United Airlines announced in emails to members Friday that it is making a major change to how MileagePlus members can use award miles on United flights. Many avid points-and-milers rushed to proclaim heartbreak, and while the changes follow those at other airlines that have turned out bad, we don’t yet have a full understanding of what will happen at United.
So you have a trove of United MileagePlus miles you’ve been saving up (or transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards that you were hoping you could use on United). What should you do with your United miles, given the changes?
Breaking It Down:
First, What We Know About What’s Happening At United MileagePlus
We don’t know that United is devaluing awards, i.e., making it more expensive to use miles. There are a few things, from United’s announcement Friday, that are clear.
- United is doing away with late booking fees on awards (yay)
- United will eliminate fixed award charts used to calculate awards on United flights on Nov. 15 (more below)
- United is making some awards available for less than they have been previously, typically shorter flights
Fixed Award Charts Are Ending Nov. 15: So What
Until now, we knew that United flights between specific regions had specific prices. There was the saver price, say 60,000 miles between the U.S. and Europe in business, and the Everday Price, which would have been 155,000 points. That model will no longer apply to flights after Nov. 15.
In some cases, Unites says that award remption rates could be much higher than they are now. In others, we already know that some flights will be available for fewer miles than were previously possible.
We have already seen Delta, and Air France-KLM make a similar change to their pricing model. In general, Air France KLM made more affordable redemptions available during off-peak times, while Delta has made fewer cheaper flights available and ridiculously pricy award flights much more common.
We don’t know, specifically, how United will implement this change and how it may or may not compare to others.
What changes is how United miles are best used after Nov. 15.
It is highly unlikely that United miles will continue to be valuable for last minute flights.
Under the preeminent pricing scheme, it was possible to find fixed-rate United MileagePlus awards on flights at the last minute that might otherwise have cost a fortune.
When airlines have employed variable pricing models for awards, they almost always use them to more closely match demand. When demand is high, and seats are few, expect United to ratchet up prices on MileagePlus awards just like they do cash fares.
Scratch last-minute bargains off your Mileage-Plus toolbox list.
United may release more attractive business class rates than we’ve previously seen.
While last-minute flights will become a thing of the past, Air France-KLM Flying Blue members have enjoyed better access to business class seats during off-peak times after that program implemented a flexible award pricing system last summer. Similarly, Delta has used award fare sales to push lower rates than had been seen in over a decade before it eliminated award charts. For those who follow points and miles news, these sales can present an opportunity to get outsized value from miles by booking pricy Polaris business class seats as lower-than-previously available rates.
Short flights that didn’t previously make sense for mileage redemption now do.
United’s email notice mentioned that many shorter U.S. and Canada flights, previously priced at 12,500 miles and sometimes 10,000 miles one-way in economy, are now available for far fewer miles.
Boarding Area has already documented fares as low as 5,000 miles for domestic economy flights. Those prices make United miles a good value proposition for short-hop flights, even those otherwise costing $200 or less round-trip.
This is a new way United MileagePlus members can consider using their miles, and this change has already gone into effect.
Partner Award Rates are Unchanged, For Now
Last year, United raised the rates it charges to redeem on its partner airlines slightly above the fixed rates for United flights. United will not change access to partners on Nov. 15.
Moreover, the elimination of close-in booking fees may make United a more attractive option for last-minute Star Alliance partner awards, and last minute tickets on partner airlines should remain a great bargain, as they’ve always been.
Upshot – What To Do With My United Miles
Should you drain your MileagePlus account in advance of the coming mile-apocalypse? I’d recommend holding off. Some United die-hards may be dreading this change, but many feared the worst when Air France-KLM announced changes last year, and ended up anticlimactically surprised by low business class redemption rates.
If there are specific United flights that you’d like to book between now and calendar end, book sooner rather than later, but don’t do anything irrational. Like a George W Bush presidency, I suspect we will all look back on Nov. 15 with a much more benign sensibility than what is now forecast.
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