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United’s partner earning rates were posted this morning and on a whole, the numbers aren’t good. If you are flying coach on most of United’s partners, earning rates for reward miles are being slashed. In some instances, reward earning rates go up but the majority of fares will earn fewer miles.

Read through United’s partner earning page to learn more (click on a carrier to find what you will earn when not flying on a United, 016, ticket).

Also, Seth has a great analysis of the new partner earning rates here.

Yesterday I wrote about the United reward miles devaluation. The post focused on the change in the award redemption levels but I came across this post from Gabriel Leigh about how adding a level complexity to rewards is another piece of the devaluation puzzle.

However, and this is the important bit: the connection has to be one class of service lower than the longhaul segment on United. So a United business class booking to Frankfurt entitles you to economy on the Nuremberg connection. It’s just the sort of thing to exasperate thousands of unsuspecting Mileage Plus members when they call up to book a ticket. In a way, it gives you a break of sorts – you can book on partners in some cases when you have to, without paying more miles. But it’s also an unnecessary injection of complexity whose drawbacks are worse than its benefits, if you ask me.

I touched a little bit on this in my post but reading Leigh’s thoughts reiterated the idea that this creating a new complexity that will simply frustrate those who are not mileage runners or advanced mileage redeemers. I think the example Gabriel gives is a little too simple as a business class seat in most of Europe is really just a coach seat. Where it is going to get really frustrating for people is Asia. If I am flying Houston-San Francisco-Seoul on United metal and then connecting to Bangkok, Singapore, etc. on Asiana then I will have to fly that last segment in coach if I want the United mileage redemption price. That is a long segment (some upwards of 7 hours) in coach when redeeming a business class reward. When someone calls in because they found Asiana business class space for that one segment only to find out that they will have to pay the partner reward price, they are going to be a little irritated.

While there is a miles increase for partners, there is a complexity cost that only time will be able to measure.

Around the U.S. the “tradition” of spring break has begun. Back in September I had made reservations for my wife and I to travel to Seoul, South Korea and onward to Singapore during this timeframe. We were going to do it in style, using my United miles to fly Asiana’s new business class to Seoul and Singapore’s first class from Singapore to Moscow then home. Due to circumstances with my work, I was required to be in Maryland (where I am writing this now) over part of our vacation. I cancelled the reward tickets and had settled on not doing much over spring break. As I started thinking about it, I really wanted to take a vacation, if even a little one. I’m sure my wife would appreciate a small break from Houston as well.

As I sat in the airport on Thursday morning I did a random search for reward seats from Houston to Europe and happened upon two seats on SWISS in business class. I grabbed them, flying us from Houston to Chicago to Zurich. Now, Zurich certainly is not a cheap city and has not really been on my radar to visit so I started exploring other European destinations, as well as a way to get home.

My mind immediately went to where would be easy to reach from Zurich. I looked at Croatia, which has been at the top of my “to visit” list for a while now but all of the connections would arrive later than 5pm which essentially wastes a half day of enjoyment. The story was the same for most of eastern Europe. Where could we go in western Europe that interested us and was somewhere new? Seth’s write-up on Hamburg peaked my interest. He explored the city in just 26 hours and I figure with a little more time my wife and I could really get to know it. I found a decent connection out of Zurich and had the reservations updated. We’re halfway to a full reward!

The hardest part in all of this was finding reward seats for the flights home. There was absolutely nothing available back to Houston. I could get us to Detroit or Newark but that’s as far as the flights would take us. A random search then brought back Frankfurt to Dallas-Fort Worth in Lufthansa first class. Now that’s an option I like! Then, when I decided that that was what I would book, it disappeared. United has a problem of showing ghost availability on Lufthansa (and others); It looks like the seats are there but really do not exist. I figured the seats disappearing was a ghost availability issue but the next day, there they were again! To double check that they were really there I used the ANA tool. Sure enough, there were two first class seats available on the Frankfurt-DFW non-stop. I called United and added the return.

Great Circle Mapper View of Our Trip

I am still missing a flight from DFW to Houston but my “worst case scenario” plan is to have a one-way rental car reservation made and just use that to get to IAH. If a flight from DFW opens or a non-stop from Europe to Houston opens, I’ll grab that as soon as I can and cancel the rental reservation.

It’s a little stressful planning these last minute trips but fun at the same time. The best part is being able to salvage some of the vacation time with my wife.

My wife and I decided that a summer trip this year would be a bit of hassle with me starting a new job and her having to do a summer conference. Instead, we decided that a trip to Warsaw and eastern Germany before Christmas would be something that we’d both enjoy. After seeing pictures of German Christmas markets my wife was sold on the idea of spending more time in Germany.

So, I’ve started early on the search for reward tickets. Just before Christmas is not a heavy travel season to Europe so I figured I would find some availability but my first few searches came back with nothing. My goal was to go from Houston to either Los Angeles or San Francisco and then to Frankfurt, Munich, or Zurich from there. Why, you ask, would I want to fly from the west coast? More sleeping time, plain and simple. I was still having a hard time finding availability, with only Denver coming back with empty seats.

Then, Friday night, it happened. I went to continental.com and plugged in “MIAWAW” and got back a bunch of neat routings, including First Class on Lufthansa’s Airbus A380-800. The most interesting routing was Miami to Frankfurt to Kiev to Warsaw, but the connection time in Frankfurt had the potential for us to miss our flight to Kiev, especially in the winter. So, I ended up booking the one-way reward as Miami-Frankfurt-Bucharest-Warsaw.

People may think I’m crazy to route the trip through Bucharest but I did not want to arrive too early into Warsaw and be stuck lugging our suitcases around the city in the snow. Now we’ll get in at 3pm, perfect for checking straight into our hotel. Not to mention, I’ll get a couple of neat new lines 😉

This is merely the beginning of planning this trip, I still need to get from Houston to Miami, as well as continue to monitor flights from the west coast as I would still prefer the longer flight, and finally, figure out our routing for the way home.

The big thing to look forward to is the First Class experience on the Lufthansa A380. I was lucky to grab the seats since Lufthansa has been holding them back for their own frequent flyers. I expect the service will be just as superb as our flight to Frankfurt from Houston last summer but the new suites will add a whole new level of awesomeness.

This is a trip I am really looking forward to, a new aircraft, a new airline (LOT Polish Airlines), and a few new lines. As I make changes and find the return routing, I’ll make some new posts.