United Discounts Their “Rule Buster”-style Awards

For bookings by May 18 and and travel through October 31 that is booked at least 21 days in advance, United is reducing the cost of a ‘standard award’ for domestic travel from 50,000 miles roundtrip to 40,000 miles roundtrip.  The discount applies only to domestic coach awards.

In United’s parlance, standard awards are the higher-priced awards that permit travel on any flight without regard to capacity controls. Other airlines have referred to these as “rule buster” or “anytime awards.”

Prior to October 2006, 40,000 miles was the regular price of a domestic standard award.

Yet something is strange going on here, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Now, it seems that United’s award redemption ‘specials’ seem always to be for coach tickets. That makes them unexciting to me.

And I’m not especially interested in paying 40,000 miles for a domestic coach award booked three weeks in advance, when the “regular price” of such an award is 25,000 miles (although standard awards obviously offer greater flexibility in flight choice).

United’s domestic award availability has been absolutely abysmal in 2010, especially for hub-to-hub flying and cross-country flying. So anything that buys members out of those constraints is good.

But I’ve never seen a standard award sale before. Perhaps flights are so full and domestic saver inventory so scarce that award bookings are way down? Or perhaps they’re looking for data to test how price sensitive members are relative to bargain-hunting through capacity controls. I don’t have any reason to suspect anything nefarious here, like a move towards Delta-style three-tiered pricing. Maybe as they move towards one-way awards and the ability to combine saver and standard awards in a single roundtrip as a result, this sort of thing will become more the norm as they push members towards the more expensive end of the spectrum?

I really don’t know, but United’s move towards specials on fully sticket price standard awards makes me a little bit uneasy, because (and please correct my memory here!) this feels like new territory for Mileage Plus’ current management.

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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  1. We’ve been seeing obvious test marketing in other areas, too. In late March, they offered door-to-door baggage for $25, and I recently got a survey about the possibility of them reducing the price for door-to-door baggage to $40. (I’m a 1K, and they may have adjusted the price in the survey in response to that.)

    But, yes, I’m a little worried, too. We saw a 20K sale several months ago, 22.5 a few weeks ago, and now theis one. And the international sale a while back. And, no, I don’t recall much before this.

  2. I hope few people respond to this United offer that is simply a disguised effort to charge more points for a saver type award in economy. How come United never does an award discount on international C & F Saver awards?

  3. What I’m guessing is that United is looking to get people to use a lot of their miles which in their earnings reports are considered “liabilities” (vs. assets).. When United’s looking to raise cash, the amount of liabilities affects the terms of the loan and given UA’s merger shopping I’m not suprised they’re doing this now..

    (if analysts only knew about Starnet blocks they wouldn’t be worried at all about people redeeming miles)

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