United

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United has a setting you can activate called Expert Mode that allows you to see how many seats are in each fare bucket on a given flight.

I mentioned it yesterday in “Booking Two Tickets on the Same United Flight” and I got some questions in the comments about what Expert Mode is, how to use it, and why you’d want to use it.

What is a fare bucket?

Every ticket you book with cash or miles has every segment come out of a fare bucket or fare class.

The fare bucket is a one or two letter code that represents what cabin you’re in, whether you got the seat with cash or miles, and how many miles you’ll earn for the flight.

Everyone walking through this door has a ticket that booked into one fare bucket

Airlines are willing to book a certain number of tickets in each fare bucket. If the Saver economy award fare bucket has zero seats, you can’t book a Saver economy award on the flight, but if it has six seats, you can book up to six Saver economy award tickets.

Knowing how many seats are in each bucket will let you know whether you can expect an upgrade, whether you can book an award, and whether elites have better award access on a certain flight.

  • How can you enable Expert Mode on united.com?
  • How can you use Expert Mode on united.com in award bookings and to secure upgrades?

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

This week I posted that it is cheaper to use Singapore Airlines miles to book United flights to Europe in economy than it is to book the same flights with United miles. Check out that full post.

Yesterday I booked myself an award from Washington DC to Madrid in May with Singapore miles on a United flight.

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Source: gcmap.com

Questions this article will answer:

  • Why did I use Singapore miles?
  • Which points transfer to Singapore miles and how long does the transfer take?
  • How did I search for award space?
  • How did I book award space?
  • How did I select seats?

Why Singapore Miles

As explained in “Using Singapore Miles to Europe in Economy is Better Than Using United Miles,” a United economy flight from the United States to Europe costs 30,000 United miles or 27,500 Singapore miles.

My most important priority was booking a direct flight, since they are so much more convenient than connecting itineraries. The only airline that flies from Washington DC to Madrid is United. I would have preferred to book this flight in Business Class on a flat bed, but Business Class award space is not available at the moment as a Saver award. It may open up in the future, but I just wanted to lock this award in, and I can handle seven-and-a-half hours in economy, especially since the flight takes off so early that I wouldn’t have slept any way.

I used Singapore miles to book the economy award because, first, I wanted to save 2,500 miles.

Second, I wanted to use Singapore miles instead of United miles because I have more “potential” Singapore miles (ie transferable points that transfer to Singapore miles) than potential United miles. I’ll discuss this point further in the section on transferring points to Singapore miles.

Searching for Award Space

I searched for award space on united.com before transferring points to Singapore because transfers are irreversible. The flight I wanted had Saver award space in economy. (Here’s how to search united.com.)

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Singapore Airlines only has access to the flights on united.com with a blue button in the Saver award column.

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Which Points Transfer to Singapore Miles?

All major transferable points transfer to Singapore miles including Citi ThankYou Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints. It is all these partners that makes getting Singapore miles so easy, which allows things like: One Person Can Open Four Cards and Fly Six Roundtrips to Hawaii.

If you have all four types of transferable points, which should you transfer to ThankYou Points? The ones that you have the fewest other high value uses for.

For me, I’d transfer ThankYou Points, Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, Starpoints in that order because that is my order from least valuable (1.8 cents each for ThankYou Points) to most valuable (2.5 cents each for Starpoints.)

I already had 12,500 Singapore miles in my account, so I needed to transfer 15,000 points. I transferred 4,000 ThankYou Points to draw down that account (temporarily until I get the 50,000 bonus points on my Citi Prestige.)

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Then I transferred 11,000 Ultimate Rewards.

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Both transfers are performed online inside your credit card account. Both transfers resulted in immediate confirmation emails, though it takes 24-48 hours for the Singapore miles to show up. In this case, I transferred on Thursday at 9:30 AM ET, and the points had arrived by Friday at 3:30 PM ET, or in 30 hours at most.

Re-Running the Search

Once my points posted, I re-ran my search, and my award space was still available.

There is a possibility that you transfer points to Singapore miles, and in the 24-48 hours that the transfer takes, the space disappears. In that case, you’re basically out of luck because transfers are irreversible.

I didn’t worry too much about that possibility because United award space tends to increase not decrease in the last month, and because if I were “stuck” with 27,500 Singapore miles, I’d find a quick use for them to Europe, Hawaii, or South America or booking Singapore Suites.

Booking Award Space

I called Singapore Airlines at 213-404-0301 to book the flight. To book all Singapore partners, you have to call Singapore, but luckily there is no phone fee.

I fed the agent my date, flight number, and cabin, and she quickly found and booked the award space for 27,500 Singapore miles + 31.60 SGD ($23.) The whole call took 13 minutes.
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I paid with my Citi Prestige® Card because it has a $250 airfare credit per calendar year that includes airfare, award taxes, bag fees, upgrades, and more. That means that the $23 will be credited back to my account. This benefit is per calendar year, so in the first 12 months of holding this card, I will get $500 worth of free flights and award taxes. This more than offsets the $450 annual fee, and makes the 50,000 point sign up bonus and free lounge access worldwide even more valuable. All this is Why I Got the Citi Prestige.

How Did I Select Seats?

The general rule is that you must select seats with the operating carrier, in this case United. It is usually important to ask at the time of booking for the confirmation number for each operating carrier, so that you can contact them and quickly select seats.

In this case, the Singapore agent proactively offered me the United confirmation number.

That’s actually not necessary in this case because typing in either the Singapore or United confirmation number on united.com where it says “Change or View Reservations” will allow for seat selection.

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I picked the window seat furthest to the front. I was offered the chance to buy an Economy Plus seat upgrade from $109. Anyone with a ticket, no matter how you got it, always has the chance to buy Economy Plus.Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 5.09.44 PM

Bottom Line

Singapore miles are cheaper than United miles for booking United economy awards to Europe. I used my Singapore miles to book myself a one way flight to Madrid next month to kick off four months in Europe. Transferring ThankYou Points and Ultimate Rewards to Singapore, searching for the space, and booking the award were all seamless.

Right now you can earn oodles of Singapore miles. Start with the Citi Prestige® Card, which comes with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also comes earns 3x points on airfare and hotels and has a host of benefits like lounge access and $250 in free airfare per year.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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It costs fewer Singapore miles to fly United economy flights to Europe than the same flight costs with United miles, and neither award has fuel surcharges.

