Now that the United/Continental merger is finished, anyone who had points with both now only has United (plus 750 miles). Personally, this merger has seemed smooth and optimistic to miles users. There are a lot of great tools, benefits and options with United. So what are they?
United has a solid relationship with Chase where you can get a United card or the Chase Sapphire (or Ink Bold) which then allows you to transfer Chase’s Ultimate Reward Points at 1:1. So a United flyer has a healthy variety of ways to collect miles. This to me is a plus simply because Chase loves me.
United is apart of the largest airline alliance, Star Alliance, and United itself isn’t small. They have very low fees for redeeming miles and a great website for looking at awards availability. Their website is a great and simple search engine. After chosing your route, simply select award travel before you search. It will tell you the miles and the cost of the taxes and fees. What I love is that they show you their partners award availability as well. They have some great partners with great first class award availability. Singapore airlines is commonly ranked #1 for first class airlines. Also Lufthansa and Thai have great first classes with award availability.
They also have an interactive award chart here. I see the real benefit in their “Saver Awards” as the standard is often double. Short hauls in the US (under 700 miles) are only 10,000 and everywhere else in Mainland US, Alaska and Canada is 12,500 miles each way.
On Saver a one-way from the US to (economy/business/first):
- The Caribbean, Mexico and Central America = 17.5k/30k/40k
- Hawaii = 20k/40k/50k
- North South America = 20k/35k/45k
- Southern South America and Europe = 30k/50k/67.5k
- The Middle East = 40k/60k/85k
- East Central Asia = 40k/60k/85k
- Australia or New Zealand = 40k/67.5k/80k
- Africa = 40k/60k/75k
- North and South Asia = 32k/60k/70k
- Japan = 32k/60k/67.5k
- Oceania = 35k/60k/75k
For me the things I notice first are that round trip to Alaska from Miami is the same as from Houston to Miami. One is a good deal and one is a really bad deal, in my opinion. I think if you can catch saver points to Europe it’s a good deal but hard to do in peak season in First-class. When you compare like this you can see the good deals. Oceania (the South Pacific islands) are farther away and have less routes than japan but have the same business class cost.
Now take what you learned and consider that United gives round-trip rewards flights a stopover and an open-jaw (continuing a stopover from a different airport) and you can make these stopovers as long as you want. I mentioned this recently here. This gives each flight a lot more opportunities. The key here is that the stopover must be on the way. Play around with United.com, and if you can get a layover in one of your routes you can work in a stopover. Remember, this is only for round-trips and these complex routes must be booked by phone.
At the end of the post I included a list of Star Alliance hubs. You are more likely to get routed through a hub and if you see one on the way that excites you, book a stopover with the appropriate airline. Now you have to choose in a sense. You really can’t visit Istanbul on the way to India and fly Lufthansa First Class because if you fly Lufthansa, you will be routed through Frankfurt Germany.
Booking is easy. I just booked one and you simply explain which partner airline you would like to fly (if it matters) and where you would like an open-jaw. In this case, it was for someone who wanted to fly into Portland and fly out of Reno and back to Australia. Which reminds me. Star Alliance lets you fly to Australia/Asia via Europe. So you could potentially build in a stopover/open-jaw to Asia in Europe. And you could spend more time in Europe than in Asia by making your stopover longer than your return from Asia.
Combine this tool, with the trick I talked about recently where you get off at your layover and you could visit four cities on your trip. Also, to fly from Oceania to Oceania according to their awards chart, is 12,500 miles. This is only great because you will surely not get a direct route if you’re going from island to island. Often I get routed through Auckland, Fiji and Guam when I test it online. So lets say you wanted to go from Tahiti to the Cook Islands. You may be able to work in a stopover in Fiji and an open jaw in New Zealand on the return. I haven’t found the right route yet, but then again I’m not planning a trip there yet.
Though there are still many other aspects of United, the stopover/open-jaw option is why I love them. Too bad they don’t have the option on one-ways. Also, the Asia via Europe is a great way too use that option. And ultimately, their First Class options on Singapore might be one of their best values.
If you have any questions, email me.
A complete list of Star Alliance Hub cities: Ljublijana, Athens Montreal, Vancuver, Toronto, Calgary, Chengdu, Shanghai, Bejing, Aukland, Tokyo, Osaka, Gimpo, Incheon, Melbourne, Helsinki, London, Brussels, Zagreb, Cairo, Bole, Warsaw, Munich, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Singapore, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Zurich, Asunción, Lisbon, Bangkok, Istanbul, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, D.C., Los Angeles, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix.