United MileagePlus Increases All Award Costs Close To Departure

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As of November 15 of this year, United MileagePlus eliminated their award charts for travel on United Airlines.  Even before that, certain awards on United metal priced dynamically.  In other words, if saver awards were unavailable, awards would cost anywhere from slightly more to considerably more miles.  Luckily, the Star Alliance partner award chart still exists and applies.

Besides the award chart elimination on November 15, United instituted a few other changes to their award program.  MileagePlus miles no longer expire, which is great news for infrequent United Airlines travelers.  Additionally, United eliminated close-in booking fees.  Instead, travelers will pay a mileage premium for these close-in awards, including on all partner airlines as well.

How Big Of An Increase Should I Expect?

While the close-in-booking fee applied only to tickets booked within 21 days of departure, the new mileage premium seems to apply to the 30-day window before departure. These higher costs fall into two categories:

  • Flights on partner airlines only3,500 extra miles one-way
  • Flights that include segments on United metal: 2,000 to 3,500 extra miles one-way

The mileage premiums appear to be a flat rate, which applies to all classes of service.  In the case of partner airline awards, they apply equally to all cabins.  For awards on United metal, the increase may vary based on the class of service.

In the above example, both United and Lufthansa offer Saver level awards for direct flights from Washington D.C. to Frankfurt.  Notice how for the Lufthansa flight on the bottom row, each award level prices 3,500 miles higher than the old United award chart would dictate.

For the United flights, the same is not the case:

  • Economy class awards price 2,500 miles higher than the standard 30,000.
  • Saver level business class awards price 3,000 miles higher than normal.
  • Everyday business class awards price 3,500 miles higher than usual.

Other award searches closer to 30 days from departure as opposed to three days from departure see mileage premiums as low as 2,000 extra miles.  Though small, that is still an increase to award prices.

Not surprisingly, United hasn't published any guidelines on how the close-to-departure mileage increases will be calculated. The patterns noted above are based solely on recent observations, so it's anyone's guess how this will look in the future.

United does acknowledge the recent changes on its website and has the following to say about higher prices close to departure:

Award pricing is based on a variety of factors, including demand, route, airline, and how far in advance the award ticket is purchased. Generally, booking your award flight further in advance will help you find the lowest price, and booking closer to departure may result in a higher price.

Our Take

How should you feel about these changes?  That depends.  If you are a United MileagePlus elite members who previously had close-in booking fees waived, you aren't saving $75.  You're only paying up to 3,500 miles extra for the same awards.  If you were subject to close-in booking fees previously, the change could be positive.  Even at the highest mileage premium of 3,500 miles, each extra mile redeemed is worth 2.14 cents when compared against the $75 fee.  Especially for travelers booking economy flights, 2.14 cents per mile sounds like a great redemption.  Still, it would be nice to have the option to use miles as a credit against booking fees, rather than being forced into a redemption.

Travelers should keep in mind that if an award shows up with saver-level availability, that same flight can be booked through other Star Alliance partner award programs.  Air Canada Aeroplan, Avianca Lifemiles, ANA Mileage Club, Singapore Krisflyer, and Turkish Miles&Smiles are all Star Alliance partner programs available for points transfer from major credit card programs.  These programs will not charge a mileage premium for close-in bookings, and some, like Avianca LifeMiles, do not pass along fuel surcharges. When booking close to departure, consider using these miles instead.

United MileagePlus Increases All Award Costs Close To Departure
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Comments

  • Very disappointing but not surprising. This will make things that earn mileage quickly (or immediately) more useful. I find that buying gift cards on the MileagePlusX app helpful for earning points immediately.

  • Sneaky change by United some travelers will be happy with the change of the $75 fee being eliminated for extra points being used.

  • Another disappointing move by UA. Good thing I’ve used up most of my miles.

  • This is not a big change for me. I seldom book award travel within 30 days of my travel dates.

    • A lot of people are making a big deal out of nothing. 98+% of people aren’t affected by this and honestly, why should the point increase as time draws near be different than the cash price as time draws near. They’re both currency.

  • For one it is good that miles are no longer expired on the other hand you have to use more miles to travel 🙁

  • Sadly, this is another example of United nickel and diming the MileagePlus program.

  • This is incredibly frustrating. They’re literally throwing the upper tier elite flyers under the bus for this. The cheap redemptions between Guam and Saipan, the intra-Japan domestic flights (which all used to be 5K miles with $0 tax!), are all 2,000-3,500 miles more expensive, which is really disappointing.