Conclusion: book United economy awards to Europe with Singapore miles instead of United miles.

From Singapore’s award chart:

  • 27,500 miles one way in economy to Europe (United charges 30k)
  • 65,000 miles one way in Business Class (United charges 57.5k)
  • 80,000 miles one way in First Class (United charges the same)

Singapore does not collect fuel surcharges on awards of United flights, so those economy awards on United flights are just cheaper with Singapore miles, which are so easy to get because Singapore miles are a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, Citi, and SPG points.

How to Book a Singapore Award on United Flights to Europe

I want to fly from Washington DC to Madrid in May, and though I’d prefer to fly Business Class or First Class, my top priority is getting on United’s direct flight on the route to save time.

I searched united.com for award space and found Saver award space for the day I want. Singapore Airlines will have access to all the Saver award space listed on united.com if you search without logging in. United charges 30,000 miles + $5.60 for the flight.

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I called Singapore at 213-404-0301 and fed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of the flight I wanted. She found space immediately and priced it at 27,500 Singapore miles + 32 SGD (~$23.50).

Why does Singapore charge about $18 extra in taxes on the one way flight? According to ITA Matrix, the flight I want has three taxes, fees, and charges. United only collects the September 11th Security Fee while Singapore collects that plus the US International Departure Tax. That accounts for the $18 difference, which is well worth paying to save 2,500 miles.

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Note that the United paid flight also has a stiff fuel surcharge of $248. Singapore does not collect fuel surcharges on awards on United flights.

I priced out other Singapore awards using direct United flights like Chicago to London and connecting flights like Tampa to Washington to Madrid.Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.55.18 AM

All these awards were the same 27,500 Singapore miles and $23.50.Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.56.18 AM

What I’m Not Saying

I’m not saying Singapore miles are better than United miles to Europe.

  • Singapore collects fuel surcharges on most other common partners, and United never collects fuel surcharges.
  • For United flights, Singapore charges more miles than United for Business Class awards and the same amount for First Class awards

But for United economy flights to Europe, Singapore miles offer a better deal than United miles.

This is compounded by the fact that Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles.

Getting the Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of every transferable points program. Cards I like that earns points that transfer:

Transfers do take about 36 hours from these programs to Singapore miles.

Bottom Line

Pretty soon here I’ll probably book a United economy flight to Europe. Instead of spending 30,000 harder-to-get United miles, I’ll spend 27,500 transfer-partner-of-everyone Singapore miles on the exact same flight.

Both awards are fuel surcharges free, and the Singapore awards to Europe just have about $18 more in taxes. I’ll be flush with ThankYou Points soon to transfer to Singapore miles because I got the Citi Prestige® Card with 50,000 bonus points just a few weeks ago.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored by those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

  • Which miles do I consider broadly useful?
  • Which programs do I consider niche programs?
  • What are the niche programs’ strengths?

Broadly Useful

None of these programs is perfect, but I consider all the following programs to be broadly useful programs in which a person could exclusively collect miles and still get a fair deal on the vast majority of potential redemptions:

  • American Airlines
  • United
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Ultimate Rewards

American Airlines

American Airlines miles offer good value on most routes in all cabins. The oneworld alliance great members like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and LAN, and American miles can be redeemed on 24 airlines.

There are some weaknesses with American Airlines miles:

  • American Airlines collects fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. British Airways award space is the most available award space to Europe and Africa. If you avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles, you are hamstrung to Africa especially.
  • I–and the experts–anticipate a devaluation announced in late 2015 for awards booked in early 2016 or later.
  • Awards to the Middle East and India are overpriced.

United

Even after 2014’s devaluation, I still think United miles are among the most broadly useful airline miles to stockpile for a few reasons:

  • Award space is good on United and partners.
  • United is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest alliance in the world, with good coverage of every continent.
  • United never imposes fuel surcharges on awards.
  • United’s economy awards are fairly priced.
  • United’s Business Class awards on its own planes are not outrageously priced.

Of course, the big problem is that partner First Class awards are basically out of reach. Who has 240,000 United miles for one roundtrip to Asia in First Class?

Still, I’ll almost always be happy when folks come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of United miles.

Ultimate Rewards

Since Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles, Ultimate Rewards are at least as useful as United miles. With the added flexibility of transferring to niche programs like British Airways, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, and Korean plus hotel programs, Ultimate Rewards are the second most flexible currency overall.

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

The most flexible and broadly useful points are Starpoints, which transfer to American, Alaska, and 27 other airline programs mostly at favorable rates. Every day, 20,000 Starpoints transfers to 25,000 American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles.

The big drawbacks with Starpoints:

  • Most transfers take days.
  • 2 Starpoints transfer to 1 United mile. Since United devalued, I’d love that transfer to get revalued to 1:1 like with American, Delta, Alaska, and dozens of other airlines.

Intermediate Usefulness

These three programs have bigger warts than the programs above, but are too broadly useful for me to call “niche” programs.

  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

Delta

Delta has some definite strengths:

  • There are good value awards and decent space to Australia (Virgin Australia), Africa (Air France), Europe (various partners), Asia (various partners), and South America (AeroMexico). Very few of these awards have fuel surcharges.
  • The often-times higher prices are offset by the ease with which you can earn Delta miles from Delta cards, Membership Rewards-earning cards, and Starpoints-earning cards.
  • Since January 1, 2015, Delta allows one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips.

But the weaknesses are far greater than with competing US-based airlines:

  • Delta doesn’t offer much Saver award space on domestic flights, making it hard to get to a gateway to connect to partner award space abroad. This is a huge drawback.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on a bunch of its partners.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on all awards originating in Europe. This essentially means that its miles can be used for one ways to Europe, but are a terrible value for one ways home.
  • Delta miles cannot be redeemed for three-cabin international First Class.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has a hodge-podge of partners that fly all over the world.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.54.32 AMAlaska has access to some of the world’s most coveted award space like Emirates First Class space with no fuel surcharges.

Some of the award charts are very cheap–there is a different one for each partner to each region–you can book one way awards for half the roundtrip price, and you can even get a stopover on one way awards.

The only thing that holds Alaska miles back from being more widely useful is that you cannot freely combine partners on Alaska awards. Each direction needs to be all one partner’s flights or all one partner’s flights plus Alaska flights. This rule hampers your options incredibly, especially if you don’t live in a city where Alaska flies!

Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards have a large number of partners, but none of them is in the most useful category above. All are 1:1 partners in case otherwise noted.

  • Delta Airlines
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Alitalia Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • British Airways Avios
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EL AL Israel Airlines 1,000 MR to 20 EL AL point
  • Air France & KLM Flying Blue
  • Emirates
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Avios
  • JetBlue 250 MR to 200 TrueBlue Points
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin America 200 MR to 100 Elevate Points

Delta is in this intermediate category, and the rest of the programs are in the niche category below including Virgin Atlantic, Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways Avios,  Flying Blue (Air France), Hawaiian, and Singapore. The big problem is that all the global partners impose fuel surcharges on most of their awards.

You can creatively mostly avoid fuel surcharges, but you have to work hard enough that this program can’t be in the “Broadly Useful” category.

Citi ThankYou Points

ThankYou Points now transfer to 11 airlines at a 1:1 rate:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Qantas miles

I don’t know of a single high value use of the eight programs that are not in bold. But between Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and the ability to use ThankYou Points for 1.25 to 1.6 cents each toward any flight on any airline, this program belongs in the intermediate category.

Singapore miles allow fuel-surcharge-free awards on United flights often for fewer mile than United would charge for the same award including to Hawaii, Europe, South America, and within the continental US; they’re the only way to book Singapore Suites; and they have awesome stopover rules.

Flying Blue miles allow you to book some Delta flights for fewer miles than with Delta miles, and allow access to Promo Awards like 12,500 miles one way to Europe or Israel.

Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t just about 17,500 mile awards to London or 27,500 mile Premium Economy awards to London. They also allow 45,000 mile roundtrips to South America on Delta and a few other high value awards.

Citi partners with American Airlines. If Citi ever adds American Airlines as a 1:1 transfer partner, ThankYou Points will shoot to the most useful category.

Niche Usefulness

The absolute wrong conclusion to draw about the programs in this section is that they are not useful. Each program listed here–and many programs not listed here have some incredible, high-value awards. But most of their awards are a poor value.

You shouldn’t focus all your miles collecting in these programs, but you should know their strengths in case your travel goals overlap with their strengths, and you have transferable points. Here are some of my favorite niche programs and their strengths:

Of course, each of these programs has major flaws. Southwest points can’t be used for First Class, international travel beyond the Caribbean, or any partners. Any Avios awards with layovers get pricey very quickly. Almost all the international programs collect big fuel surcharges on most awards (but not on the awards mentioned above where there are no or small surcharges.)

Because of the weaknesses, I rarely collect miles in niche programs unless there’s an extremely attractive credit card sign up bonus, but I constantly consider the programs as transfer options for my Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints to take advantage of their one or two sweetspots.

Action Item

If you’re currently collecting niche miles with your day-to-day credit card spending, put more of your spending on cards that earn more widely useful miles and points like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months, which earns the most versatile points of all.

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Your Take

Are any of the programs listed here mis-categorized for you? Is one of the niche programs perfect for all your awards? Does one of my “generally useful programs” never seem to offer you value? Am I letting United miles off too lightly for its big devaluation last year?

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When United greatly devalued its award chart in February 2014, it started charging more to fly Business and First Class on its partners than on its own planes. For instance from the United States to Thailand costs:

  • 40,000 United miles one way in economy
  • 70,000 United miles one way in United Business Class
  • 80,000 United miles one way in Partner Business Class
  • 80,000 United miles one way in United First Class
  • 130,000 United miles one way in Partner First Class

If you fly all the flights on an award on United planes or all flights on partner planes, it’s obvious what price you have to pay, but the rules governing awards that feature United and partner planes are less intuitive. You can still pay the cheaper United prices if:

  1. Your United flight is in a higher cabin than your partner flights, or
  2. Your United and partner flights are in the same cabin, but your partner flights are intra-regional

United Flight in Higher Cabin Than Partner Flight

If you fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo in United First Class and then connect in Thai Business Class to Bangkok, you pay the United First Class price from the United States to Thailand because your United flight is in a higher cabin than your partner flight. (If your Thai flight were also in First Class, you’d pay the partner First Class price from the United States to Thailand.)

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Source: gcmap.com

 

Equal Cabin but Partner Flight is Intra-Regional

If you fly from Chicago to Frankfurt in United Business Class and Frankfurt to Paris in Lufthansa Business Class, you pay the United Business Class price from the United States to Europe because the partner Business Class is intra-regional. (By region, I mean the official regions on the United award chart.)

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Source: gcmap.com

 

These two rules lead to some funny pricing between a lot of regions in which the partner Business Class and United First Class prices are equivalent. One such award is Hawaii to Australia & New Zealand.

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United charges 60,000 miles one way for partner Business Class and the same price for United First Class. That means you get funny award search results like this:

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The Business Class column features United Business Class and Air New Zealand Business Class, both on region-connecting flights. That means you pay the partner Business Class price: 60,000 miles.

The First Class column features United First Class and Air New Zealand Business Class. Since the United flight is in a higher cabin, you pay the United First Class price: also 60,000 miles.

That means on this route, you pay the same amount whether you fly United First or United Business Class before the Air New Zealand Business Class. Easy choice!

The same thing would happen if you found similar award space between the mainland United States and Thailand. You’d pay 80,000 miles one way for United First or partner Business Class.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.45.12 PM

That means you’ll see a lot of awards like this:

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In both itineraries, you pay the same 80,000 miles whether you pair United First Class or United Business Class with partner Business Class because of the rules given above. These don’t have an option to pay 130,000 miles for United First plus partner First because the partner flight is a two-cabin plane.

But what if you the partner flight is a three-cabin plane with award space in all three cabins? You see an award like this:Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.30.55 AM

San Francisco to Beijing on United has award space in all three cabins. The same can be said for Beijing to Bangkok on Thai. If I wanted to book this award, I’d do it by phone. Why?

I’d want to pair United First plus Thai Business for 80,000 miles. It’s not worth the extra 50,000 miles to me to fly Thai First for 5hr15min. Unfortunately the mixed-cabin award I’d want want isn’t online, so I’d just call 800-UNITED-1 to book it by specifying the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight I wanted.

