Et tu, United?

On Friday, like many of you, I got an email from United telling me about upcoming changes to their MileagePlus® program. Since they released this information on a Friday afternoon, you may be thinking this is not good news. You would be right, for the most part.

The Bad News

Just in time for the holiday season, United is removing their award chart. For flights on November 15, 2019 or later, the current rules for how much an award flight costs will be flexible. That is, an award flight will cost whatever they say it costs for that date on that route. So for popular routes for holiday travel you can expect higher prices – in some cases much higher.

The Good News

Award flights within the US and Canada that currently price at 10K to 12.5K miles may price lower sometimes. This pricing is already available for some routes.

Effective November 15 the close-in booking fee of $75 will be eliminated if you book a flight within 21 days of departure. Previously this fee was waived only for certain elite members.

If you are an elite member or hold one of the Chase United credit cards there are still no blackout dates for award travel – though of course you might not like the price that is charged.

For now, the Star Alliance award chart is not changing. For now.

In the end

It’s very disappointing to see United following Delta’s lead with this dynamic pricing. I would bet that American is not far behind. While it’s nice that the close-in fee is being eliminated, it’s not something I’ve ever had to pay as I typically book many months in advance. This is going to make award trip planning more challenging as you may see an award price for X-miles one day, save up enough for that, only to find it now costs Y-miles when you’re ready to book.

I’m just a lowly Silver elite this year and unless I take a business trip this year am unlikely to requalify. I chose United because it’s more reliable than American and I could do more with my miles than I could with Delta miles. Yet they’ve taken that advantage away.

The United website has a page with more detail.

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United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

Lodging Review: Novotel Torino Corso Giulio Cesare
Attraction Review: Museo Egizio
Lodging Review: Hilton Bonn
Lounge Review: Lufthansa Lounge, Cologne-Bonn Airport
United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

Though I usually do these trip reports in sequential order as to the activities, I skipped over the flight from Chicago to Munich as it was on a B777 configured in the old 2-4-2 layout that we experienced on our flight from Chicago to Brussels a few years ago. So I’ve included the food options below but am not providing a detailed review. Since my reservations were made only 10 days before, I was not surprised to find that the only available BusinessFirst seats were middle seats in the middle section. However, when I checked in 24 hours in advance I was thrilled to see it was the new 1-2-1 layout. But I was unable to select a seat. I was fine with that since now it no longer mattered where I sat. Later in the day, however, the seat map later reverted to the old 2-4-2 as I assume they had changed which aircraft would be servicing this flight. The good news was that now I had been assigned an aisle seat though it was still in the center section.

On the return, we did indeed finally get the 1-2-1 layout with the new Polaris amenities so I’ve included photos of that seat below. I did not include a review of one of the Lufthansa business class lounges in Munich as it was quite busy and there really wasn’t a way to take photos without people in it.

Aircraft: B777-200ER
Seat: 8D (BusinessFirst, aisle of center section)
Depart: 1900 CDT
Arrive 0930+1 CET

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Earn United Miles for Gasoline Purchases with BP

Most of us have or are aware of credit cards that earn bonus miles/points for purchases at gas stations.  For example, during this first quarter of 2018, the Chase Freedom card  has gas stations as one of its bonus categories and you can earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent.  The IHG card will earn 2 points per dollar.  The Hilton card will give you 5 points per dollar.  And now you can double up those bonuses when you link your card to your BP Driver Rewards account.

You can sign up at this website or if you’re like me and already have a BP Driver Reward account, just log into your account, click on the BP Driver Rewards tab at the top and scroll down just a little until you see the photo of the United Airlines plane.

When you click on the Learn More button you see that you can earn 1, 2 or 3 miles per gallon:

Even better, you’ll earn 200 bonus miles for your first purchase after linking a debit or credit card to your BP Driver Rewards account and paying with that card.

The downside to this is that you can’t earn both cash back and airline miles for the same purchase. If you already have a BPDR account and you want to earn miles, you’ll need to log into your account to change your rewards type.  You can do that on the My Account tab.