    Fortunately, the >30day intra-Japan remains at 5K (for how long, who knows – but since ANA doesn’t release many routes until literally a few days prior, this is of limited value), but Guam-Saipan is 8K any day going forward.

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    Just got back and saw a boost in my miles. These programs really add up. I like the fact that there’s no mileage premium for the short bookings. that’s a real plus.

    • Honestly Steven, what does this even mean in relation to the post? Together words, almost meaning; saying much, they don’t

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    I wonder if this is an attempt by UAL to reduce the pain of cash by substituting miles for cash. Weird, since cash earnings are superior to the liability of miles.

    • I’m confused by your statement. Charging miles instead of cash reduces United’s mileage liabilities as it helps expense the liability.

  • Honestly it makes sense. It’s just the marketing that’s bad PR. I can see booking a last minute flight to be more expensive just like the cash price but at the same time, don’t advertise that close in booking fees are gone. They’re still there. They just shifted.

  • Saving the fee (sometimes) but paying more points always.. overall a negative I think

  • Yes, offering the choice between the cash charge and extra points would be very nice.

    • Miles are generally worth 1.5 cents each so if you have the miles, you’re essentially paying $52.50in miles rather than the $75 in cash. Granted if you don’t have the miles and have to buy some to top up, then you come out worse.

  • I usually redeem my miles on last minute flights where I can save the most money, rather than revenue flights. So this change is not really welcome.

  • You have to time very carefully your redemptions…

  • Usually I book my award flights well in advance so these changes don’t impact me a lot.

  • Not a very welcome change. The option to chose the cash charge or miles would be nice, but I suspect at this point, most would accept the miles option.

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    It would be wise when comparing these programs to consider the fact that a redeemed point is worth 2.14 cents. Take into consideration the 75 dollar fee… Balance?

    • What does this mean Steven? Please help me out. It’s clearly stated in the post that there is **no choice** between paying $75, or the close-in booking surcharge, so what exactly is there to “compare” or “consider” here?

      • I always take redemption value with a grain of salt as it’s a number that the airline tells you what something is worth. So you can brag about getting 10 cpp on a $27,000 ticket but is that really the value you’re getting?

        • Agreed to a degree… One can definitely realize some outsized “redemption values” by booking premium cabin awards with miles. However, one is really only receiving the “savings value” of the price of the revenue ticket one would have actually purchased to complete the same trip.

  • I’m not sure if this is a good or bad change compared to the close-in fees they had before.
    I guess as long as they don’t increase the miles required for last-minute booking, I can make my peace with it…

  • This is a slap in the face to elites.

  • Disappointed by all the United changes

  • bad move but it was expected…

  • Sorry for more miles cost.

  • Believe the best article advice is the reminder that this can be navigated in some scenario with Star Alliance bookings.

  • I often wait close to my departure date to book flights since points were usually lower. With the above change, I am now going to have to book a lot sooner. I do appreciate them removing the booking fees and also making miles never expire — that is a nice improvement.

  • These types of re-evaluations, always downward, are a reason to not worry too much about airline frequent flyer programs. Just stay with bank points programs.

  • Juan Ignacio says:

    Very disappointing but at least the miles have no more expiration and also I redeem my miles in advance so I can avoid the impact.

    • Losing the expiration date was definitely a big plus and it looks like that’s catching on. Maybe Southwest is next.

  • Revaluation, devaluation, its all the same thing. This was once a really great award program that seems to be constantly “enhanced”. I’ll be moving back to AA shortly.

  • All the programs seem to make an improvement and then take something away. Depends on ones needs and whether one can exploit the positives and minimize the negatives for their own particular travel situation.

  • This is pretty sneaky on the part of United. Does it only apply to bookings within 30 days of travel? Even though 3500 miles are a better deal than $75 upfront, it would certainly be best if the miles could be saved as well. Thanks for the information!

    • It definitely is sneaky to advertise no more close in booking fees when in the end the fee is still there but just in a different currency.

  • Advance booking eliminates my concerns here.

  • Dynamic pricing sucks.

  • This is really a kick in the teeth…. Kills those last minute flights

  • I don’t think this fee will affect me but it still makes me shake my head. Every year, the cost of using miles increases…

  • With how easy it is to earn miles and/or points these days, i don’t think the extra 3500 miles for close in bookings is that big of a hit. And eliminating the $75 fee is a good thing.

