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United Discounts Europe, Middle East Awards by 20 Percent

Less than two weeks ago, I reported on what was then United's latest award discount, which shaved 5,000 miles off the normal 25,000-mile price tag for domestic flights. That was the sixth such discount in just the past year, establishing United as the industry's award discount leader.

Not that there are any other serious contenders for that title, but United has extended its lead with yesterday's announcement of yet another opportunity for Mileage Plus members to redeem fewer miles for award flights. This time, the discounts are for flights between the U.S. or Canada and both Europe and the Middle East.

For Europe flights, restricted coach awards are reduced from 55,000 miles to 44,000 miles. And prices for Middle East flights, normally 75,000 miles, are reduced to 60,000 miles.

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Travel at the discounted rates must take place between January 10, 2010, and March 15, 2010.

But—and here's the weakness of this and United's previous award discounts as well—bookings at the special rates must be made within days, in this case by October 31. The promotion was announced yesterday, so United has given customers less than a week to commit to an overseas trip more than two months in the future.

C'mon United, these are by definition your best customers—they must have earned a minimum of 44,000 Mileage Plus miles to participate. Give them adequate time to make travel plans. As it is, these discounts send a mixed message: a generous gesture, undermined by stinginess.

The final verdict, as I said about United's previous award discounts: "This is an offer that provides real value for those who are prepared to book now, and are confident their travel plans won't change."

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