NOT A GLITCH: United Massively Devalues Even Simple Roundtrip Awards, Either Take the Routes They Suggest or Pay More Miles

Back in August United announced new change fees for awards and new limits award stopovers. They eliminated round the world awards as well.

This was a devaluation, but — at least based on the announcement — seemed to be in areas where United was more generous than the competition. They’ll still allow stopovers, just only in the same region as your destination. If you’re flying between the US and Asia with a connection in Europe you used to be able to stop over at your European connecting point. Now that costs more miles, since United prices it as a separate award.

It turns out the changes were more draconian than what United announced. You can only book awards at the award chart price that United presents to you. Any awards you build yourself online, or with an agent, will price each portion of the trip separately — even for a simple one way or roundtrip without any kind of stopover at all.

And since United’s IT has long been a weak spot, failing to offer even simple connecting options that are available, it’s frequently necessary to put together awards segment-by-segment. Charging more for United’s inability or unwillingness to display awards that are available is both a major devaluation and an affront to members.

Here’s how this works: you only get to choose flights that United offers you at the published price. Even the flights you want are available, if United’s systems don’t suggest it — and you get the website to put the flights together with multi-city search, or you get an agent to build the itinerary one flight at a time — they’re going to charge you separately for each flight segment.

  • Even though saver awards are available
  • Even though the route and connections are permitted under United’s rules
  • And even though United publishes a price for that routing
  • United is still going to charge you more miles.

Since United announced the changes that were going into effect and this wasn’t one of them, and since it seems like an ‘unfair and deceptive’ practice (of the kind DOT says they’ve been mistakenly failing to act against, charging more than the published price for an itinerary), I assumed it had to be be a glitch.

However a United spokesperson tells me,

There is not a glitch on the new site for multi-city — that functionality is working as we previously announced. The new MileagePlus award changes are designed to make multi-city searches easier, give our customers greater flexibility, offer the Excursionist Perk, and provide efficient options that meet their travel needs. Selecting the multi-city option will break up the search into separate awards. We believe our multi-city pricing is consistent with the industry.

For more coverage,

  • Dan’s Deals wrote about this yesterday wondering if it was a glitch, noting that “[i]f United.com comes up with [New York – Los Angeles – Auckland – Sydney] it’s 80K [miles] in business class. [If it doesn’t and] I use multi-city search it can be 92.5K [miles] or 110K [miles] depending on how I input the search.”

  • Tiffany wrote about it this morning and sums up the changes rather aptly — that “[m]ulti-region routings are allowed, as long as it’s not your idea” and “MileagePlus is now less predictable than SkyMiles.”

As I concluded when Hyatt made more changes than they announced they would on August 1, I shouldn’t need to run down a list of all of a program’s features and ask whether or not those are changing, too.

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. @Aaron — Let’s wait and see until we have more data points because such restrictions would be so boneheaded, they make no sense. I did ask an agent if that ability would go away and the answer was an emphatic “no”…

  2. The incessant devaluation of ff programs is further evidence of the lack of competition in the airline industry thanks to consolidation.

  3. Once again Gary, you don’t have the guts to print a comment that I made earlier,. That the Airline higher ups are playing us for fools. How Corporate greed supersedes consumer enjoyment. Shame on you for silencing me in fear of your own selfish needs. That if people really knew the truth of what of what is happening to this hobby, they would stop signing up for all those credit cards, getting those miles they will never be able to use or live the dream of being able to travel like you.

  4. UA Online Technical Support told me that the stop over flight policy was updated on October 6, 2016.
    I’ve been tracking an itinerary in 2017 during the past month: IAD>SGN>DEL>IAD.
    Two weeks ago, I was quoted 85,000 miles for all three saver award tickets.
    Today I checked and the same flight itinerary cost 117,500 miles. The difference is that previously the SGN>DEL flight cost 2,500 miles, whereas today it costs 35,000. Damn!

  5. I agree that this is another massive devaluation of the program. UA claimed that the new multi-city search would be “more flexible and intuitive”. I’ve run a few searches on familiar routes and that’s not true at all: Multi-city search isn’t any better than before, just more expensive. Regular one-way and round-trip awards are more restrictive. The most desirable connections (especially partner flights) do not come up. Almost every complex international award ticket I have booked with UA over the last few years required to be booked manually from individual segments – none of those I will be able to book in the future, making UA miles worth much less to me…
    It’s yet another confirmation that MileagePlus is not a loyalty program, but a discount scheme, so use it where it makes sense and don’t be surprised when it doesn’t…

  6. @keefer all of your comments were published. the system sent them to the moderation queue which meant i had to manually approve them which i did, pretty quickly.

  7. @Vincent said: “The difference is that previously the SGN>DEL flight cost 2,500 miles, whereas today it costs 35,000. Damn!”

