United MileagePlus Changes are Coming: Increased Change Fees, Stopover Changes, and No Changes to Star Alliance Partner Awards within 24 Hours of Departure.
It's never a good day when you see an email from United titled "Coming soon: MileagePlus program updates." Reading those words, you may as well brace yourself for a devaluation of your MileagePlus miles. So here it is:
No Star Alliance Partner Award Changes Within 24 Hours of Departure
While the increased change fees and stopover changes will be effective October 6, 2016, the no changes to Star Alliance partner awards within 24 hours of departure appears to be an unannounced devaluation, since it already appears on the United MileagePlus award ticket service fees page:
This is one of the worst changes for those who like to try to change their awards to a better airline or routing. That's because there can often be some additional first class or business class award space released within the last 24 hours prior to departure, as few passengers will purchase paid fares for these seats at the last minute.
Reduced Flexibility and Increased Change Fees
Back in June 2013 United MileagePlus increased its award ticket change fees and cancellation fees. Change fees for non-elites went from no fee for changes 21 days or more prior to departure to $75, and changes withiin 21 days of departure increased from $75 to $100.
Well, United MileagePlus is now changing the threshold from 21 days prior to departure to 60 days prior to departure, and is applying the fees to change and cancellation.
Current MileagePlus Award Change and Cancellation Fees:
Currently, only non-elites pay a $75 fee to change a MileagePlus award 21 days or more before the date of travel.
New MileagePlus Award Change / Cancellation Fees:
As you can see from the above, there are several negatives that increase award fees for many effective October 6, 2016:
- Premier Platinum elites will pay $50 for changes or cancellations 60 days or fewer prior to travel; currently they pay no fee for any award ticket changes or cancellationis
- Premier Gold elites will pay $25 for changes or cancellations 61 days or more before travel, and $75 for changes or cancellations 60 days or fewer before travel. Currently they pay no fee for changes 21 days or more before travel and just $25 for changes within 21 days of travel.
- Premier Silver elites will pay $50 for changes or cancellations 61 days or more before travel, and $100 for changes or cancellations 60 days or fewer before travel. Currently they pay no fee for changes 21 days or more before travel and just $50 for changes within 21 days of travel.
- The longer 60 day prior to departure threshold replaces 21 days--so more people are likely to pay the higher amount for changes/cancellations.
While it's true that Premier Gold and Premier Silver elites now pay $25 less to cancel an award, I'm betting most elites will see these award fee changes as a net negative, since previously they enjoyed free changes, as long as made at least 21 days or more in advance of travel. That's now gone.
Meanwhile, non-elites such as my family tneoretically gain slightly with the new cancellation policy, which is $125 (or $75 if at least 61 days or more before travel), rather than the current $200. But honestly, I haven't had occasion to use MileagePlus miles for awhile, preferring to make redemptions with AAdvantage miles, Alaska miles, and in the case of Star Alliance awards, Singapore KrisFlyer, which has better mileage rates for several awards and low change and cancellation award fees.
MileagePlus Stopover Changes
One of the most disturbing changes is to stopovers. While MileagePlus is careful to claim that they are "streamlining" and are "making booking your multi-city trip easier" by replacing the current stopover policy with the so-called "Excursionist Perk," you be the judge of whether this "enhancement" increases or decreases the value of your United MileagePlus miles. I consider it a devaluation:
"The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free, if it meets all of these conditions:
- The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)
- Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
- The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
- The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
- If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free."
As far as I can tell, the result is that:
- No free one ways, since you can't use the Excursionist Perk in the region where your travel originates. So forget getting a free one way to Hawaii or transcon to California on a NYC-Europe-NYC ticket.
- No option of stopping over in various cities for less than 24 hours; after the first free one way, all subsequent segments will add cost to the ticket
- Potential elimination of United's flexible third region routing rules, for example the U.S. to Australia / New Zealand via Asia. While we don't yet know for sure how these multi-segment awards will price, I'm worried that as part of these changes routing rules will also change. This would give us the worst of both worlds: AAdvantage's stringent routing rules and no international stopovers, combined with high SkyMile type award pricing, given how expensive MileagePlus awards already are plus increases for multi-city itineraries due to the elimination of stopovers.
What do you think of the coming MileagePlus award changes?