Do you understand how awards with United and partner flights price? Have you seen awards where the First Class column and Business Class column show the same price like in this post?

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Through April 20, 2015, United is offering up to a 30% discount on purchased miles. The size of the discount depends on the number of miles you buy, with the largest 30% discount kicking in at 30,000 miles purchased.

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United miles normally cost 3.5 cents per mile plus a 7.5% tax, bringing the full price to 3.76 cents each. During the sale the prices are:

  • 2k to 4k miles, 10% off: 3.39 cents per mile
  • 5k to 14k miles, 15% off: 3.20 cents per mile
  • 15k to 29k miles, 20% off: 3.01 cents per mile
  • 30k to 150k miles, 30% off: 2.63 cents per mile

Buying 30,000 miles–the fewest you need to purchase to get the biggest bonus–costs $790.13.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 11.14.10 PMIs This a Good Deal?

No, this is a terrible deal. Since United’s huge devaluation last year, I value United miles at around 1.5 cents. While the bottom line on all mileage sales is that they’re a good deal if you have an immediate, high-value use and not a good deal otherwise, there are few United awards for which you’ll get more than 2.63 cents of value per mile.

Math

To figure out if you have a high-value use, use this simple expression:

(A – B) / (C + D)

  • A: Value of the award. Important: this is the lesser of the cash price and your subjective value.
  • B: Taxes on the award
  • C: Miles used on the award
  • D: Miles you would earn if you purchased the award ticket with cash

This will spit out the dollar value you are getting for your miles. If that number is greater than 0.02, and you can book the dream award now, buy during this promotion. Otherwise, don’t buy.

 

Bottom Line

You can buy 150,000 United miles for 2.63 cents each. That’s way too high to buy speculatively. Hopefully cheaper sales come along.

United sales are processed by points.com, so you do not get category bonuses on cards that bonus airline or travel purchases like my latest card, the Citi Prestige® Card which offers 3x on purchases from airlines. (By contrast, AA’s sale of miles for 2.00 cents each is processed by AA, so you do get bonus points for buying the miles with a Prestige.)

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This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free one ways on United and US Airways awards.

A free one way is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free one ways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free one ways on its awards in April 2014 by nixing all free stopovers because free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport. Delta killed its free one ways on January 1, 2015 with the elimination of free stopovers on its awards (though in return, we do now get to book one way Delta awards.)

What’s the current state of free one ways with major frequent flyer programs?

If you get confused during this post, please read my Introduction to Free One Ways.

Alaska Airlines

Free one ways are possible on one way Alaska Airlines awards. That means you can book two free one ways per roundtrip awards.

Alaska has an amazing group of partners:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways (fuel surcharges)
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Fiji
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska (flights within Alaska)
  • PenAir (flights within Alaska)

Unfortunately you must book only one partner each one way award (you may add Alaska Airlines flights as well.) And unfortunately most Alaska Airlines awards need to either start or end in the United States.

Abide by those rules, though, and enjoy some amazing free one way opportunities.

For full details, see Free One Ways on Alaska Airlines Awards.

American Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with American Airlines miles. Free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport, and American has eliminated the chance to take any free stopovers on awards.

British Airways

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with Avios. Every flight on an Avios award has a mileage cost (determined exclusively by its distance and the cabin you book.) If every flight has a cost, there’s no way to get one for free as a free one way.

Delta Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on Delta awards since stopovers were eliminated on January 1, 2015.

United Airlines

Free one ways are possible on both international United awards and awards between the mainland and Hawaii. Free one ways are not possible on awards wholly within the mainland United States and Canada.

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Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

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You can either have a free one way BEFORE your main roundtrip award TO your home airport or AFTER your main roundtrip award FROM your home airport.

United’s routing rules are pretty lenient for free one ways. You can do some amazing backtracking. You can also do “cheap one ways” where you fly the extra leg to a distant land and pay far fewer miles than you “should.”

You will get a lot of errors trying to book free one ways on united.com because united.com’s multi-city search tool is broken. Don’t despair. Find all the space you need with one way searches, then call in to book.

For full details, see Master Thread: Free One Ways on United Awards.

While American, US Airways (by ending its mileage program), and Delta killed its free one ways recently, and free one ways have never been possible with Avios, free one ways are still possible on awards booked with United and Alaska miles.

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Wandering Aramean got “part of an internal memo describing [United’s] plans for the coming year.” It says:

Deliver first phase of united.com 2.0 by 2q 2015, including bundled ancillary offerings;

Some time in this quarter (by June 30), United plans to roll out a new website with new bundled fare options, which sounds like what American Airlines offers. Not that interesting. Moving on…

begin introducing dynamic award pricing.

Uh-oh!

“Dynamic award pricing” would mean that award prices change, presumably based on the cash price of the underlying ticket. The question is: is this a huge deal or no big deal?

No Big Deal

Dynamic award pricing is no big deal if it just means that United gives us a chance to buy any cash ticket on United (and possibly its joint venture partners) with miles at a fixed rate, almost certainly 1 cent per mile.

If we get the option to buy $400 flights for 40,000 miles, and nothing else changes, it’s no big deal.

In this scenario, we can still use our United miles for higher value uses on the award chart like 40,000 miles one way in First Class between Australia and Southeast Asia.

Let’s call this scenario: adding dynamic award pricing. It’s no big deal.

Huge Deal

Dynamic award pricing is a huge deal if it supplants the award chart. If every United and Star Alliance flight is only available by paying 1 mile per cent, awards would go way up in price, especially premium cabin awards.

Let’s call this scenario: replacing the award chart with dynamic award pricing. It’s a huge deal.

My Guess

My guess is that United’s plan for this quarter is the first scenario, adding the option to buy United and maybe a few partner flights for 1 mile per cent while not touching the award chart.

That’s my guess because I don’t think United wants to be the first among United, American, and Delta to go to revenue-based award redemptions. It would crush the value of the program of MileagePlus, and United prefers to copy Delta, which has not gone revenue-based on redemption.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

We don’t have much to go on, just a snippet of one memo. Keep your eyes peeled to see what form dynamic award pricing takes. Be at the ready to burn United miles if it is an apocalyptic scenario in which the whole MileagePlus program goes revenue-based.

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United is offering a 20% discount on roundtrip Saver economy awards booked to Hawaii by April 19 and flown Mondays through Thursdays from April 14 to May 19. The total cost of a roundtrip is 36,000 miles.

