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