    That does not sound right. There are no *A awards that cost 2,500 UA miles. Maybe you meant 25K miles? But that would have little to do with what people believe UA has done because you are talking about just one segment or are you? This may be just an old-fashion devaluation, or rather than finding saver awards, you’re now finding standard awards. More info would be helpful to better understand your situation, but I am not aware of 2.5K UA miles for *A awards

  8. This, my friend, is what you get when you deregulate with no government consumer protection. They just keep screwing us because we put up with it. Less comfort, less service, less convenience for more money. Maybe if people started using every alternative (Frontier, Sprint, etc) to the big three legacy carriers they would get a message. Or, elect a Congress that gives a damn about transportation. (Chuckle).

  9. I just hit this issue, and it’s completely ridiculous. I’m trying to book IAH-TLV-AUS (multi-city). On the TLV-AUS portion, it presents me with only one option. But if I search for TLV-AUS only (one-way), I get many more options! These options don’t even come up at the “Standard” price when searching in multi-city mode.

    So my only way around this is to make two separate one-way bookings. I’m under 21 days so it means I’ll be out an extra close-in booking fee. Clear devaluation!

    I don’t think this specifically is a feature, UA IT aren’t clever enough. Much more likely it is a bug in the engine. Of course, a buggy engine in general is a feature, no one is in a hurry to fix it.

  10. @Chris — The problem with your suggestion is that the legacy airlines (American, Delta, and United) are already moving in the direction of Sprint and Frontier. Do you *really* want to encourage THAT business model? Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree with you regarding the issue(s) of government deregulation w/o consumer protections, but I don’t EVER want to encourage the idea of installing pay toilets in the sky, or paying to place something in the overhead bin. (I’m not crazy about paying for checked bags either, but that horse has already left the barn.)

    OTOH, I do “vote with my wallet” and fly Virgin America¹, Southwest², Alaska, and JetBlue. I can’t remember when I last flew either American or Delta — but I doubt it’s been in the 21st century! — and I last flew United in 2015 because they had a non-stop to MSY.
    _______________
    ¹ I live in the SF Bay area, where Virgin America is headquartered (SFO), and have Gold status with them (their highest), though for someone *not* living on the West Coast, this carrier is not the most viable of options.

    ² Southwest, with its OAK hub, is quite convenient for me, and *is* a viable option for most US-based travelers.

  11. @AM — Have you tried finding the segments yourself and then having an agent confirm each and piece them together for you? That’s really what would tell me if there is cause for sounding the alarm as loudly as possible. I have never relied on the site’s multi-city feature to book my award trips, which invariably consist of complex itineraries.

    Just curious…

  12. @DCS – you are being kind of stubborn on this. Agents CAN NOT change routings. The system has locked them out. The internet is flooded with complaints. It was even on FOX news yesterday.I know it worked for you but your’s were not single trip tickets but a bunch of one-ways. So ring the alarm. Write United, multiple times. This is real and needs to get fixed.

  13. Alright! Chill. I deal in empirical evidence so please indulge me. Whatever is going on will become crystal clear soon enough so let me take my time before I am “assimilated”. Deal?

  14. BTW, I have seen perfectly explainable incidents being blamed on the rules change so…give me and “it” some space and time!

  15. LOL. Deal. I wish you were right. UA was fun to build itineraries. I’m rooting for you not to be assimilated!

  16. Not really a big deal for those who fly nonstops or use normal routings for awards

    Deval will never stop as long as bloggers keep hyping mileage credit cards and consumers keep using them instead of cash back cards.

    If consumers turn off tap on airlines big cash cow they would have to rethink strategy.

  17. @MarkS said on October 14, 2016 at 9:30 pm: “LOL. Deal. I wish you were right. UA was fun to build itineraries. I’m rooting for you not to be assimilated!”

    I hope you ‘subscribed’ to this thread because I’d like for you to know that there is a follow and an outcome to this exchange we had a while back. Not only won’t I be assimilated, I will have a lot fun building itineraries online at united.com, using their new multi-city award booking system.

    The sky did not fall, and I just had the last LOL here:
    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/10/31/united-stopover-rules/#comment-3542937

    G’day!

  18. @DCS, have fun building one ways from Addis Ababa to Johannesburg while traveling round trip to Asia. Me, I’d prefer to build a round the world round trip like ORD-NRT-BKK-TPE-SIN-BKK-ZRH-ARN-ORD which I’ve done. Or LH first class ORD-FRA-HND-FRA-ORD with week long stopovers in Tokyo and Frankfurt for a round trip price to Europe, which I’ve done. But to each their own. Good luck @DCS

  19. @MarkS — The sky had not fallen and that was my point. UA just got smart and closed a loophole that I had, in fact, noticed and reported about in the past. They were too generous by accident because of a buggy system! The amazing thing is how long it took them to fix a bug that they were apparently aware of. That’s Smisek for you. Munoz is serious about turning things around, which one cannot do if one is bleeding revenue as UA did whenever their system erroneously allowed stopovers on, e.g., one-way award travels. It is, however, still a more flexible and generous system than AA’s or DL’s…

    I prefer a financially healthy UA than one that’s “generous” but on the brink of financial collapse. For my pattern of travel, similar to this coming year-end escapade, with a series on one-way awards, I will see very little difference except for the occasional “illegal” stopovers I would have gotten. And, I do not hurt for RDMs.

    G’day!

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