New redemption rates for United Airlines' Mileage Plus frequent flyer scheme come into effect this weekend – and they pack some good news for Australian travellers.
While the changes generally see United's core membership of US residents lose out through a massive hike in redemption rates, trips from Australia to most of Asia using United's Star Alliance partners such as Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways are now substantially cheaper than before, even in first class.
Flying to the USA and Europe is likely to cost you more points, although they still stack up well against equivalent award travel on Qantas and Virgin Australia.
We've crunched the numbers below – get ready to be surprised!
Australia to South Asia
A dramatic drop in the number of points needed for a free award flight makes this the new sweet spot for Mileage Plus.
Consider a trip from Sydney to Bangkok on Thai Airways, or from Brisbane to Singapore with Singapore Airlines: under the old redemption table that would cost 30,000 miles for a one way economy ticket, 45,000 for business or 60,000 for first class.
As of February 1 these rates fall to just 17,500 miles for economy, 30,000 miles for business or 40,000 miles for first class.
Yes, you read that right: it's now cheaper to trade your points in for a first class ticket than it used to be for business class.
There are plenty of other appealing routes in the ‘Australia to South Asia’ category of Mileage Plus such as flights to Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, amongst other destinations.
And when compared to the standard redemption rates offered by Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer for journeys of a similar distance, the new rates are quite competitive.
[Click on the tables in this article to enlarge them]
The only caveat: Singapore Airlines flights can’t be booked on United’s website – these are now only available over the phone at an additional charge for non-elites.
Australia to North Asia
Flights from Australia to China, Mongolia, South Korea and Taiwan – including Star Alliance partner Air China’s daily Sydney to Beijing service – are classed as ‘North Asia’ and will carry the following revised costs:
The current Mileage Plus redemption rates for North Asia are 35,000, 50,000 and 65,000 (respectively), making this another genuine improvement.
Australia to Japan
Interestingly, flights to and from Japan have their own unique redemption rates in Mileage Plus.
The changes see a marginal improvement for economy redemptions (currently 25,000 miles), though a slight increase for first class – currently 55,000 miles, while there’s no change for passengers in business.
Australia to Europe
Travellers headed to Europe and the UK won’t be as impressed, as the rates across all cabins are increasing – although they still remain competitive against the local offerings, as shown below.
At present, 40,000 miles buys a one way in economy, 60,000 buys a business ticket and 75,000 will see you float away above the clouds in first class.
As flights to Europe always include a connection, we’ve included the standard pricing for Qantas Frequent Flyer and United Mileage Plus, as well as Velocity Frequent Flyer on three of their alliance partners to enable a fair comparison.
Australia to North America
Redemption rates for North American flights are unchanged in economy and first, with business class seeing a marginal increase from the current 67,500 mile price.
In this example, we’ve calculated the redemption rates for travel from Sydney to Los Angeles, as United, Qantas and Virgin Australia all operate their own aircraft on this particular route.
Making Mileage Plus work for you
Although Australia lacks a home-grown Star Alliance carrier you can steadily build your Mileage Plus balance through hotel stays – Hilton HHonors, IHG Rewards Club and Starwood Preferred Guest are all partners to the Mileage Plus program.
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About Chris Chamberlin
Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, an opera ticket and a glass of wine!