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United Discounts Domestic Award Flights

In response to a glut of unsold seats, United last month began offering award tickets to Europe for 15,000 fewer miles—a nice price break for Mileage Plus members. Under the circumstances, such award sales make good business sense as well. United gets the miles, a contingent liability, off its books. Plus, the airline benefits from a goodwill boost by dint of its generosity. And because the seats would have gone unsold anyway, the real cost of flying a few extra award passengers is minimal.

Presumably for the same reasons, and with the same goals in mind, United has announced a similar discount for domestic award flights. Well, sort of similar.

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Through March 18, Mileage Plus members can book award flights on selected domestic routes for 20,000 miles rather than the 25,000 miles normally required. Travel on the discounted tickets must be completed by May 21.

Unlike United's international award ticket discount, this is a you-snooze-you-lose proposition—just nine days to commit to a trip. Which raises the question: If United expects there to be plenty of seats available through May 21, why force them to book by March 18?

And then there's the matter of the "selected routes." It's limited selection, to say the least.

While there are, for example, plenty of eligible routes to and from Washington, D.C., there's not so much as a single flight to or from United's primary hub, Chicago. The Denver hub also is well represented, but there are no flights to or from Los Angeles. New York flights? Only between New York and San Francisco. In short, it's a very mixed bag, which is as likely to confound as it is to delight.

One more caveat: "Award travel booked and ticketed less than 21 days prior to departure is subject to an additional non-refundable close-in processing fee of up to $100 per award ticket."

For those who can find desirable flights on the rather short list of eligible routes, and are ready and willing to book quickly, this offer is certainly worth taking advantage of. But really, United, an offer that excludes Chicago, where your best customers are concentrated ... what were you thinking?

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