Award Price Increases Coming to United Mileage Plus on June 15

UPDATE: United has now detailed the actual award chart changes going into effect June 15, and it really is just tweaking.

Lucky points out that United is going to be making changes to its award chart effective June 15, only they haven’t yet told us what those changes are.

Here’s what we do know:

Here are some examples of what will be changing:

  • We will lower the mileage requirement for domestic award trips that are less than 700 miles one way. OnePass members have enjoyed this benefit, and now Mileage Plus members can, too.
  • Some destinations will be included in different regions. Most notably, Mexico will become its own region instead of being considered part of Central America.
  • Some United and Star Alliance™ Award amounts will go up; however many popular award routes, including North America to Hawaii and the Caribbean, will remain the same.
  • Some Mileage Plus Upgrade Award and Star Alliance™ Upgrade Award amounts will increase.
  • I love that the spin on the United website begins, “As part of the United-Continental merger, we’re making some changes to the Mileage Plus and OnePass award charts to make them consistent across both programs.” Except that they more or less already did that a year ago.

    Sure, they’re offering discounted short-haul awards which they’ve offered at times in the past. And ‘recategorizing regions’ so that Mexico is its own region is something that’s already in the Continental chart (.pdf).

    But the next two bullets — award prices and upgrades prices going up — are certainly not about aligning the award charts.

    They promise that “North America to Hawaii and the Caribbean, will remain the same.” So presumably at least most other awards will not remain the same. In other words, award prices are going up.

    Now, if this actually accompanies an official end to Starnet blocking, then I’m actually ok with it, although that’s at least until we see the particulars. If it’s in the range of 5000 to 10000 miles per award, I’m not going to grous too loudly. If it’s a slaughter of the award chart that’ll be a different story, they’d at least better give us some decent notice of the upcoming award chart particulars if that’s the case.

    But United has even become much more relaxed in its award routing rules, largely to align itself with Continental which has been among the most generous programs since joining Star Alliance. And they do continue to both offer roundtrip awards with stopovers and now also open jaws (a la Continental) and also one-way awards including on partners (albeit without stopovers), making them more generous than American Airlines for instance in this regard.

    United’s award chart changes that went into effect January 1, 2009 were actually pretty bloody.

    Their changes that went into effect October 2006 were pretty brutal as well.

    The history here is that every 26 months or so United has been bumping up the mileage required for their awards, so this continues the pattern. It should be no surprise.

    Meanwhile, back in 2006 the spin on the changes also featured the very same story about discounted short-haul awards that they’re focusing on now. Everything old is new again! Here’s what I said about the changes trumpeting their short-haul awards back in 2006:

    They begin by announcing new “Domestic Short Haul Saver Awards” — these are short flights that require 15,000 miles in coach instead of 25,000 miles. United has actually been offering these for some time now, and the announcement is that the benefit is being reduced not introduced.

    Previously the reduced mileage was applicable to flights of 750 miles or less. Now it applies only to flights of 700 miles or less. What difference does 50 miles make? Just ask New Yorkers. LaGuardia-Chicago is 733 miles. Newark-Chicago is 719 miles. Since the awards only apply to flights on United and not partners, New Yorkers can only use this award to fly to Washington-Dulles.. And nowhere else.

    Now since Continental offers short-haul awards at 20,000 miles instead of the ‘usual’ 25,000 presumably that’s what we’ll see at United as well. Which means that this ‘improvement’ is actually worse than the so-called improvement offered with the 2006 changes!

    And back then they also threw us a bone by promising that all United flights — every United flight — would have saver awards available. We haven’t heard that claim in awhile, which leads me to suspect it was quickly forgotten and promise broken. I’d love to learn otherwise, for instance if every single Chicago – Hong Kong flight gets at least one saver coach award to meet the minimum promise made. I do see saver coach available 330 days out on that flight, so perhaps they are keeping their word. Perhaps one of the folks at Mileage Plus who reads this blog could anonymously comment or drop me a note to let me know! Yes, that means you S and C …

    For now, all we know is to be worried and some guesses about the magnitude of worry. We just need to wait for more information to know how much of that worry was justified.

