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United’s New Award Pricing: What You Need to Know

United is making significant changes to MileagePlus award pricing, but has declined to issue a news release touting the details. It’s not that the changes aren’t newsworthy; it’s that they’re bad news, best left unpublicized.

First, the good news: When the changes take effect on November 1, prices for domestic coach-class Saver awards will remain the same. You’ll still be able to book a one-way award flight within the contiguous U.S., Alaska, and Canada for 12,500 miles, and for 10,000 miles for flights shorter than 700 miles. While that may not be the best use of MileagePlus miles, it remains the most popular type of award. Here, no news is good news.

Also good news on the Saver award front: Partner Saver award flights outside the U.S. shorter than 800 miles will cost 8,000 miles in coach, versus up to 20,000 miles currently.

But Saver award prices will be increasing for some international flights, and for business-class transcon and some Hawaii flights.

The big changes will affect United’s so-called Standard awards, the higher-priced awards that may be booked with no capacity controls. Under the new pricing scheme, they’ll be renamed Everyday awards. What’s different about Everyday awards is that they’re variable; the award chart will show the maximum price for an award on a particular route, but the actual price will vary from day to day, flight to flight.

More bad news here. The maximum price for an Everyday one-way domestic coach award ticket will be 32,500 miles, versus the current set price of 25,000 for the same award. Of course, with variable pricing, the actual price may be less than the published maximum.

Two negatives there. First, there’s the uncertainty integral to variable pricing. And second, there’s the very real possibility that the new price will be higher than the current price.

On other routes, it’s a mixed bag. In some cases, the new Everyday price is the same as the current Standard price; in other cases, the new price is higher. There are no price decreases.

Finally, a new no-show policy will take effect at the same time as the new award prices. MileagePlus members who fail to check in for an award flight and request that their miles be redeposited into their accounts will be charged a $125 fee.

As devaluations go, this falls on the modest end of the spectrum. And United has given program members a full four months to acclimate to the revised scheme, and to take advantage of current prices where it’s to their advantage to do so.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s yet another small step in the direction of loyalty programs’ loss of relevance.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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