United Airlines Will Remove Award Charts and Increase the MileagePlus Miles Required for United Travel from 11/15/19. These changes are announced on the United MileagePlus site, and mirror Delta Eliminating Award Charts in 2015 (see Delta's Missing Award Charts and 5 Other Reasons Why Delta SkyMiles Aren't Worth It).
Here are the details:
- For award travel on United flights that occur on or after November 15, 2019, United won't publish award charts; award rates will be dynamic
- If you change a previously booked ticket for travel on or after November 15, 2019, the new pricing will apply
- Also effective November 15, 2019, United will eliminate close-in booking fees (currently $75 per ticket for non-elites; $50 for Premier Silver, $25 for Premier Gold, no fee for Premier Platinum, 1K, GS).
- No refunds for close-in fees paid prior to November 15, 2019 will apply, even if the travel date is on or after November 15, 2019
View the United Award Chart Through Nov 14 2019.
As with Delta, it's infuriating that this major change is being implemented with no notice (that is, there are no set award rates for awards on United flights on or after November 15, 2019).
While United loyalists may point to the fact that close-in fees for non-elites and low-tier elites are being eliminated, this is likely to be more than offset by the higher number of MileagePlus miles that will be required for close-in awards. Even though United hasn't explicitly said that the dynamic award pricing will be linked to cash fares, United's verbiage that “Other award prices may be higher than what you see today, especially if you’re traveling at a popular time…” is likely to translate into much higher amounts. This will eliminate a current sweet spot usage of United miles: the ability to pay saver award rates with miles when cash ticket prices are high, for example for last minute travel to visit family or friends.
That said, while I have redeemed United MileagePlus miles for some clients of our Award Booking Service, it's been quite awhile since I've redeemed United MileagePlus miles for my family's travel, as award rates are high for partner first class travel after the 2014 United Award Chart Devaluation and the smaller 2017 United Award Chart Devaluation. In most cases I find the United.com site is useful for checking partner award availability, but that it's more advantageous to book with Aeroplan for fewer miles, or in the case of ANA roundtrips, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
The other reason I rarely book using United MileagePlus miles is the lack of saver award availability on many routes. And who wants to pay close to 200,000 miles each way for a United EveryDay award? For example, even if you're attempting to book a nonstop United flight in late January 2020, over 9 months in advance, you still won't find United saver award availability in Business Class or First Class on United's EWR-NRT nonstop. Fortunately ANA First Class and Business Class are somewhat more available and much better products anyway.
What About MileagePlus Partner Award Rates?
So far I haven't seen any differences in partner award rates for travel after November 15, 2019, but since there will no longer be any award charts at all, there's nothing stopping United increasing these rates as well, over time, again with no notice since everything will be dynamic pricing. United is likely holding in check certain award increases for now anyway, to minimize the backlash while this news settles in. It will take time, especially after November 15, 2019, to gauge just how bad this devaluation really is.
Here's an example of ANA First Class still pricing at 110,000 United miles each way for February 2020, although keep in mind that if you're flying roundtrip and can find award space, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is 120,000 roundtrip (vs. 220,000 roundtrip for United). Aeroplan charges 5000 fewer miles for a NYC-Japan award (75,000 for ANA Business Class and 105,000 for ANA First Class) but also charges more in taxes than United MileagePlus does, so it's a wash.
How Soon Before American AAdvantage Follows Suit?
With Delta and now United eliminating award charts and adopting dynamic award pricing, that leaves American AAdvantage as the last major U.S. legacy frequent flyer program that still has a published award chart with set rates.
Perhaps it's no accident that AAdvantage is not connected to the main transferable points currencies: it's not possible to transfer AMEX Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points to AAdvantage miles. Now that so many in the U.S. have Chase Ultimate Rewards and/or AMEX Membership Rewards cards, it's become very easy to earn with category bonuses at rates that are better than the co-branded cards issued by the airlines, then just transfer over points to airline frequent flyer programs as needed, given rise to many miles chasing a more or less set (or decreasing, as flight fly fuller) number of award seats.
I'm hoping that by AAdvantage not being quite as subject to this arbitrage opportunity (the main transfer currency is Marriott Bonvoy, previously SPG Starwood, where transfers aren't instant and the main category bonus is spend at Marriott/Starwood properties) that AAdvantage's current award chart and set award prices will endure for the short to medium term. But if you've been hoarding AAdvantage miles, it's time to start spending–frequent flyer miles are never a nest egg, they depreciate over time due to these kind of frequent flyer program devaluations, including ones such as United's, with no advance notice.
What's your reaction to United MileagePlus Eliminating Award Charts and Adopting Dynamic Pricing?
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As soon as I collect the remaining miles I need for my RTW trip – after a few setbacks, including the recent usage of miles for summer Hawaii trip – I’m going to use my BofA Cash Rewards card for 3% on all travel from then on.
Exciting to be planning another RTW trip again! And glad you’ll be visiting my home state of Hawaii this summer, hope you have a fantastic time. This news is naturally not good for anyone with a lot of United miles, but I rarely transferred Ultimate Rewards points to United anyway, so we’ll keep earning 3X-5X with our CSR, Ink and Freedom cards.