According to posters, the plan is for United to price it at the United price as long as the connecting partner flight is a class below the United class of travel. My information for this post must have come from earlier speculation. Should it be that way, then this post will not be something that useful to most flyers.
As almost all frequent flyers know, February 1st marks the start of United Airlines new award chart that seriously hikes the cost (in miles) of premium award travel. With this date fast approaching, many are emptying their accounts to snag as many premium awards as possible.
Part of the pain of the new award chart is that partner awards are the ones that will begin requiring the most miles. This means that if you fly United Business Class to Europe, you will face a total of 115,000 miles (instead of the current 100,000) but if you have one partner segment in Europe on that trip, it will throw the cost up to 140,000 miles (and inter-European business class is definitely not worth throwing that many more miles at it). When flying to South Asia, United flights in First Class will cost 160,000 miles while adding a partner flight to that trip will cost 260,000 miles (even if all the flights up to South Asia are on United and only the last segment is on a partner flight). This makes these aspirational trips become somewhat limited with destinations unless you want to shell out a ton more miles – you will need to find cities that are served directly by United and look for award seats on those flights.
Miles to Soften
Fortunately, there are some things to look at to help with these mile hikes. It will just take a little more work to set something like this up. With the new system, you can fly on United First Class from Chicago to Tokyo for 160,000 miles (as opposed to 220,000 if you use a partner like ANA in First Class). However, if you fly to Tokyo with United and then to Osaka (which you would need ANA for), it would add that ton of miles to the total. While that does not seem fair, that is the new award structure.
To the rescue, however, are some of the other Star Alliance partner programs. The one that comes to mind the quickest is Aegean Airlines. The reason for that is that so many US-based frequent flyers have earned Star Alliance Gold status through the Aegean program (read this post on how to easily earn Star Alliance Gold with Aegean Airlines). To earn Star Alliance Gold with Aegean, a person needs to credit 19,000 miles to their program (+ the 1,000 for signing up). These miles then sit in your account (in other words, you do not need to trade them for status. They are redeemable miles and elite miles in one) until you want to use them. Many people have left these miles in the account because they have no immediate use for them. These miles can be a huge help in adding on to your award trip.
Using Aegean Miles
How this could work is to book your premium class award ticket on United flights for the “lower” flights and then use your Aegean award miles to reach your final destination. Aegean’s award chart is very similar to the “old” United chart. Here is their award chart:
So, using our example of Japan above, you can fly United First Class to Tokyo and then use 25,000 Aegean miles to fly to Osaka on ANA. Yes, that may be a lot of miles to use for a $500 ticket, but if you do not have a particular use in mind for those Aegean miles, it can make a lot of sense to use them to add on to your post-devaluation tickets.
This same thing would work for any type of trip. Every trip within the same region has the same miles required in all cabins – 25,000 (economy), 42,000 (business), 80,000 (first). Since some inter-region flights can be really expensive, using Aegean miles for the last leg on a partner airline can help with that. Sure, there are some smaller, regional airlines that you can fly on for cheap (see this post on the cheapest flight I have seen). The advantage with booking an award ticket on a Star partner is if you have status with a Star airline, you will receive extra baggage and boarding privileges. Also, you could have your bags checked all the way through to your final destination.
I have had good success using Aegean miles for travel on Aegean (since I am in Greece) but many have booked partner flights through the call center. For the chart and phone number, visit this Aegean website. If you have earned Aegean Gold, here are some ways that you can use the 20,000+ miles that you credited in a way that helps you with the new United award chart.