Via Matthew, United is apparently loosening its award routing rules today.
Historically, United has allowed:
- One stopover or an open jaw on a roundtrip award.
- Then they introduced one-way awards, including on partners. And that meant you could do a ‘double open jaw’ (they couldn’t restrict whether you flew back out of the same city you arrived in, or returned to the same city you departed from, since they were just one-way awards). But no stopovers on one-way awards.
Now, you can have a double open jaw on a roundtrip award. Why not just do two one-ways? Because if you need to cancel two one-ways and aren’t a 100,000-mile flyer you will pay two $150 change fees per person. So this means lower fees, is more consumer friendly to offer this option.
Now also you can have a stopover and an open jaw on a roundtrip award. This matches Continental’s rules. Here’s an example:
- You can fly Denver – Frankfurt – Athens (stop)
Athens – Istanbul (destination)
Zurich – Chicago – Denver
You have a stopover and a destination and you find your own way between Istanbul and Zurich (open jaw).
Previously you would have just flown to Athens and back from Zurich (open jaw) but not have been able to include the Athens – Istanbul segment. So a nice enhancement, this allows greater flexibility in booking awards and also saves money for folks because they can include more flying.
But wait, there’s more!. United has historically limited award travel to the published ‘maximum permitted mileage’ for any given city pair. Every origin and destination has a maximum number of miles published by IATA that you can fly as part of a mileage-based fare. And United limited award travel to flying that many miles. Occasionally I’ve gotten exceptions for awards that are a hundred miles over or so. Another exception is that if there is a published routing that is over the maximum mileage, and you’re primarily flying the carrier that publishes that routing, it’s allowed. But that’s not the general case.
Now United is allowing you to exceed the Maximum Permitted Mileage by 15%.
I thought Aeroplan was generous in allowing you to go 5% over. Continental doesn’t check ‘MPM’ that I’m aware of. US Airways just introduced the concept in their rules but I haven’t heard of anyone at US Airways actually ever checking a table of maximum mileages.
Bottom-line you can do a lot more out of the way flying, this is especially nice when you’re adding stopovers or piecing together available flights when award seats are tight.
Coupled with the fact that Starnet blocking, United’s practice of programming their computers to deny availability of seats that their partners are offering as awards when Mileage Plus doesn’t want to pay for them, has been exceedingly rare over the past 9 months… this program has gotten incredibly valuable. Whereas Starnet blocking had been a deal-killer when it was at its apex, when it was common for agents to believe and tell customers that Lufthansa didn’t fly to Frankfurt on certain days or that All Nippon Airways didn’t service Washington-Dulles (with their flight NH1…) without blocking as a major issue most of the time the program is wonderful. And now they’re getting much more generous, with one-way awards on partners and with much more generous routing rules.
But why is United does this? Certainly Continental was much more generous, they didn’t block awards and these routing rules are really just more consistent with what Continental already offered. United is doing all of the things I’ve wanted them to do, so far (and I don’t want to jinx it) it looks like they really are taking the best elements of both programs when I rather assumed that the opposite would happen.
Still, this has to increase their costs. And since the whole idea of Starnet blocking was about limiting costs, and Continental thought they were offering an award chart that allowed them to offer their generous awards in an economically realistic was but turned out a bit surprised by the cost side… I do worry along with Matthew’s ” the sneaking suspicion that mileage redemption rates are going to go up soon.” If the costs go up, they’ll want their prices to also. And it’s now been a couple of years since they’ve done that. Stay tuned!