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Don’t Book This Promotion

If you have United miles, this may be a good deal. If you have Ultimate Rewards, do not transfer them to United miles to book this deal. You can always book roundtrip Saver award space on United to Hawaii for 35,000 Singapore miles, which is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints.

How the Promotion Works If You Have United Miles

The promotion is hard-coded into the search results at united.com, so as long as you search roundtrip for travel dates between April 14 and May 19, Mondays through Thursdays will display 20% off–18,000 miles each way.

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I performed some dummy searches between Washington DC and Honolulu, and as I expected, award space was excellent as it usually is to Hawaii during the Spring. All green and yellow days below have Saver award space for two passengers.

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United flies to the four major Hawaiian islands daily. Atlanta to Maui priced out at 36,000 miles + $11 roundtrip, 20% off the normal 45,000 mile price.

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FAQ

Images from a previous, identical promotion.

Does this discount apply to one way awards?

No. If you search one way, you will see the normal one way Saver price of 22,500 miles.

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What if only one date of a roundtrip is within the discounted date range or I choose one way in First Class?

You will get the discount on one way if one way of a roundtrip is within the discounted April 14 – May 19 date range.

Here is Denver to Kauai with one way in the discounted dates and the return not. It prices at 40,500 miles roundtrip–18,000 for outbound and 22,500 for return.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.27.58 AMScreen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.28.05 AMSimilarly if one way of a roundtrip is in economy, it will be discounted, while the First Class portion of the award will not be. You would pay 58,000 United miles for such a roundtrip.

Full terms and conditions were emailed to members.

  • Saver Award discount applies for travel on Monday through Thursday only.
  • Saver Award discount is only valid for air travel. Promotion period ends at 11:59 p.m. CST on April 19, 2015.
  • Offer is valid for travel beginning on or after April 14, 2015, and completed on or before May 19, 2015.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid for roundtrip travel between the U.S. or Canada and Hawaii.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid for roundtrip travel. One-way travel is still priced as a regular, non-discounted Saver Award.
  • For this offer, a roundtrip is defined as travel from an origin city to a destination city with return travel ending at the first origin city, and with all segments on flights operated by Star Alliance partner airlines. A segment is defined as one takeoff and one landing. Open jaw itineraries within the same region do qualify for the discount. Stopovers do not qualify for this offer.
  • A booking service charge may apply for travel booked less than 21 days before departure.
  • Award pricing is subject to change without notice.
  • Qualifying existing award tickets may be reissued, upon request, to the award sale mileage. They are subject to the award change policy, including any applicable service fees.

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United is offering a 25% discount on roundtrip economy awards to Brazil and Chile this Spring (their Fall.) For 45,000 United miles, you can fly roundtrip to Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, or Sao Paulo.

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Key Terms

  • Book by 11:59 p.m. on April 26, 2015.
  • Travel by June 25, 2015.
  • You must fly only United and United Express flights–no partners.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid for travel between the U.S. or Canada (excluding Hawaii) and Brazil or Chile.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid if you book roundtrip travel in Economy cabin. One-way travel is still priced as a regular, non-discounted Saver Award.
  • For this offer, a roundtrip is defined as travel from an origin city to a destination city with return travel ending at the first origin city, and with all segments on flights operated by United Airlines. A segment is defined as one takeoff and one landing. Open jaw itineraries within the same region do qualify for the discount. Stopovers do not qualify for this offer.
  • The discounted Saver Award is combinable with other award types as long as the itinerary is roundtrip (e.g., a member can book a Standard Award for the outbound portion of an itinerary and a Saver Award for the return portion, or vice versa) but only the flight segments purchased with a Saver Award will be eligible for a 25% discount.
  • A booking service charge may apply for travel booked less than 21 days before departure.

Examples, Award Space, What’s Possible

In Brazil and Chile, United flies from:

  • Houston to Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo
  • Washington-Dulles to Sao Paulo
  • Newark to Sao Paulo
  • Chicago to Sao Paulo

Award space is excellent on these routes over the sale period. In the calendars below, all green and yellow dates have Saver award space for one person for 45,000 miles roundtrip. Houston to Santiago has award space almost every day in April and May.

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Blue and green dates have Business and/or First Class space available for 55,000 or 70,000 miles one way. Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.00.27 AM

The return from Santiago to Houston also has award space almost every day.

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If you select a roundtrip at the Saver economy level the price is 45,000 miles + $53 in taxes to Chile. If your departure is less than 21 days away, a $75 fee is added.Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.02.53 AM

You do not have to fly Saver economy both ways. You can return in Business Class and the award prices at 22,500 + 55,000 = 77,500 miles roundtrip.Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.04.22 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.04.27 AM

Rio de Janeiro

Award space from Houston to Rio in April and May is good, but not as good as to Santiago.Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.06.20 AM

Award space Rio to Houston is similar.Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.06.33 AM

Sao Paulo

United has four routes to Sao Paulo. I searched Washington-Dulles to Sao Paulo. Award space is excellent in April, but less so in May.
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Award space on the return from Sao Paulo to Washington is a little better in May.

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You can fly into one Brazilian city and home from the other if you want to see both. (You can even have a second open jaw in the United States.) The award prices correctly at 45,000 miles plus taxes.Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.09.59 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.10.04 AM

American Airlines Off Peak

While these United awards for 45,000 miles–a 25% discount sound great–American Airlines has a cheaper award to Brazil and Chile that is a lot more flexible.

Every March 1 – May 31 and August 16 – November 30, you can fly American Airlines or any of its partners like LAN and TAM to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, or Uruguay for only 20,000 American Airlines miles each way–a 33% discount.

That’s broader dates, the ability to fly partners, more countries, and a cheaper price. The American Airlines off peak awards and award chart in general is better than United’s.

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards.

Are you going to book a discounted United award to Brazil or Chile?

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It is cheaper to book the exact same United flights to Hawaii with Singapore KrisFlyer miles than with United miles.

  • United charges 22,500 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii
  • Singapore charges 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles each way in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii

That’s a humongous difference. Instead of costing 90,000 United miles to get two people from your home airport to Hawaii and back, you could pay 70,000 Singapore miles. Instead of paying 160,000 United miles for two roundtrip First Class tickets, you could pay 120,000 Singapore miles–even occasionally for flat beds!