    My guess is that in the end the June 2011 changes won’t be as bad as October 2006 or January 2009, becuase they’re still in the honeymoon period for the merger with Continental and they won’t want to rattle the cage of their members too badly. In that way, we may wind up truly happy that they’re staying on schedule with changes since it’s been a bit over two years since they did this last, it may hold back how back those changes will be. And perhaps they won’t change again until late 2013, we’ll have gotten something out of the timing nad merger in the end.

    About Gary Leff

    Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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    Comments

    1. The CO shorthaul awards are/were valid on flights with connections and so are/were more valuable than the UA and AA occasional promotions that required nonstop travel. If that rule is retained, it wouldn’t be just NYC-IAD but NYC-IAD-lots of connecting destinations, some quite expensive, that would be allowed for that price.

      In any case, if you’re in NYC, these days of course you have the entire EWR hub and its CO and UA metal flights to choose from for shorthaul awards (eg EWR-YQM/YUL/YOW/YYZ/YQB are all crazy bargains for 20K miles).

    2. Also, the charts are now available at the page you link to and as Lucky already pointed out, the changes are really pretty marginal. Some went up slightly, some went down slightly. Not bad news at all.

    3. These changes does look like a wash, so I will not complain about that. On the other hand, I find the inflation argument a bit hollow. The airlines don’t inflate the miles awarded for travel, so slowly more and more miles will be earned through credit cards instead of flying. So every time they increase their award prices they are really hurting their very loyal flying members and not giving them anything back. I guess that is why they don’t want to inflate the award chart.

    4. I fly frequently on business btween India and US. When I lived in the US, I used to be a Mileage Plus member. Since moving back to India I became a member of Lufthansa Miles and More program. I normally use that number for ALL Star Alliance flights, including the last one in Sep 2010. However, for my latest trip (in March 2011) I decided to use my Mileage Plus number. I was in for a surprise when the miles got credited. I got HALF the Base miles on UA as I got on LH when I flew the SAME flight number between the SAME cities in the same Class Z (Business Class), paying almost the SAME Money. When I wrote to UA they said they do not consider “Z class” as Business and Lufthansa’s policies were “different” than UA’s, and basically, that was tough. As an example, on flight LH 750 between Frankfurt and Calcutta, I received 9185 base miles in LH in Sep 2010, but 4599 miles on UA. Even on an atlas, it is closer to 9000 miles than 4500 . There is a ticket open (REF:12151345A) with UA to explain this where I have sent them a reply after they said inane things like “You cannot claim miles from 2 different airlines for the same flight”. Will keep you posted. But, it seems, switching to Miles and More will give members more miles for the SAME flights than UA.

    5. I fly frequently on business btween India and US. When I lived in the US, I used to be a Mileage Plus member. Since moving back to India I became a member of Lufthansa Miles and More program. I normally use that number for ALL Star Alliance flights, including the last one in Sep 2010. However, for my latest trip (in March 2011) I decided to use my Mileage Plus number. I was in for a surprise when the miles got credited. I got HALF the Base miles on UA as I got on LH when I flew the SAME flight number between the SAME cities in the same Class Z (Business Class), paying almost the SAME Money. When I wrote to UA they said they do not consider “Z class” as Business and Lufthansa’s policies were “different” than UA’s, and basically, that was tough. As an example, on flight LH 750 between Frankfurt and Calcutta, I received 9185 base miles in LH in Sep 2010, but 4599 miles on UA. Even on an atlas, it is closer to 9000 miles than 4500 . There is a ticket open (REF:12151345A) with UA to explain this where I have sent them a reply after they said inane things like “You cannot claim miles from 2 different airlines for the same flight”. Will keep you posted. But, it seems, switching to Miles and More will give members more miles for the SAME flights than UA.

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