At the beginning of 2019 I flagged that United removed its award chart tables from its website and rolled out premium economy awards without any award chart at all. This made me wonder whether United would eventually eliminate award charts entirely, as Delta has done, and move to align redemption more closely to the price of a ticket.
Interestingly United appears to be making reduced mileage awards available when ticket prices are low on short-distance routes like New York LaGuardia – Chicago, Los Angeles – Las Vegas, and slightly longer flights like Newark – Fort Lauderdale. (HT: Summer Hull)
New lower pricing may range from 5,000 to 11,000 miles. Here’s Los Angeles – Las Vegas for 6,000:
Any given route may have more than one lower price, for instance New York LaGuardia – Chicago O’Hare may be 6,000 or 9,500 or 10,000 in the example below:
United reportedly isn’t denying that there could be future increases in award prices for more expensive tickets to parallel this move. And since my goal for United miles isn’t domestic coach travel I’m more interested in the move from a program directional standpoint. There it’s concerning, though not unsurprising under the ultimate leadership of US Airways and American Airlines alums President Scott Kirby and Executive Vice President Andrew Nocella.
Of course what United’s doing is hardly new. Delta runs award sales when paid ticket prices are low. You don’t actually get great value per mile with most Delta award sales, but it’s better to charge fewer miles than more miles.
The flipside of course is that as Delta has aligned award prices with ticket prices, they’ve even ended fixed price upgrades on their own flights, you get about a penny per mile in value which also means rarely ever getting good value on expensive tickets too.
Meanwhile American Airlines has been making more coach award space available on a married segment basis, appearing to align award availability with fare value. Fortunately this hasn’t invaded partner award redemption. They’re also offering 5000 mile discounted awards and awards starting at 12,500 miles to Hawaii.
It’s better to pay United 5000 miles to fly Los Angeles – Las Vegas, I suppose, than it is to pay 12,500 miles. But when fares may be as low as $49 I’m not sure I see it as much of a value.
At least for now United hasn’t sunk to Delta depths booking their cheapest awards into basic economy.