To reiterate, these are the exact same flights with vastly different prices depending on which miles you use. Singapore even has access to all the same Saver award space United releases to people with United miles (except for some space set aside only for United elites and credit card holders.)

What’s the catch? For bookings to Hawaii, there really isn’t one.

  • Singapore awards cost fewer miles than United awards
  • Singapore awards are way cheaper to change or cancel than United awards if your plans change
  • Singapore awards do not have a fee for booking within three weeks of departure like United awards do
  • Singapore awards on United flights within the United States (including Hawaii) do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of around $11 roundtrip.
  • Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles, and even share a key transfer partner.

Getting Singapore Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of the four major transferable points program:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards, 1:1
  2. Citi ThankYou Points, 1:1
  3. American Express Membership Rewards, 1:1
  4. SPG Starpoints, 1:1 with a bonus. Every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus, so the ideal transfers are in exact increments of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 Singapore miles.

. Cards I like that earns points that transfer:

  • Citi ThankYou® Premier Card50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also earns 3x points on travel and has
  • Citi Prestige® Card: 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also comes earns 3x points on airfare and hotels and has a host of benefits like lounge access and $250 in free airfare per year.
  • Sapphire Preferred: 40,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. 2x on dining and travel.
  • Ink Plus (business card): 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. 5x on office supplies and telecom bills.
  • Whichever Membership Rewards card (Platinum or Gold, personal or business) is offering a big 50,000, 75,000, or 100,000 point sign up bonus

To compare this to earning United miles, United has its own co-branded personal and business cards plus is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards but not any of the other three transferable points programs.

Searching for Award Space, Transferring Miles, and Booking the Awards

You will have to search for award space on the United flights on united.com; then you will call Singapore Airlines at 213-404-0301 to book the awards.

Here’s how to search united.com. Make sure that you do NOT sign into united.com when searching for award space that you plan to book with another type of miles because signing in can cause award space set aside for elites or credit card holders to appear, and that space is not bookable with other types of miles like Singapore miles.

How to Interpret the Calendar

The first thing you’ll notice when you search for award space to Hawaii on united.com is that it’s widely available for much of the year. Here’s a calendar of the next month and a half. Yellow days have Saver economy award space; blue days have Saver First Class space; green days have Saver space in both cabins. Singapore miles can book all the Saver space that is depicted on these calendars.

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How to Interpret the Itineraries

Once you select a date, the itineraries will be displayed from shortest travel time to longest travel time. Most results will have four columns of award space. You can ignore the Economy Standard Award and First / BusinessFirst Standard Award columns. Singapore miles cannot book that space.
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We’re looking for a blue button in one of the Saver columns.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.01.08 PM

The “First / BusinessFirst” column is especially interesting and potentially confusing to people unfamiliar with award terminology.

Two vs. Three Cabin First Class

The vast majority of United’s domestic flights have two cabins that are sold as Economy and First. Internationally, United’s two cabin flights are sold as Economy and BusinessFirst. Whenever United operates a two-cabin plane, the premium cabin’s awards are priced at the Business Class award price by United and by Singapore.

Extremely rarely, you will encounter a plane on a domestic route with three cabins: Economy, Business, and First. Whenever any itinerary is available with any flight with three cabins, the four columns you’re used to seeing on the search results turn into six columns.

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United charges 50,000 miles if any of the segments is in First Class on a three cabin plane. Singapore would charge 40,000 miles. But again, these flights are rare, and you can get flat beds in two cabin planes for 30,000 Singapore miles.

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Flat Beds

Both Business and First Class on three cabin planes have flat beds.

On two cabin planes, you can occasionally find flat beds in First Class. To find out if your plane has flat beds, click View Seats on the itinerary. Regular seats look like squares with rounded edges.
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Beds look like little beds.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.02.26 PM

Some 777-200s feature flat beds, and all 767-400ERs feature flat beds. Flights from Newark and Washington-Dulles to Honolulu all feature flat beds, and some San Francisco and Houston flights feature flat beds.

Mixed Cabin Awards

Many awards on united.com in the premium cabin columns say “Mixed Cabin.” Holding your cursor over “Mixed Cabin” launches a pop up that says which cabin is available on each flight.

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You always have to pay the full price of the premium cabin award even though part of the award is an inferior cabin.

Singapore Airlines also lets you book mixed cabin awards for the full Business Class price.

Whether you want to book a mixed cabin is up to you. I just booked myself one because my first flight is about 2 hours in economy, and the next is 8.5 hours in a flat bed. That seemed worth paying 30,000 Singapore miles.

Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles all take about 36 hours. SPG transfers take at least that long.

Once I find award space, I initiate the transfer.

Award space changes all the time, so in a worst case scenario, your award space could disappear before your miles posted. If you can’t handle this outcome, transfer Ultimate Rewards to United miles instantly instead, and pay the extra miles.

I can handle the small chance that my award space will disappear. Maybe it will reappear later. If not, I can always use Singapore miles in the future for a different high value award.

How to Book Singapore Awards

Once your miles post, you have to call Singapore Airlines to book the award. Call 213-404-0301 and be ready with your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account number and six digit PIN.

Feed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of each flight you want.

For cabin, call United First Class on its two cabin planes “Business Class” because that is what the agent needs to search for.

The agent will charge you taxes denominated in Singapore dollars. If you convert that price to US dollars, it should be about $5.60 per person per direction, the standard taxes on domestic awards.

Within a few minutes, you should get an email from Singapore Airlines with an attachment like this.

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Picking Seats

To pick your seats and confirm that your reservation was ticketed correctly, head to united.com and input the Singapore Airlines confirmation number on the home page. The Singapore Airlines confirmation number is the six letter/number code listed on your email attachment next to “Booking Reference.”

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United.com will recognize the Singapore Airlines confirmation number. You can select your seats and note your United confirmation number, which will be a different six letter/number code.

Other Benefits of Singapore Airlines Awards Over United Awards

  1. United charges $75 to book an award within 21 days of departure. Singapore charges no fee for such bookings.
  2. United charges $200 to cancel an award booking and get your miles back. Singapore charges $30.
  3. United charges $75 to $100 to change an award booking. Singapore charges $20.

