merger and higher United and Delta prices.
  • American is 2nd best for now, with United charging 27-45% more than American for most Business Class awards to Asia. They have great availability on Cathay Pacific, their own flights, and Japan Airlines.
  • United is still better than Delta, with the same price on its own flights as Delta, but better availability. Partner flights are modestly more expensive (14%) than Delta, but with better availability than Delta and its partners.
  • To India, Delta at 120,000 miles has the lowest Saver prices available for Business Class, vs 135,000 on American and 140,000 – 160,000 miles on United, though with scarce availability. American generally requires using British Airways with $1,000+ fuel surcharges, though Qatar and Royal Jordanian options help without surcharges. United remains a viable option here for Business Class.
  • Business Class to South America – United OK. United spared South America from a higher partner award chart. So at 115,000 miles to Southern South America it is close to American at 100,000 miles. American’s availability to South America used to be great, but appears less so now – so United is still competitive. For Northern South America American has a slight advantage with United asking for 10,000 more miles, though United’s Avianca and Copa partnerships offer good availability and easy online searching.
  • Business Class to Australia – United OK. At 140,000 – 160,000 miles (12% – 28% higher than American) award prices are still reasonably competitive here versus the competition, though availability can be tricky now that United is removing its big 747s from those flights.
  • Delta is similar at 160,000 miles roundtrip, but its partnership with Virgin Australia offers very good availability out of Los Angeles which is worth considering.
  • You can try to take advantage of American’s lower pricing, but Qantas has very few Business Class award seats to Australia, so you will most likely have to route through Asia with Cathay Pacific.
  • Business Class to Africa – United OK. United costs only 7% more than American here at 160,000 miles, even with the new partner charts, and you won’t be paying $1,000+ in fuel surcharges like you will on British Airways flights booked with American miles. If you’re going to Africa with American miles there’s a good chance you’ll be stuck with British Airways. Though you can take advantage of its OneWorld Explorer chart to transit via the Middle East and depending on the distance flown get a deal around 150,000 miles. US Airways has the best deal at 110,000 miles, but that may change soon. Delta at 140,000 miles is intriguing, but you have to be creative to find availability, though Virgin Atlantic is a new alternative to Air France / KLM.
  • International First Class on 3 cabin planes – Choose American. For luxury First Class travel on a 3 cabin plane, American can’t be beat right now, with prices about half of what United will charge and no fuel surcharges on partners like Cathay Pacific, Malaysia, or Japan Airlines. How long this will last is a big unanswered question, but United clearly doesn’t want to compete here unless you are flying on one of its own planes and can avoid the partner chart.

Finally, remember to diversify. It’s always best in miles and points to find ways to earn generously across a couple of major transferable point programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Starwood Preferred Guest. Because no one program is best for every travel need.

The numbers in the chart below are for round-trip travel, and do not assume ‘off-peak’ award savings for American Airlines or US Airways. Delta numbers use the new award pricing which will take effect in June 2014.

New Saver award charts compared (to/from U.S.)

Economy

UnitedDeltaAmericanUS% vs Delta% vs American% vs US
US25,00025,00025,00025,0000%0%0%
Alaska35,00025,00025,00025,00040%40%40%
Hawaii45,00040,00045,00040,00013%0%13%
Mexico35,00035,00035,00035,0000%0%0%
Central America35,00035,00035,00035,0000%0%0%
Caribbean35,00035,00035,00035,0000%0%0%
Northern South America40,00045,00035,00060,000-11%14%-33%
Southern South America60,00060,00060,00060,0000%0%0%
Europe60,00060,00060,00060,0000%0%0%
Northern Africa80,00080,00075,00070,0000%7%14%
Central/Southern Africa80,00080,00075,00070,0000%7%14%
Middle East85,00080,00090,00080,0006%-6%6%
Central Asia85,00080,00090,00080,0006%-6%6%
South Asia80,00080,00070,00080,0000%14%0%
North Asia70,00070,00070,00060,0000%0%17%
Japan70,00070,00065,00060,0000%8%17%
Oceania70,000100,00075,00080,000-30%-7%-13%
Australia/New Zealand80,000100,00075,00080,000-20%7%0%

Business Class – on home airline

UnitedDeltaAmericanUSvs Deltavs American% vs US
US50,000 45,000 50,00050,00011%0%0%
Alaska60,000 45,000 50,00050,00033%20%20%
Hawaii80,000 75,000 75,00080,0007%7%0%
Mexico60,000 60,000 60,00060,0000%0%0%
Central America60,000 60,000 60,00060,0000%0%0%
Caribbean60,000 60,000 60,00060,0000%0%0%
Northern South America70,000 90,000 60,000100,000-22%17%-30%
Southern South America110,000 125,000 100,000100,000-12%10%10%
Europe115,000 125,000 100,000100,000-8%15%15%
Northern Africa140,000 140,000 150,000110,0000%-7%27%
Central/Southern Africa140,000 140,000 150,000110,0000%-7%27%
Middle East140,000 140,000 135,000120,0000%4%17%
Central Asia140,000 120,000 135,000120,00017%4%17%
South Asia140,000 140,000 110,000120,0000%27%17%
North Asia140,000 140,000 110,00090,0000%27%56%
Japan130,000 140,000 100,00090,000-7%30%44%
Oceania130,000 160,000 125,000110,000-19%4%18%
Australia/New Zealand140,000 160,000 125,000110,000-13%12%27%

Business Class – on partner airlines

UnitedDeltaAmericanUSvs Deltavs American% vs US
US50,000 45,000 50,00050,00011%0%0%
Alaska60,000 45,000 50,00050,00033%20%20%
Hawaii80,000 75,000 75,00080,0007%7%0%
Mexico60,000 60,000 60,00060,0000%0%0%
Central America60,000 60,000 60,00060,0000%0%0%
Caribbean60,000 60,000 60,00060,0000%0%0%
Northern South America70,000 90,000 60,000100,000-22%17%-30%
Southern South America110,000 125,000 100,000100,000-12%10%10%
Europe140,000 125,000 100,000100,00012%40%40%
Northern Africa160,000 140,000 150,000110,00014%7%45%
Central/Southern Africa160,000 140,000 150,000110,00014%7%45%
Middle East160,000 140,000 135,000120,00014%19%33%
Central Asia160,000 120,000 135,000120,00033%19%33%
South Asia160,000 140,000 110,000120,00014%45%33%
North Asia160,000 140,000 110,00090,00014%45%78%
Japan150,000 140,000 100,00090,0007%50%67%
Oceania150,000 160,000 125,000110,000-6%20%36%
Australia/New Zealand160,000 160,000 125,000110,0000%28%45%

Business Class – one way on home airline + one way on partner airline 

UnitedDeltaAmericanUSvs Deltavs American% vs US
US50,000 45,000 50,000 50,000 11%0%0%
Alaska60,000 45,000 50,000 50,000 33%20%20%
Hawaii80,000 75,000 75,000 80,000 7%7%0%
Mexico60,000 60,000 60,000 60,000 0%0%0%
Central America60,000 60,000 60,000 60,000 0%0%0%
Caribbean60,000 60,000 60,000 60,000 0%0%0%
Northern South America70,000 90,000 60,000 100,000 -22%17%-30%
Southern South America110,000 125,000 100,000 100,000 -12%10%10%
Europe127,500 125,000 100,000 100,000 2%28%28%
Northern Africa150,000 140,000 150,000 110,000 7%0%36%
Central/Southern Africa150,000 140,000 150,000 110,000 7%0%36%
Middle East150,000 140,000 135,000 120,000 7%11%25%
Central Asia150,000 120,000 135,000 120,000 25%11%25%
South Asia150,000 140,000 110,000 120,000 7%36%25%
North Asia150,000 140,000 110,000 90,000 7%36%67%
Japan140,000 140,000 100,000 90,000 0%40%56%
Oceania140,000 160,000 125,000 110,000 -13%12%27%
Australia/New Zealand150,000 160,000 125,000 110,000 -6%20%36%

First Class – on home airline

Note: use the Business Class chart for 2-cabin First Class prices like typical domestic U.S. First Class.