  • This comment solely for the purpose of extending a deadline, but the heads-up on increases in costs is appreciated, too!

  • Emmanuel Munet Quinones says:

    I honestly prefer this over peak pricing, but it looks like United already has that, right? So, two things against the would-be traveler. Point being, you need a lot of miles to travel with them, when you can still do the same using Avianca or Air Canada, and it may turn out to be cheaper with them.

  • This may be another avenue for UA to get miles liability off their books, but if so, then I don’t know why they decided to have a “miles never expire” policy, other than the fact that UA and AA copy everything Delta does at some point.

  • Was thinking of putting more efforts into United, but probably not after this. There are better Star Alliance options.

  • The Arts Traveler says:

    The change is OK from $75 to points on a trip to Europe. The main beef I have right now with United is that little to no saver space is available on so many routes. The introduction of Premium economy also has complicated the issue. I am leaving a 128K one-way leg in premium economy on the table.

  • Probably a good thing for people that had to pay the 75 fee before since the extra miles are worth less, but Platinums and 1k’s that didn’t pay the fee before are now getting screwed out of additional miles. Don’t understand their loyalty system, screwing their top tier, biggest spending customers.

  • Vincent Chan says:

    Seems like a good change for people without status. Even for those with status, 3500 points isn’t that much, and I suspect with United points not expiring any more, they needed ways to make people burn more points!

  • I haven’t read anything that it would eliminate the saver availability access by having their card. So I’m assuming that’s still around? A little help at least. Everything in stride I say. Everything is going to change and usually not for the better but we’re still going to use them so we accept and see the best way to use them.

    Price conscience award levels is good for them because we cannot really plan on getting a set amount of miles. We need to look at more around a certain amount to make sure we’ll have enough to go when we need to. It’s frustrating to me. I like to plan out how much I need for this and that, etc. for a trip.

  • As always these “enhancements” always end up costing the consumer. Big devalue for elites here.

  • I really should use up my accumulated miles …

  • This is the game of loyalty programs. Attractiveness comes and goes. Sometimes one company is better to earn miles then another. The important thing is to have good information to make the best decisions.

  • Another devaluation – I rarely fly UA but have “silver” via Marriott Titanium, so the fee was waived. This devalues that status as well. Curious what 2020 and beyond will bring for that Marriott/UA partnership with the program. Had considered moving from AA more of my travel but seems like staying put is the way to go.

  • That looks really annoying. I’m always thrown by the late booking fees (either cash or miles)!

  • Dexter Ohama says:

    It won’t affect me. I usually book award travel 330 days in advance to guarantee ourselves those 1st class seats that the airlines usually only release 2 at most on the 1st day put out into inventory. We grab them & make sure we do it quickly, so this is not a big deal for us. Though I can see how it can & will affect others. Not so great.

  • To be fair, this is not really a bad deal. I’d rather pay a few thousand point than $75. I feel like this is actually positive news. We all know positive changes are never without a counterpart anymore.

  • I would gladly book a Business Saver trip way in advance, if they were available. I’ve been searching for a particular flight in January 2020 since the flight became available in February 2019. There has never been Business Saver availability and as of today, only 2 revenue seats have been sold (out of 28). The rest of Polaris Business is empty. United use to offer Business Saver seats 1-3 days after the flight first appeared in their system. It’s been two years since that feature disappeared. Anyone experiencing the same thing?

    • If you’re looking for a particular date, and have no flexibility, then what you’re reporting is no surprise to me at all. Particularly that far in advance, I always go in with a 2-week window that I’m looking at for award space. Then I look for my return flight on a dates that will work. When I have a matching pair, I book. sometimes it means staying a night or 2 longer, or coming home a day earlier that I’ ideally want, but to fly in F or J, long-hauls, it’s worth it.

  • Yes, it’s true that same flight can be booked through other Star Alliance partner award programs, but please be aware that Air Canada Aeroplan bookings may involve significantly higher taxes, fees and fuel surcharges that Air Canada is notorious for.

    Buyer beware!

  • WE should be doing this always!!

  • I hadn’t heard about this change. Thanks for the info. At least I’m glad that Miles no longer expire.

  • I am not a frequent user of the United Program so I am happy the hear that miles no longer expire. I think I would rather use miles than cash though…

  • Not good news for spontaneous travelers like me

  • It’s not bad without the fee but they’re taxing spontaneity in a way 🙂

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