Airports, Airlines, Aviation

Devaluing Award Miles on Partner Flights

In the past year, we have a seen a glut of airlines devaluing award miles that we worked so hard to accumulate. Back in the day, award miles were a great way to fly for free, when miles often were worth more than dollars, and we could actually redeem them without paying more than $10 for processing. Alas, gone are those days of yore. This blog explores a scenario where airlines have been devaluing award miles in alliance conversion accrual, and what it means for the traveler. A follow on blog will explore the business motivations around why airlines do this, and the recent trend around airlines devaluing their own award miles in redemption scenarios.

A girlfriend of mine recently brought to my attention an epic #alliancefail in airlines devaluing award miles taken on partner flights. She’s a United member because, as of two years ago, used to live in the US and traveled on and off for her job. Now, she lives in Europe (and previously Israel), and flies mostly with United partners. She had accumulated many United miles over the years, and was hoping to continue accumulating them as she flew around Europe on United’s Star Alliance partner airlines, such as Turkish and Lufthansa. To do so, these Star Alliance airlines would have recognize the United mileage program against the classes of service that she actually flew, and then have the back-end system be organized in a way that they would be synced and processed in United’s award accrual system.

However, she noticed that several classes of services (e.g. booking codes) resulted in zero or significantly less United mileage accrual with United partners. Consider these two use cases:

  • K class ticket on Lufthansa on a TLV-FRA-EWR round-trip flight resulted in zero United miles being awarded
  • V class ticket on Turkish on a TLV-IST-FDH round-trip flight resulted in only a 50% conversion rate

While United does have a list of partner flight booking codes and their United mileage conversion rate corollaries, this is not a widely known fact by travelers. Most people don’t stop to think that their Star Alliance airline is devaluing award miles when converting back to the United award miles program. Look here for the rules around earning award miles, and here for rules around redeeming award miles. If you pop in to the section that discuss Lufthansa’s partner mileage conversion into United award miles, we can find the following table:

Lufthansa devaluing award miles
Lufthansa devaluing award miles

We don’t even find K class on the table. But oh, wait – there’s some fine-print!

All other fare classes do not accrue mileage. United and Lufthansa reserve the right to change the eligible fare classes at any time without notice.

So I guess she is out of luck with K class. Then it goes on to say:

Mileage accrual is subject to the rules of the United MileagePlus program and, as provided therein, mileage will be credited in accordance with the terms and conditions of the MileagePlus Program in effect at the time of travel, not at the time air travel is purchased, booked or reserved, and accordingly miles may not be awarded for some tickets or miles may be awarded in an amount fewer than shown. The award miles accrued on codeshare flights are based on the operating carrier and their equivalent fare class. This could result in differences between the purchased booking class and the booking class flown, which determines the number of base and Premier qualifying miles and Premier qualifying segments earned. MileagePlus award miles earned may vary depending on the Premier status of the customer.

So basically, there’s no certainly in any mileage conversion accrual, and it’s at United’s discretion to continue devaluing award mileage accrual on partner flights.

What you should do to avoid devaluing award miles snafus

My friend is so bitter with United not honoring her flights that she will probably open Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines accounts so that she gets full mileage credit. This is the only guaranteed way to really not lose miles in a conversion scenario. Fly with the marketing airline and have the miles get counted in the marketing airline’s award system.

Pros: Avoids the devauling award miles conversion scenario

Cons: Now you have to open an award account with each airline you fly in the Star Alliance, and remember to use that carrier’s loyalty number when making the reservation. This also means you will accrue miles at a much slower pace since your miles will be spread out across multiple airlines. It will take you longer to get to an award. And, on top of that, when you fly an alliance and don’t accrue miles, your current balance of miles does not get an extended expiration date either. So, it turns in to a “use it or lose it” scenario.

The choice is yours.


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