New United Airlines, Star Alliance award rates a boon for Aussie travellers

By Chris C., January 31 2014
New United Airlines, Star Alliance award rates a boon for Aussie travellers

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!

Also read: How to get Star Alliance Gold frequent flyer status with a single flight

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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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Wow - there are happy outcomes from this devaluation!

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 733

huh, I read all the complaining about the new award table on flyertalk but didn't realise it had actually got better for these few routes. 

80,000 miles for a return first-class trip to SE Asia is ridiculous! A tip for young players: availability on Thai is generally pretty good in all classes, though they only fly two-class planes to MEL. Availability on Singapore AIrlines is pretty decent but only on their "regional" planes (773 and A330, I think) not their longhaul (77W and A380). You'll never find A380 first class availability with United miles (though I did get to fly it once anyway when my Thai flight got cancelled, lucky me!)

02 Nov 2011

Total posts 4

You're ignoring a significant part of the story that makes the UA/Star Alliance miles even more valuable than Qantas.

A r/t ticket on Qantas to Los Angeles is 96,000 points, but increases dramatically for points further east.  United miles to North America include ANY destination in the US - even Toronto, or Miam, for the same 70,000.

And even more importantly, the fees and surcharges on a QF "free" ticket to the US are almost $600!  On United they're just a shade over $100.

QF has the worst program in the world.  Kudos to UA!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Jan 2014

Total posts 14

I recently compared redemtion rates including Taxes between Qantas & United for MEL/LAX one way. The big difference was the Tax - $75 on United v $950 on Qantas. Ended up going with Qantas Business over and 1st class on the return - and BTW had no trouble getting seats on QF 93 & 94 :-)  Used United points for Bus & 1st class tickets in US - once again very little tax - NYC/LAX Bus 1st - $5.50usd plus 12500 United Miles. Happy traveller here :-)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Jan 2014

Total posts 1

Not wishing to quibble but the Australia to North America Virgin Australia cost in points in business is 90,000 miles, the 70,500 is for premium economym akes United look even better as you get First for the same number of points, though Virgin Australia is still better than Qantas.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2012

Total posts 210

On checking out what is available on the QF website, even as far out to August 2015 to many destinations, I see that they make any redemptions above Economy very unattractive. Many first legs out of Australia are knocked back a class or 2 lower than you are searching; many flights other than very early morning are unavailable; forcing time-wasting transits through Brisbane or Melbourne instead of Sydney, and long layovers for connecting flights whether QF or Oneworld partners. On top of all this unattractiveness they demand a premium swag of miles for a nightmare trip. Seems like they don't want you to travel that way; that couldn't be right, could it?  ;)

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