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I was looking into some business class awards to Asia using United miles the other day, and noticed what I thought was an anomaly. Sometimes the awards would show up as being 70,000 miles, while for the exact same route, a different flight or date might be listed as 80,000 miles. Here’s an example of a flight from Salt Lake City to Bangkok, Thailand
I knew that United charges different amounts of miles for flights flown on United themselves versus flights on partner airlines, but this seemed odd. After all, you can see that the flights are operated by the same airlines. In fact, it’s exactly the same:
- United Express from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles
- United from Los Angeles to Asia (to Beijing, China in one case and to Tokyo, Japan in the other)
- Thai Airways from the Asian gateway city to Bangkok
Then I realized I was seeing an artifact of United’s mixed cabin award pricing
Explaining United’s mixed cabin award pricing
When United devalued their award chart back in February 2014, they started charging a “partner price” for business or first class awards flown by a partner. On the Flyertalk thread about the change, the user UA Insider (a United employee) stated (in the thread wiki):
Originally Posted by UA Insider
Updated handling for mixed UA-Partner United/partner award itineraries: As we shared with the initial announcement, the Star Alliance/Partner partner award pricing will apply to Business or First awards for itineraries that include at least one flight segment operated by a MileagePlus partner carrier in Business or First.
However, as a customer benefit we have made an exception for most itineraries which require connecting onto a MileagePlus/Star partner in First or Business for a short distance. Specifically, if a United/Copa award itinerary contains a connecting segment on a MileagePlus/Star partner that is wholly within one MileagePlus award region, then the United award price will apply.
For example: IAD-FRA in United BusinessFirst connecting to FRA-FCO in Lufthansa Business, will be priced at the United mileage award amount.
Note that this exception will not apply to a few specific regions and routings, such as intra-Africa connecting segments and certain fifth-freedom routes (e.g. BKK-KUL operated by Lufthansa)
And looking through the details, you can see that the Thai Airways segment on the 70,000 mile itinerary is in fact in Economy class
All of the segments on the 80,000 mile itinerary are in Business Class. In this case, the flight from Shanghai to Bangkok is 5 hours long, so it may be worth paying the extra 10,000 miles to fly it in business class, but at least this explains the discrepancy
Finding exceptions to United’s mixed cabin award prices
But there may very well be instances where you fly your overwater flight in business class, and you want a mixed cabin award to take advantage of United’s lower redemption requirements. Another way that the partner pricing on United’s mixed cabin awards can work to your advantage is for shorter, intra-zone segments. In our earlier case, because our Asian arrival city (either Tokyo – Japan zone or Shanghai – North Asia zone) was in a different zone than our ultimate destination (Bangkok – South Asia zone), that is why we were charged the partner award price, even though our overwater flight was on United metal.
Here’s an example of a connecting flight still in business class being charged the lesser United mileage price
We fly overwater from Newark to Hamburg on United, and then connect from Hamburg to Zurich on partner Swiss Airlines. But because Hamburg and Zurich are both in United’s “Europe” zone, we can still fly HAM-ZRH in Business Class and be charged the United price of only 57,500 miles (instead of the partner price of 70,000 miles)
So if you’re looking at United partner awards and wonder how to best take advantage of mixed cabin awards, I hope this helps!