UnitedDeltaAmericanUSvs Deltavs American% vs US
US70,000 NA65,000 50,000 NA8%40%
Alaska80,000 NA65,000 50,000 NA23%60%
Hawaii100,000 NA95,000 80,000 NA5%25%
Mexico80,000 NA80,000 60,000 NA0%33%
Central America80,000 NA80,000 60,000 NA0%33%
Caribbean80,000 NA80,000 60,000 NA0%33%
Northern South America90,000 NA80,000 125,000 NA13%-28%
Southern South America140,000 NA125,000 125,000 NA12%12%
Europe160,000 NA125,000 125,000 NA28%28%
Northern Africa170,000 NA200,000 150,000 NA-15%13%
Central/Southern Africa170,000 NA200,000 150,000 NA-15%13%
Middle East180,000 NA180,000 180,000 NA0%0%
Central Asia180,000 NA180,000 160,000 NA0%13%
South Asia160,000 NA135,000 160,000 NA19%0%
North Asia160,000 NA135,000 120,000 NA19%33%
Japan160,000 NA125,000 120,000 NA28%33%
Oceania160,000 NA145,000 140,000 NA10%14%
Australia/New Zealand160,000 NA145,000 140,000 NA10%14%

First Class – on partner airlines

UnitedDeltaAmericanUSvs Deltavs American% vs US
US70,000 NA65,000 50,000 NA8%40%
Alaska80,000 NA65,000 50,000 NA23%60%
Hawaii100,000 NA95,000 80,000 NA5%25%
Mexico80,000 NA80,000 60,000 NA0%33%
Central America80,000 NA80,000 60,000 NA0%33%
Caribbean80,000 NA80,000 60,000 NA0%33%
Northern South America90,000 NA80,000 125,000 NA13%-28%
Southern South America140,000 NA125,000 125,000 NA12%12%
Europe220,000 NA125,000 125,000 NA76%76%
Northern Africa260,000 NA200,000 150,000 NA30%73%
Central/Southern Africa260,000 NA200,000 150,000 NA30%73%
Middle East280,000 NA180,000 180,000 NA56%56%
Central Asia280,000 NA180,000 160,000 NA56%75%
South Asia260,000 NA135,000 160,000 NA93%63%
North Asia240,000 NA135,000 120,000 NA78%100%
Japan220,000 NA125,000 120,000 NA76%83%
Oceania220,000 NA145,000 140,000 NA52%57%
Australia/New Zealand260,000 NA145,000 140,000 NA79%86%
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13 thoughts on How United’s new awards compare to Delta, American & US + What you should do

  1. warren pederson

    Recently American to Uruguay can’t be had for less than Double Miles (200,000). Anyone else had this problem?

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @warren – They’ve really tightened up on those biz class seats to South America. An alternative is to find a seat to Sao Paolo (either on American or on TAM) then use TAM to get to Montevideo from Sao Paolo. You can check TAM availability on British Airways’ website (you’ll need to create a login). Look for each segment individually (for example MIA-GRU) then (GRU-MVD) and when you find something give AA a call to book.

      Reply
  2. Chase

    Just to clarify, AA has access to the OneWorld Explorer mileage redemption as well. So, for your Africa example that is not entirely correct. One could fly Qatar Airways/Comair in J class without the BA fuel surcharges to South Africa or other places in Africa for around 150k miles (depending on the itinerary).

    Reply
  3. Tom

    One thing I’m confused about: Almost all (available) flights on United to Europe in Business Class of First Class require connecting in Frankfurt or elsewhere. If ANY portion of the flight, including the final connection, is on a partner airline, do they charge the partner price? If so, they’ll end up charging the partner price on almost all flights to Europe.

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Tom – Your assessment isn’t far off. The only loophole is this. If your Transatlantic flight in Business Class is on United, but your connecting flight in Europe with a partner is in Economy Class then you will be charged the lower United rate. Unfortunately the website doesn’t default to this so you may need to call in to manually request this.

      Reply
  4. Ken

    The chart is just that, a chart. It just gives the basics. I can tell you that using miles from the west coast to Asia on Delta is extremely painful With United, I can fly directly to Asia with minimal layovers. On Delta, for usually more miles, I have to fly to Detroit or Minneapolis, have a long layover, and then fly all the way back. Charts are meaningless unless you see the layovers, routes, etc. One of the reasons that I switched from Delta to United are the ridiculous routes Delta imposes to use low miles and their lack of reasonable destinations in Asia like Cambodia. you can use Delta partners but China Southern and China Eastern now charge outrageous fees. Miles on a chart is really useless information and the very bottom of an analysis. Partner airlines also have a huge impact on mile usage.

    Reply
    1. nulle

      @Ken, you ever consider flying over to PDX/SEA and NRT on route to Asia from the West Coast? You can avoid the entire Midwest this way…

      excellent chart, through. But I strongly caution that AA/US will follow suit shortly about those award price increases.

      Reply

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