NOTE: This promotion is not available to California residents.

If you don’t have other ways of earning United miles, this is a great way to extend the life of the miles you do have, since every addition of miles extends the life of your entire pool of miles for 18 months.

What if BP gas is not the cheapest in your area?  United miles are worth approximately 1.4-1.5 cents apiece.  So if BP gas is more than about 2 cents per gallon more expensive than your usual gas station it might not be worth more than an occasional visit to help extend your UA miles.  I’ve recently stocked up on Kroger fuel points thanks to a 4x fuel points on gift cards promotion this weekend so it may be a month or two before I take advantage of this BP promotion.

But for those of you who spend a lot at the pump, this could be a nice way to bump up your UA stash of points.


HT: Pizza In Motion

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Earn Miles for Donating to California Wildfire Relief

From now through the end of the year you can earn bonus United MileagePlus miles for donating to their partners for disaster relief due to the California wildfires.  United is partnering with the American Red Cross and the San Diego Humane Society.  If you’re a MileagePlus member you’ve probably already received an email to this effect and you can click on the link in your email or you can click here to to be taken to the donation page.

United will give bonus miles based on a tiered structure:

  • Donations of $50-99 will receive 250 bonus miles
  • Donations of $100-249 will receive 500 bonus miles
  • Donations of $250 or more will receive 1,000 bonus miles

United will award up to 3,000,000 bonus miles in total and will match the first $100,000 donated.

Note that the donations are handled by CrowdRise so they will not count as an airline charge for points-earning purposes.

It’s never a bad time to help those in need and doing so over the next couple of weeks will earn you bonus miles for doing so.

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United Miles Mystery Sale

From now through November 20th, United is offering targeted, tiered discounts on purchased miles. To see what your personal offer is, log into your account on United.com and hover over MileagePlus.

From there click on Buy, Transfer or Give Miles and you’ll be taken to this screen.

Click on the Reveal Now button, which will bring up a pop-up window for you to enter your MileagePlus number (again) and your last name. Enter that info and the next screen will show you your targeted bonus.

Mine will allow a bonus of up to 100% if I buy 30K-75K miles. United allows up to 150K miles to be purchased in a calendar year.

The drop-down menu shows the base cost of each increment of 1000 miles from 1000 to 75,000. Selecting one of the entries will then cause the calculator on the right side of the page to display the full purchase price including the taxes.

Buying 75K miles has a base purchase price of $2625. So getting 150K points for that price brings the price-per-point down to 1.75 cents each before tax. Since taxes are almost $197, that raises the price to 1.88 cents apiece.

Is it worth it?

It all depends on your needs, of course. If you’re looking to top off your miles to reach a specific award, then it might indeed be worth it. But if you’re looking to buy miles speculatively, then no, it’s probably not worth it. As noted above, the best-case scenario is about 1.88 cents apiece. Ben at One Mile At A Time values United miles at 1.4 cents each while Brian, the Points Guy, says they’re worth 1.5 cents apiece.

So I’ll be sitting this one out since I don’t have an immediate need.

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Multiple 100K Mile Giveaways

Three different airlines are offering a chance at 100,000 miles + $2500 cash when you register through their shopping portals.  If you choose to do additional shopping through these portals you can earn more entries into the contest. Continue reading

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Review: United Polaris Business Class ORD-LHR-ORD

On my last trip across the Atlantic, I flew over on a United 777 prior to their rollout of their Polaris product in December. While the aircraft on this trip had not been retrofitted with the new hard product I was interested to see how the new soft product would differ. This report will cover both the outbound trip to London and the return to Chicago.

UA 938
Depart ORD: 21:20
Arrive LHR: 11:20+1
Duration: 8h 10m
Boeing 767-300
Seat 9A (Business Class)

After leaving the Polaris lounge, our gate was just a few steps away. By the time we arrived, orderly lines had already formed for zones 1 & 2 so we took our place at the end of zone 1. It wasn’t too much longer before boarding began. Everyone entered through door 2L so we turned right down the first aisle to our seats, which were the last two business class seats on the right and faced forward.

