United's new awards level could cost frequent fliers more miles

Brittany Jones-Cooper
Reporter
United Airlines will unveil a new MileagePlus membership level in November.

On June 29, United Airlines MileagePlus (UAL) customers got an email announcing major changes to the loyalty program.

Starting Nov. 1, the airline will replace its Standard Awards level with a new option called Everyday Awards. With this new tier, pricing will vary from flight to flight. This means that travelers can expect to spend more miles on popular flights, and fewer on flights with less demand.

Currently, if a traveler buys a domestic economy class ticket, they will use up 25,000 miles for a one-way Standard Awards ticket. A business-class Standard Award ticket for the same flight costs up to 50,000 miles.

According to the new awards chart, a domestic economy class ticket will cost up to 32,500 miles for a one-way Everyday Awards ticket, and a business class Everyday Award ticket will cost between 50,000 to 60,000 miles.

When you crunch the numbers, travelers could end up using 7,500 miles more for the same flight with new Everyday Awards tier.

George Hobica, founder of Airfare Watchdog, an airfare tracking site, says that when an airline makes changes to their frequent flier program, it typically benefits the airline, not the customer.

“Frequent flier programs have some value of course, mainly being able to choose extra legroom seats at no extra cost and access to lounges and priority airport lines when traveling internationally,” Hobica told Yahoo Finance. “But it certainly isn’t worth paying more, as many people do, for flights on an airline you’re loyal to just to get those perks.”

Hobica says that United’s updates purley mirror what Delta and American have done, which is to charge more miles for flights that used to cost less.

“They’re making what used to be a very simple concept — i.e. 25,000 miles for a round-trip domestic flight — into a complicated game where there are fewer and fewer winners,” Hobica says.

New fee structure

Also starting Nov. 1, it will be crucial to cancel or change your awards travel at least two months out.

For general members, there will now be a redeposit fee (a charge to put the miles back into your account) of $125 if you don’t show up for a flight and request a redeposit of your miles. This fee will be charged if the change or cancellation happens within 60 days or less of travel. If the change happens 61 days before departure, the redeposit fee drops to $75.

United Airlines fee chart. 

Previously, the window to change tickets was 21 days, but that wasn’t benefiting United. “When a customer changes or cancels a ticket closer to departure date, it reduces the chance for that seat to be used by another customer,” the airline said.

United Global Services Premier 1K members, the highest MileagePlus level, will not have to pay a redeposit fee, regardless of when they cancel or change their itinerary.

There will also be some changes to how fees are displayed. For international MileagePlus members, any charges associated with changing your flight (like processing fees) will be shown and processed in your local currency.

All other existing fees will remain the same.

Saver Awards updates

While some aspects the United Mileage Plus program will undergo major changes, others will stay the same. The airline’s best value tier for award travel is its Saver Awards, which will continue to offer one-way economy-class tickets for 12,500 miles for flights in the contiguous US. Short-haul Economy Saver awards tickets will still cost 10,000 miles for flights in the contiguous US.

That said, United promised to make some changes to the Saver Awards charges in the near future. Going forward, loyalty members can expect to see lower prices on some short-haul economy-level flights for flights outside the US. On the flipside, United announced it will increase prices on Saver Awards for select international markets and on United Business for some Hawaii routes and US premium transcontinental routes.

Brittany Jones-Cooper is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.

American Airlines’ new awards chart could cost you miles

7 outrageous things you can buy with frequent flyer miles

This is the best credit card for international travel