My Experience Booking United to Hawaii with Singapore Miles

Today, I found out that I don’t need to go to New York this week, so I’ll start my trip to Hawaii a bit early. Booking so late in the game is no problem because United offers excellent last minute award space to Hawaii.

I needed to book an award from Atlanta to Honolulu, so I searched united.com and found a mixed-cabin award with Atlanta to Houston in economy and Houston to Honolulu in a flat bed in United First Class on a two cabin plane.

A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed
A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed

The award would have cost 40,000 United miles and $80.60 to book including United’s $75 fee for booking within 21 days of departure. I noted the flight number, dates, and cabins plus my KrisFlyer number and PIN.

I already had 30,000 Singapore miles in my account because I transferred Citi ThankYou points and Chase Ultimate Rewards weeks ago in anticipation of booking an award to Hawaii in First Class when I knew what date I wanted to fly.

I called Singapore Airlines and fed the agent the information and called the First Class cabin on my United flight “Business Class.”

He priced the award at 30,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles + 7.8 Singapore dollars ($5.66.) I booked the ticket with my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card because it has no foreign transaction fees and earns bonus points for airfare purchases and got an email confirmation a few minutes later. I input the Singapore confirmation code into the United app on my phone and selected my seat and bed.

Bottom Line

Use Singapore miles instead of United miles to book economy and First Class awards to Hawaii on United flights. You’ll pay fewer miles, lower fees, and be able to book the exact same seats. Plus Singapore miles are so easy to get as a transfer partner of pretty much everyone.

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Meeting the minimum spending requirement on the Arrival Plus give you about $500 worth of free flights on any airline with no blackouts.

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United is offering a targeted bonus on purchasing miles through March 23, 2015 that varies from 20 to 50%. Check your email for the subject line: “Reveal your bonus: Receive up to a 50% bonus when you buy or give miles”

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When I clicked “Reveal my bonus >” in my email, I learned that my bonus is 25%.Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.03.34 PM

United miles cost 3.76 cents each. With my 25% bonus, they cost 3.01 cents each. If you get a 50% bonus, your miles will cost about 2.5 cents each.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.04.22 PMIs even 2.5 cents per United mile a good deal?

No. I value United miles closer to 1.7 cents each, so I certainly wouldn’t load up on them at 2.5+ cents per mile.

The answer is almost always the same on buy-miles promotions:

It is a bad deal to speculatively buy the miles without an immediate use. Not only are United miles not worth 2.5 cents in the abstract, but miles can always be devalued before you use them. However, if you have an immediate use of United miles where you get more than 2.5 cents of value–achievable–this is a good deal.

Better Deal: United Miles for 1.9 Cents Each

Mommy Points explains how to add Premier Accelerator to a cash ticket purchase on united.com to buy miles for as little as 1.9 cents each. Then you can cancel the cash ticket within 24 hours for a full refund if you’d like. The miles purchase is non-refundable.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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In July and August 2015, United will put one of its p.s. 757-200s, configured with flat beds up front, on the Los Angeles to Boston route. These planes fly every flight between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Occasionally they are put on other routes on a one-off basis like Los Angeles to either Boston or Newark.

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The premium cabin on the 757-200 features flat beds in a 2-2 configuration meaning that window seats do not have direct aisle access. While the normal p.s. routes have special service and catering, non-p.s. routes that use p.s. planes like Boston to Los Angeles just feature the improved seat/bed without corresponding increases in service.

Which Boston to Los Angeles Flights Have Flat Beds

From July 2 to August 17, one of the two daily frequencies between Los Angeles and Boston will feature the 757-200 with flat beds up front:

  • Los Angeles to Boston, departing 8:30 AM and arriving 5:01 PM (UA528)
  • Boston to Los Angeles, departing 6:00 OM and arriving 9:11 PM (UA717)

The other daily frequency on the route does not feature a 757-200 with flat beds up front.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.22.02 AM

United.com lists the aircraft for each flight. You can double check that your flight has beds by clicking “View Seats” and looking for the orange bed icon.

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Award Space

I checked award space during the entirety of the 757-200’s run on the Boston to Los Angeles route. From Los Angeles to Boston, there is no First Class award space on any flight in July or August at the moment. In fact, there is only one day with economy award space during the run.

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From Boston to Los Angeles, there is also no award space in First Class during the 757-200’s time on the route.

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Just because there isn’t space now on the route doesn’t mean it won’t open up later though.

United is notorious for opening up a lot of last-minute award space, especially in premium cabins. The best way to estimate the likelihood that such award space will open up is to search a route for the next few days and weeks to see how much space it currently has at the last minute.

That method doesn’t make me too excited about the chances to fly in a flat bed from Los Angeles to Boston this summer. In the next week, only 3/7 days have First Class award space.

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From Boston to Los Angeles, zero days in the next week and 3 in the next month have First Class award space.Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.23.32 AM

This method for estimating award space in July may be less useful than usual though because the 757-200 has a much higher percentage of its seats in First Class than the A320 that normally flies the route. That might mean more unsold First Class seats opened as award seats. At least, that’s what we can hope.

(HT View from the Wing)

Further Reading

Just this week I published:

AMERICAN VS. UNITED VS. DELTA: BEST FLAT BED TRANSCON AWARD SPACE

It analyzed the routes, the products, the prices, and the award space offered by the three legacy carriers on flat bed flights across the country.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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American Airlines, United, and Delta fly flat beds on their daily flights between New York-JFK and San Francisco and Los Angeles. Delta also flies its flat beds between New York-JFK and Seattle.

All three airlines compete in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Only Delta flies between Seattle and JFK with flat beds.
All three airlines compete in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Only Delta flies between Seattle and JFK with flat beds.
  • Which has the best flat bed award space on the routes?
  • What are the prices? 
  • What are the products?

The Products & Prices

Delta

Delta throws 757s and 767s configured with flat bed seats at its transcontinental routes. Like all Delta planes, there are only two cabins–in this case sold as economy and BusinessElite. The 767s (on the right) are more comfortable in Business because their 1-2-1 layout gives full aisle access to every seat. The 757’s (on the left) 2-2 layout means climbing over your neighbor.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.10.49 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.11.07 PM

For Business Elite at the Saver level, Delta charges 32,500 miles one way. Here’s Delta’s page on what to expect on its transcontinental service.