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Review: United Polaris Club, Chicago O’Hare Airport

I had arrived in Chicago in the morning and spent the day with friends before returning to the airport that evening. My friend dropped me off at O’Hare around 6:15 PM in advance of my 9:10 PM flight. I was excited to be able to spend some time in the relatively new Polaris lounge before my flight.

The lounge entrance is just to the left of the escalators when entering Concourse C from Concourse B/Terminal 1 check-in. There is a first checkpoint where it is verified that you’re entitled to enter the lounge. Then walk through these double doors followed by a left turn into the lounge.

Polaris Club Main Entrance

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Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

I took an early morning flight from Memphis to Chicago where I met up with my travel partner for the next two weeks.  She lives in the area so she picked me up and we had lunch with a mutual friend before returning to the airport for our evening flight.

Our visit to the United Club was the last day before one of the other clubs in a different concourse reopened after remodeling, so the club that was right across from our gate was absolutely packed.  It was so full that there was actually a line outside the club and people had to leave the club before they’d allow others in! We had some soft drinks but nothing to eat (not that there was a lot on offer) knowing that we’d be fed on our flight.  We couldn’t even fully enjoy the free wi-fi as the signal kept getting used by all the people in the club.

When it came time to board we only had to step across the hall to our gate, which was nice.  I was actually very impressed by all the lanes United had set up to separate the boarding groups and the boarding process proceeded in a relatively orderly fashion.

UA 972
Boeing 777
Seats 6J & 6K (BusinessFirst)

We entered via door 1L and proceeded through the galley to the far aisle before turning right through First Class and into Business Class.  United uses a 2-4-2 seating configuration in Business Class. I guess that middle section can actually be good if you’re traveling with several people but would be odd with strangers.  In addition, every other rows faces the opposite way.  So our seats faced forward but those in the middle beside us faced backward.  It was just weird. Our seats were the first row of BusinessFirst on the far aisle as we boarded.  In our seats were a blanket, a pillow and a set of headphones.


UA 972 BusinessFirst Seat 6J

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Categories: Award Travel, Star Alliance, United | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Trip Report: Danube River Cruise

I have a group of friends that like to travel together and one of them knew of another small group that was doing a Danube River cruise with Viking River Cruises.  Having cruised the Rhine with Viking a couple of years ago, we were excited to join that group for another European float.

One of my good friends who lives in Chicago agreed to be my travel partner for this excursion. We looked at the trip extensions Viking offered: a pre-trip extension in Prague before the cruise began in Nuremberg, and post-trip extension in Budapest, where the cruise ended.  As we looked at what was offered, we decided to do our own versions of these extensions and use our hotel points (mostly) to pay for our rooms.

Naturally we used airline miles to cover our flights in business class.  We both used United miles to fly to Prague with a long layover in Brussels.  My friend also used UA miles for a return flight from Budapest on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.  I used my Lufthansa Miles & More miles via Frankfurt, hoping to be able to upgrade to First Class as the time for our flight grew closer, but it wasn’t to be.  No first class award seat ever opened up on the FRA-ORD leg on my flight date.  Note to self: in the future, don’t fly on a Monday.  Loads of business travelers!  I saw award seats on both Sunday and Tuesday around my date but by then the rest of our plans had been set so I had to “settle” for business class.

Our outbound flight connected in Brussels and I have a Twitter friend who lives in Belgium.  Though we’d never met in person, she was kind enough to drive down to Brussels and meet us for lunch and take us on a walk around the area near the train station.  I love the way the world gets smaller with social media!


My flights in red, my friend’s flights in cyan, joint flights in green

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Categories: Austria, Award Travel, Cruises, Europe, Germany, Hungary, Lufthansa, River Cruise, Star Alliance, United, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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