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Ninety-nine times out of 100, a change to a loyalty program's award chart is a change for the worse.
So when it was announced on United's website that "updates are coming to the United Mileage Plus award charts," there was legitimate cause for concern. In the past, "updates" has been code for downgrades: higher prices, more restrictions.
This update proves to be the exception to the rule. While there are changes for the worse, there are improvements as well.
Here's a summary of the changes that take effect for bookings made on or after June 15:
- New: Domestic award flights 700 miles or shorter can be booked for 10,000 miles each way.
- Price Decreases: First- and business-class awards to North Asia or South Asia and Central or Southern Africa will be 5,000 miles cheaper, as will business-class awards to Europe and Japan and coach awards to Central and South Africa.
- Price Increases: Awards to the Middle East in business class will increase by 5,000 miles, as will coach awards from North America to Europe and Southern South America.
Domestic upgrades from the cheapest coach fares increase from 15,000 miles plus a $50 co-pay each way to 20,000 miles plus a $75 co-pay.
For Europe flights, upgrades from full coach increase from 10,000 to 15,000 miles, and the cash co-pay for upgrades from discounted coach increase from $500 to $550.
For Asia flights, the price to upgrade from full coach to business will increase from 12,500 miles to 20,000 (from Y fares) or 30,000 miles (from B fares). Upgrades from discounted coach will increase from 25,000 miles plus a $500 co-pay to 30,000 miles plus a $600 co-pay.
The Net Effect
The higher co-pays for upgrades are a definitive negative. But that's offset by the new short-haul awards and the lower prices for some international first- and business-class awards.
Bottom line: The overall effect of the changes for most Mileage Plus members will be neutral or even slightly positive.
United's communication of the changes bears mention as well.
By announcing the upcoming changes three months in advance, United has given Mileage Plus members plenty of time to review them and book awards that will increase in price before June 15, or wait until the changes take effect to book awards that will decrease in price.
On the other hand, United could have done a much better job of communicating the changes in a way that allows for easy before-and-after comparisons. Leaving it to Mileage Plus members (or commentators like myself) to compare the old and new award charts and ferret out the changes is inconsiderate at best. And given the generally benign effect of the changes, such obfuscation is as unnecessary as it is unhelpful.
Reader Reality Check
How will the upcoming changes to Mileage Plus affect you?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.