Over the course of the past few weeks I have been debating whether or not it makes sense based on my travel patterns to change Frequent Flyer Programs. After hours of analysis, Pro-Con self talk and consulting with those whose opinions I trust I made the decision to stop using United’s Mileage Plus program (where I am a 1K) and focus all of my efforts in 2015 on Lufthansa’s Miles & More and SENATOR status. For the record, I have absolutely no problem with Mileage Plus and was treated very well as a 1K. As the old management axiom states, ‘I am running towards something, not away from something’.
The context and reason behind the switch is multi-fold and here is part of my rationalization and argument:
- EARNING ELITE QUALIFYING MILES: For 2015, I will have no less than 5 or 6 long haul round trips on Lufthansa in Business Class (P or Z fare classes) between the USA and Europe and an additional Business Class long haul flight between the USA and Johannesburg (via FRA) in P or Z as well. Worst case scenario would be to fly only P fares and earn 100% miles, which would come to approximately 65,000 miles for my planned activity. I expect that there will be a mix of Z and P fares that will drive the miles that I earn beyond this minimum. There will also be the opportunity to fly in the new Premium Economy cabin which for a fraction of the cost of Business Class, will credit me with at least 100% of miles flown. This also does not include my domestic travel in the USA on United. Though many of United’s fare classes only credit 25 or 50% of miles flown to Miles & More, I can pay a little bit more for higher fare classes that earn 100% mileage credit and not have trouble reaching 100,000 Elite Qualifying Miles with Miles & More. ADVANTAGE: Mileage Plus.
- STATUS LONGEVITY: SENATOR status with Miles & More is valid for 2 full years following the year you qualify. In other words, when I qualify for ‘SEN’ in 2015, my status level will expire at the end of 2017 (technically February 2018). This structure gives me the opportunity to take a ‘breather’ every other year and not worry about how I will come up with 100k EQM every year. 95% of my travel is for leisure so I do not have the benefits of being a corporate road warrior that would help me build my miles. It amounts in my mind to an Earn/Burn/Earn scenario: Earn miles in year 1 then use miles in year 2 or at least reduce the ‘earn miles’ component in year 2 and then ramp up for a big Earn Year in the following year. This was one of the most important reasons that led to my decision. It takes a lot of pressure off of me to repeat 100k each year. ADVANTAGE: Miles & More.
- REDEMPTION OPPORTUNITIES: Its no secret that United substantially devalued Mileage Plus as far as using miles for travel on non-United operated flights. No doubt in part to all of the miles you can get from all of the UA branded Chase credit cards. When I compare redemption tables, Miles & More in my mind is the much better option. For this comparison, I am looking strictly at redemptions for travel between the USA in Europe since that is my primary travel ‘corridor’.
To redeem a Business Class ticket on Lufthansa through Mileage Plus, it will take 140,000 miles. Through Miles & More it only takes 105,000 miles. In addition to the standard rate of 105,000 miles, Miles & More REGULARLY OFFERS Mileage Bargains where you can usually find Business Class award bookings for only 55,000 miles ROUNDTRIP! United comes no where close with Mileage Plus. For a First Class ticket, Mileage Plus will take 220,000 miles from you for your ticket whereas Miles & More will only debit your account for only 170,000 miles. That 50,000 mile difference is nearly the miles needed for a Business Class seat redemption! For an Economy ticket, redeeming through Miles & More as a US resident will take only 50,000 miles whereas United is 60,000 miles. Through the ‘Mileage Bargain’ offers, that becomes only 30,000 miles for a roundtrip. Additionally, Premium Cabin award inventory is far, far, FAR better than options offered by UA for Lufthansa operated flights. Another outstanding benefit is that ability for me to book First Class Award Tickets up 361 days prior to departure. Mileage Plus only allowing you to book LH First Class tickets 10-14 days prior to departure. Big advantage there.
