United Airlines Admits Dynamic Partner Award Pricing

Filed Under: Awards, MileagePlus

Update: As of April 2020, United MileagePlus has raised many partner award costs.

This April, United MileagePlus announced that they’d abolish award charts, following Delta’s lead.

Well, there’s an update on that, and I’m not fully sure what to make of it…

How United’s Dynamic Award Pricing Works

Back in April United essentially provided no advance notice of huge changes to MileagePlus, since they took effect immediately for travel as of November 15, 2019. With this, United has dynamic award pricing for travel on their own flights.

As they described it:

Increasing award travel prices for the most in-demand flights lets us offer lower prices on other flights. If your award travel is flexible, these updates will help you make the most of your miles.

Of course we all know they’re following Delta’s lead here, and Delta’s dynamic award pricing isn’t good for savvy consumers looking to maximize their miles.

The cost of Polaris award tickets varies significantly now

But What About Partner Airline Travel?

When United announced these MileagePlus changes in April, several people spoke with the head of MileagePlus. Virtually every source quotes him as saying that while award charts were being eliminated for partner airlines as well, there were no plans to adjust partner award pricing in November, or in the foreseeable future, for that matter.

I don’t know if United had a change of heart, intended to be misleading, if people are misquoting the head of MileagePlus, or what, but it doesn’t appear like that’s the case.

What happens to United’s partner award pricing?

United’s Dynamic Partner Award Pricing

United added something to the FAQs about these MileagePlus changes after the fact. This wasn’t added today — rather I think it was actually added months ago — though it was most definitely added after the changes were initially announced (this is based on looking at the page on Wayback Machine):

How will this affect award flights on partner airlines?

The partner award chart will remain in effect for travel through November 14, 2019. For travel on or after November 15, 2019, there may be flights that require a higher number of miles than the amounts indicated on the award chart. When you search for awards while booking, you’ll see the applicable award level.

United is very clearly stating here that for travel on or after November 15, there “may” be partner airline flights that require a higher number of miles than they do currently. That seems to directly contradict what United previously claimed, and suggests that United is backtracking on that.

Now, in fairness:

  • I don’t currently see any partner awards for travel as of November with higher pricing
  • They do say there “may” be partner flights with higher pricing, which just gives them the option

Expect dynamic partner award pricing sooner rather than later

Bottom Line

While I think we all assumed that United MileagePlus would eventually increase partner airline award costs, United’s after the fact update to their FAQs contradicts what has otherwise been said.

People in the media were told partner award costs won’t go up as of November 15, 2019. Meanwhile the FAQs now say that partner awards may require a higher number of miles as of then.

It’s possible they don’t exercise that right, and maybe that’s not even their intention, though:

  • They added the FAQ after the initial announcement
  • They specifically note how travel as of November 15 on partners may have higher pricing, rather than just saying that at some point in the future they may increase partner award costs

Anyway, this is all just something to be aware of and to keep an eye on if you have a sizable stash of MileagePlus miles, and intend to use them on partner airlines.

What do you make of this?

(Tip of the hat to @IadisGr8)

  1. If anyone could make dynamic pricing happen soon on partners, it’d be UA for their tech capability. For customers though, ouch.

  2. I cannot imagine FF programs encouraging miles accumulation, especially accumulation for non-flying activities without the transparency with respect to burn that existed tn years ago.

  3. Dynamic pricing is already in effect. I see economy award tickets for 95k on AI. While other partners are 42.5k. This is for December.

  4. Definitely glad I never jumped on the United bandwagon. Would rather fly Delta if everyone is just going to water down their redemptions anyway.

  5. Star Alliance availability is already abysmal in premium cabins (at saver on a semi-decent carrier – I’m looking at you LOT and Ethiopian) as it is… So who cares at this point?

  6. When they announced, I thought, I could manage flying non UA awards flights instead. If they do the same for partner award, I’m out.

  7. Horrible news… Getting an award travel ticket, especially in business/first class on international travel is harder and harder.. As much as AA has been maligned on this website, to their credit, it remains the only major airline that probably has a fixed miles chart…I don’t know for how long though–they all tend to follow each other bad examples… Delta started it, now United….

  8. A lot of noise, as usual, and not a whole lot of signal.

    Can anyone just provide a single example that shows just how “bad” what has not yet happened is going to be?

    I will provide a counter-example…

    I booked a bunch of *A awards (TG, BR, CA, NH), availability galore, all premium and all for flying between December 12, 2019 and January 12, 2020 (i.e., after this rule is supposed to go into effect) and I got ONLY the “old” award costs. This does not mean that costs won’t increase; it simply means to just hold your horses until they do actually increase. But remember, this dynamic award pricing, which means that sometimes awards will cost more than they do now, and sometimes they will cost less…

    In the meantime, well, just burn them miles!

  9. Maybe its time FF programs go the way of the Dodo bird. When will consumers catch on…it takes a lot of effort to earn miles and very little effort to burn miles. The Cost Per Mile is ridiculous.

  10. Enough of this crap. Fire Scott Kirby now before this airlines gets even worse and drives customers away.

  11. I stopped wasting UR points on Biz class bookings on United. Just not worth for the mostly mediocre cabins, service and airport experience. I book economy when cash prices are sky-high and get my flexibility and 2c+ redemption value.

  12. I suspect that United has agreements with partners (or with the *A consortium) about what they charge for awards. There’s probably no reason why other airlines would object to UA raising the miles price of awards. But maybe they have to revise those agreements before implementing dynamic pricing. That would explain why that language is in the FAQ, but doesn’t (yet) reflect the actual pricing practices.

  13. Ugh. I guess I can only hope that their dynamic isn’t as bad as Delta’s and perhaps more like Southwest’s.

    But the partner thing is potentially ugly. Oh well, guess I’ll have some ammo when cancelling my UA cards with Chase.

  14. I fear, as LH often does not release business saver award space until a few weeks prior to flight. I won’t be able to lock in current pricing and may get screwed by getting “late booking” dynamic pricing once it is released.

  15. If this is the way it’s going to go, then the only valid use of UA miles is going to be those 12.5K coach tickets for UA Visa holders, which still seem relatively plentiful. Otherwise, for United and its partners, it looks like Avianca Lifemiles and maybe Turkish/Olympic/TAP under certain circumstances will be the way to go.

  16. Well, they’re definitely doing it. I just checked for flights to Asia in mid December. Seeing tons of EVA or ANA flights at 90k one way in coach for the holiday season. This will seriously make me reconsider earning UR points, unless Chase adds Aeroplan or some other partners.

  17. There are much better European Star Alliance programs. I would leave every program wich changes like this.
    But that’s the problem when you overflow a market with credit card bonuses.

  18. It is amusing that DCS thinks UA may actually lower some partner award costs lol. Other than on a 300 mile flight that goes for $99 – no bloody way in hell.

  19. @Jan
    Most foreign airline programs have miles that die, they do not extend with activity. That deters me from making use of those programs.

  20. I saw this coming long time ago, i.e. the devaluation and everything else we’re seeing today that makes your miles as useless as possible. You get a mile nowadays when you sneeze so who’s paying for it? It’s all coming out of consumers’ wallet. It’s only logical. I dumped my UA miles long time ago, I just despise this airline.

  21. Surprise! One thing everyone should know by now is don’t rely on airline promises. They are completely nonbinding as far as ff programs.

  22. I think UA is no worse than DL– I know I’m in minority on this website– but DL has been screwing up their customers for at least 4-5 years–UA is just simply joined the “club”…

  23. I saw this coming! I have a manageable number of miles in UA and left left most of my convertible currency miles with Chase Ink and Amex. I hate to see my Presidential Plus card go but otherwise, there is no reason to keep a Chase/UA affinity card.

  24. God i love the whining! Look people – the majority of you got points on credit card bonuses and spend which is sort of a racket. I have over 8 million miles from flying (which I’ve used all but around 1 millon of). Granted I have card for hotels as well as CSR and Amex Platinum that I gladly accumulate points on (and an AA Barclay’s card I plan to ditch before next annual payment since, as lifetime Platinum, I get no flight benefits and Amex/CSR have more value purchasing tickets).

    I’ve been flying since the mid 80s. There has been a contact devaluation of points (remember 1000 mile minimums anyone and 3 x point boosters for awards that are probably half the current redemption cost). That is just reality. All you do is bitch and whine whenever someone devalues points (or miles) and talk about it just isn’t worth it. If so just get a cash back card and be happy.

    As for airlines and hotels (or credit card issuers) “driving away customers” – it is all about business and supply/demand. If they can support higher prices (via points) for their services or can cut benefits without any appreciable loss of business then they will (and should for the benefit of shareholders). These companies aren’t there to reward YOU but to maximize revenue for their stakeholders. If the interests align great but you are not the priority. Get over yourselves and quit the whining PLEASE!!!!

