Winter has come and gone, and yet another loyalty program has swung the sword and cut its value.
United Airlines MileagePlus announced a huge devaluation coming Nov. 15. Of course, the news wasn’t framed as a devaluation but as a program simplification. The program will no longer publish award charts or stick to specific redemption levels. Instead, more seats will be available for booking awards, but they’ll come at a price—a price that can change at any moment. It’ll be hard to predict what any United-operated flight will cost in miles as that number will fluctuate based on demand.
Sounds familiar? It appears that MileagePlus has taken a page from the Delta SkyMiles book. Not to spoil the ending, but any time you search for an award flight on Delta.com, there’s hardly any low-level availability for award seats in the premium cabin. The sky is the limit for Delta business awards—and not in a good way.
The program runs occasional deals for economy flights to various travel regions, but you can easily book these inexpensive tickets in cash during a good fare war.
It appears that United is heading in the same direction. Just a few weeks ago, MileagePlus dropped the cost of its domestic awards to as few as 5,000 miles. Turns out the airline simply threw dust in our eyes to distract us from things to come—bad things. How long until dynamic pricing makes award flights cost thousands of miles? Apparently, seven months is all.
To make matters even worse, rumor has it that American Airlines will follow suit, according to God Save the Points.
Miles Aren’t an Investment
So, if anything, we have yet again learned the most important lesson of travel hacking. Airline miles aren’t an investment. Earning and burning is the best tactic you can practice to ensure preserving their value. In this case, United has given us notice of upcoming doom. In most cases, we can only hope for the same treatment. Miles can devalue overnight, in seven months or in five minutes. Don’t wait to find out how long it takes next time.
Be Flexible While Collecting Airline Miles
Although low-level awards will be hard to come by, they’ll still be there. To be successful in booking them, you might have to be flexible with your travel dates and act early. As soon as you see an award at a number of miles that you’re willing to redeem, don’t wait, click “book.” No doubt, the competition for these awards will increase, and you want to be all dressed up and ready to find somewhere to go when there’s availability.
Don’t Write Off Credit Cards Just Yet
It isn’t time to jump ship yet. Just because we’ve been witnessing devaluation after devaluation lately, don’t be afraid of collecting miles by applying for credit cards. It’s the fastest way to collect a chunk of miles and book an almost-free flight. Partner awards are still going to be available at the standard, fixed rates (for now), and you have plenty of options to use them for an affordable trip.
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