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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 only: 3,500 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.
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.
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