However all is not perfect with Miles & More when it comes to redeeming miles for travel. Miles & More imposes significant YQ (a.k.a Fuel Surcharge) expenses on award tickets. For Economy tickets, typical YQ will be in the $350-400 range. For Business and First Class seats, the YQ for both will typically be around $1000. Some may say that I would be ‘stupid’ to pay such a high YQ surcharge because United’s Mileage Plus doesn’t collect this surcharge. However, I am not at all concerned with paying what I consider a very modest cost for the product that I get in return. Here’s an example that I think supports my argument: Is it more cost effective to pay $900 in YQ and spend 55,000 miles (Assuming Mileage Bargain Fare) to get a Business Class ticket through Mileage & More, or is it better to burn 140,000 miles through Mileage Plus for the same ticket? I can argue that I can redeem almost 3 Business Class tickets through Miles & More vs. only 1 through Mileage Plus for the same amount of miles. It would cost me about $2700-3000 in YQ to do this, but I’m getting in the neighborhood of $15-21,000 worth of tickets (Assuming a business class ticket from GRR to Europe typically costs between $5,000 and $7,000 when not on sale). The Cost / Benefit ratio in my opinion clearly sides with Miles & More. ADVANTAGE: Miles & More.
- STATUS INTANGIBLES: I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a Miles & More expert at this point, but that will change over time. What I do know is that Miles & More offers certain perks that are important to me as a Lufthansa passenger. One of the best ‘intangible’ benefits is the ability to be put on a wait list for an award booking when inventory is not available at the time that I look for an award redemption. I simply go on a waitlist and my ticket is booked automatically once inventory opens. This is a fairly important benefit! United does not offer a wait list for award bookings. Another benefit that makes little sense to me is the fact that SENATOR level members can access United Clubs in the USA when traveling on Star Alliance member flights no matter what class of travel they’re in. United doesn’t even let their own 1K members access the lounge without an expensive membership or an International Business Class ticket. United must have some logic to this, but I’m not a fan of the policy. ADVANTAGE: Miles & More.
- WHAT DO I LOSE / GIVE UP BY LEAVING MILEAGE PLUS?: Quite a bit actually. For one, I lose the ability to receive unlimited complimentary upgrades on travel within the US. This year, I had a success rate of over 75% as far as being upgraded on my UA flights within the states. That goes away and I’ll be relegated to sit behind the curtain. I’m not overly concerned since most flights for me in the USA are between 2 and 4 hours so I can manage a coach seat. I can always book an Economy Plus ticket if I want a bit more leg room.
I’ll also lose 4 Regional Upgrade e-certs as well as 6 Global Premier Upgrade e-certs. This is probably where I’ll feel the sting the most since these upgrades were a great benefit for me. However since most of my long haul travel for 2015 will be in Business Class, I think the impact of this sting will be minimal. Once I reach Senator status, I’ll be given 2 e-Vouchers for each year I qualify for SENATOR status. Between paid Business Class seats and award redemptions, the Vouchers will not be a critical issue for me to worry about.
Another downside to the switch is the fact that I will no longer earn 100% award bonus miles with United which is a great perk. For every mile I flew, I got another one for being a 1K; It makes for an easy run at award travel, especially for United operated flights. With Miles & More, I’ll only get a 25% miles bonus (known as Executive Bonus) as a SENATOR. However, the Executive Bonus miles count towards status attainment and renewal. ADVANTAGE: Mileage Plus
So there’s my argument for making the switch. Is it a perfect argument? Not even close and I’m sure many holes can be punched through my rationale. However when I look at the Opportunity Cost of the switch, I keep coming back to Miles & More being the better solution specifically for me, my travel habits and upcoming travel schedule. Especially since I will be flying LH more next year than United from a pure miles perspective.
I’ll still be a 1K for 2015 so that will help with the transition since I can still leverage my Star Alliance Gold benefits when traveling such as priority security, check-in and lounge access in non-UA lounges. Senator perks will take over in 2016 making it a smooth transition. I hope 😉 .