  25. As @Jan and some others here allude to, the ease in accumulating miles in UA (and most any American program) particularly from CC sign-up bonuses, creates massive liabilities the airlines must discharge at some point. Dynamic pricing across the board is one potent way to do this.
    The real losers are those people who do not/cannot participate in the above, and need to resort to buying miles to redeem.

  26. Because of the continuing hype in here about something for which there is no tangible evidence, I just decided to search, just now, to see how every *A award I booked months ago for flying after December 12 would price today. The result? They priced ***exactly*** the same as they did back on June 15 when I did the searches:

    — TPE – NRT: Business class (I fare) on NH, 30K UA miles + $15.90
    — NRT – ICN: Business class (I fare) on CA, 30K UA miles + $33.30
    — ICN – CMB: Business class (I fare) on CA & TG, 55K UA miles + $38.30
    — CMB – BKK: Economy ticket (X fare) on TG, 25 UA miles + $111.16 (no business award tickets then, but now available for 50K UA miles + 111.16
    — BKK – PVG: Business class (I fare) on TG, 45K UA miles + $24

    So, I must repeat. What we seem to have here is a lot of the usual *predictable* noise and not a whole lot of signal.

    ***Can anyone just provide a single example that shows just how “bad” what has not yet happened is going to be? ***

  27. @rick b ssez: “Well, they’re definitely doing it. I just checked for flights to Asia in mid December. Seeing tons of EVA or ANA flights at 90k one way in coach for the holiday season. This will seriously make me reconsider earning UR points, unless Chase adds Aeroplan or some other partners.”

    Question: I do not redeem UA miles for flights from the US to Asia so (a) I have no reference for comparison and (b) I am not affected regardless, but when you say “flights to Asia in mid December” what are the departure and destination cities, and how do the costs that you are seeing compare to those before November 15?

    Another thing that is getting lost in the hype is that the FAQ about “award flights on partner airlines” does not specify which types of award flights on partner airlines. It could simply mean that the change after November 15 would apply to only United *Standard* or *Everyday* awards on partner airlines and *not* to *A* awards on partner airlines, which are always *saver awards* when they are available. Think about that…

  28. @Elias sez: “Chase UR points now are only good for Hyatt and sometimes singapore. RIP UR points.”

    HELLO! I would say that if you can redeem points for free stays at Hyatt properties and free award tickets on SQ, that is very valuable and the exact opposite of “RIP UR points”!!!

    In fact, one of the bookings I did as part of my year-end redemption above, but did not book through UA, was an award ticket on SQ (SIN-TPE, which joins up with the rest of the redemption above). I am a Krisflyer member, so rather than booking through my UA membership, I booked as a Krisflyer member. No business award tickets were available so I waitlisted. Then just a few days ago, SQ informed me that the waitlisted business award ticket had confirmed and I needed to go pay for it.

    For my travel and redemption pattern, redeeming UR points through SQ to fly on Asian *A carriers would suit me just fine.

    In short, the claimed demise of the UR point is way too premature…

  29. Just today I saw a United award on NH from LAX-NRT. the 1145am departure was 75k miles, the 12:45pm departure 85k miles. Not standardized at all.

  30. This feels like chicken little at the moment. I booked two awards for March travel from Mauritius to SFO in J on Turkish via UA. The cost: 80k.

    This is UA giving themselves flexibility in the future, as I’m not seeing any evidence of dynamic partner awards (while there is plenty of evidence that new UA metal pricing is going to suck).

  31. @Andrew sez: “…I’m not seeing any evidence of dynamic partner awards”

    Bingo. Suspect that it’s United’s “standard” or “Everyday” awards on partner airlines that will be dynamically priced and not “*A” awards on partner airlines, which are almost invariably “saver awards”, like your 80K for J on Turkish….

  32. It is 11/15 today. Has anybody noticed UA dynamically pricing partner awards? I’ve spot checked a few routes and seen no sign.

  33. Yes, it has happened. A domestic China route I regularly take on Air China used to cost 8000 award miles (it’s under 800 miles distance so the special pricing was applicable). Today I checked and it’s 11,500. Moreover, it’s the same on all dates from now until September 2021 (except for Chinese lunar new year where it’s even higher). Called United and was told it’s due to “dynamic pricing”. When I asked why not a single date was available for 8000, she said that the computer pricing algorithms priced it that way and it may change.

    Not believing it. Flexibility is pointless if all dates now start at 11,500. Feeling swindled; very disappointed United customer here.

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