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United has made a major change to the MileagePlus program rules by eliminating mileage expiration, effective August 28, 2019. If you don’t fly with United or their partner airlines frequently, you won’t have to worry about losing your miles due to inactivity. While this change is definitely positive, the long term impact will be more miles in circulation which adds pressure to increase award prices in the future.
Before the change, United MileagePlus members had to have some form of activity on their account every 18 months to keep their miles active. This could be as simple as using the shopping portal, buying a candy bar with your United℠ Explorer Card, or transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards. But a mistake was costly. If your miles expired, the only option to get them back was to pay a hefty mileage-reinstatement fee.
The new policy brings the United rewards program closer to those of Delta and JetBlue, neither of which have expiration dates for their rewards programs. American Airlines continues to have an 18-month expiration policy, while Alaska miles and Southwest points expire after two years of inactivity.
While we’re always happy to see programs make it easier to keep your hard-earned miles, there are some potentially negative impacts for those that pay close attention to their mileage balances and expiration dates. With more miles in circulation, it’s only a matter of time before the accountants start getting nervous about the liability of having so many outstanding miles on the books.
United’s Flexible Award Pricing
Back in April, United made a major unannounced change for award travel after November 15, 2019. The least expensive “saver” awards no longer have a fixed minimum price: the number of miles required will fluctuate based on demand. Unlike many devaluations that kick in for all travel booked after a certain date, United made this update based on the date of travel, so we’ve already seen these higher-priced saver awards for departures after November 15.
The new flexible award pricing makes it much easier for United to quietly raise prices. With no award chart to hold them accountable, it will be hard for MileagePlus members to keep track of the incremental changes.
The new no-expiration policy is, on balance, a positive change for MileagePlus members. The push towards higher award prices and less transparency is happening one way or another, so we'll consider it a win that United will no longer take away your miles and charge you fees to get them back. Just don't let the lack of expiration become an excuse to stockpile miles that will be worth less the longer you hold them.
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