United

United has a dedicated fleet of 757-200s for all of its transcontinental service that it sells as p.s. Premium Service. The fleet has two cabins, and Business Class is laid out 2-2 as on Delta’s 757s, meaning no direct aisle access from every seat.

United charges 25,000 miles each way in Business Class at the Saver level.

American

American’s transcontinental fleet is the newest and best. Its A321s have five rows of 1-1 First Class and five rows of 2-2 Business Class. All 30 seats convert to flat beds.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.20.50 PM
AA Transcon First Class

American charges 25,000 miles one way in Business Class and 32,500 in First Class. Here’s AA’s page on what to expect from the service.

Award Space

All of that, especially the Saver award prices, is just theoretical if the airlines don’t consistently release award space on their flights at the Saver level.

From my searches, I found that Delta doesn’t release much–if any–Business Class award space on its transcontinental flat beds. Between Seattle and New York, the space is mainly 45,000 mile Level 2 space. Between California to New York, it is 67,500 mile Level 4 space. United releases some award space in Business Class at the last minute but has none released over the summer. American releases little Business Class space, but a lot more First Class space.

American Airlines

For one passenger, there is award space in Business Class from New York to Los Angeles three times next week. That’s it for the next month.
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But in First Class, there is space six days in the next week and 13 days in the next month.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.42.24 PM

This pattern repeats. In June and July, there is only one day with Business Class space from San Francisco to New York.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.43.22 PM

The same time period has 17 days with First Class award space.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.43.26 PM

From Los Angeles to New York, I searched for two passengers. There’s one day in the Fall with award space in Business Class.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.43.59 PMBy contrast, First Class space for two is available most Saturdays.

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The bottom line on American Airline space: way more First Class than Business Class award space, way more award space for 1 passenger than for 2, and award space is released at the last minute.

Delta

Here’s the next month from Los Angeles to New York. No award space even close to the Saver price of 32,500 miles one way. The best I find is Level 4 space for more than double that price.
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Here’s the month after that. Still none.

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In fact, I didn’t find 32,500 mile space between California and New York in either direction.

Nor did I find any between New York and Seattle, though it is widely available for the Level 2 price of 45,000 miles one way. Here’s a calendar of July dates. Every single day has 2+ award seats on multiple flights from Seattle to JFK for 45,000 miles per person.

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We get the same view from New York to Seattle in the Fall.

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The bottom line on Delta Saver space on transcontinental flights is that there basically is none.

United

United is coasting on its reputation from a few years ago of having the best award space. Right now its space on its transcontinental service is bad.

There is some space for one person from Los Angeles to New York in the next two weeks–six out of 14 days.

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New York to Los Angeles shows a similar pattern for one person: 12 days in the next month with space.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.51.31 PM

But other than the next month, there is basically no space. New York to Los Angeles in June and July has zero Business Class award space.

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Los Angeles to New York in the Fall has one day with award space in Business Class: Thanksgiving day.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.52.54 PM

San Francisco to New York has one day too: the day after Thanksgiving.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.53.50 PM

For two people, award space is even worse. One day in the next month from San Francisco to New York.

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Three days between New York and San Francisco.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.55.55 PMThe bottom line on United transcontinental Business Class award space: almost all of it is in the next month on flights with only one award seat.

Bottom Line

United, Delta, and American put fully flat beds on 5-6 hour flights because there is a demand for such premium products that rich people are willing to pay. Either because most of the flat beds are being sold or because the airlines just want to protect the products, award space on these routes is very hard to find.

The best space is for one person within a month of departure in United Business Class and American Airlines First Class.

Getting the Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of every transferable points program. Cards I like that earns points that transfer:

Getting the Miles

American Airlines miles are super easy to get.

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards.

We also know that The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® will no longer be offered to new applicants as soon as the US Airways and American Airlines frequent flyer programs integrate, some time by June 2015. That means that the chance to earn 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase on this card will disappear soon. Check out all the places you can go with just the sign up bonus.

All US Airways miles not redeemed on the US Airways chart by the time of integration will become American Airlines miles, and American Airlines has committed to not devaluing its award chart at the time of combination. The two types of miles are roughly equal in value. Getting all three cards now and meeting their spending requirements means you will have at least 156,000 American Airlines miles by June.
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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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A few weeks ago, United’s Danish website was way under-pricing First Class tickets from London to the United States, about $100 to anywhere you wanted to go. United said it would not honor those tickets, and I sided with United while noting that United States Department of Transportation (DoT) rules seemed clear that United couldn’t unilaterally cancel its tickets.

Now the DoT has weighed in with a statement.

The statement makes clear that United will not have to honor the mistake fares. It leaves open whether any mistake fares in the future will be honored, and I really don’t like some of the language. Here’s the part that could kill mistake fares:

Additionally, the Office is concerned that to obtain the fare, some purchasers had to manipulate the search process on the website in order to force the conversion error to Danish Krone by misrepresenting their billing address country as Denmark when, in fact, Denmark was not their billing address country. This evidence of bad faith by the large majority of purchasers contributed to the Enforcement Office’s decision.

Most mistake fares do not require you to change the country of purchase (though that trick often saves money on airfare), but I’m worried about what else the DoT could classify as “bad faith” that could then “contribute” to the next decision that a mistake fare doesn’t have to be honored.

Will a mistake fare going viral be enough evidence on its own that a majority of the people who purchased it read about the fare on a blog or website and knew the fare was a mistake? Is that “bad faith”? Will that be enough to make the next mistake fare unenforceable?

I don’t know the answers, but my take is that the DoT didn’t want to enforce this mistake fare and “back-filled” reasons to get there. The DoT had some useful facts at its disposal this time, since almost everyone who got in on the fare lied about having a billing address in Denmark. Those facts probably won’t be present in the next mistake fare that the DoT has to adjudicate, but will DoT simply expand its definition of “bad faith”? If the DoT doesn’t want to enforce the next mistake fare, will it back-fill new reasons?

We shall see.

In the meantime, I set up a twitter account last week that I haven’t tweeted from yet. I’ll only tweet from @MileValueAlerts when there is a you-need-to-know-right-now deal on the level of a mistake fare. Set up free text message alerts every time @MileValueAlerts tweets as explained in this post.

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Meeting the minimum spending requirement on the Arrival Plus give you about $500 worth of free flights on any airline with no blackouts.

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