United will be making some massive changes to their MileagePlus frequent flyer program. They haven’t formally announced these changes, but rather have just talked to some bloggers. Since they didn’t contact me, I’ll just go off what other bloggers have shared.
These changes are awful.
United isn’t just following Delta’s lead when it comes to their frequent flyer program, but in many ways is surpassing them when it comes to lack of transparency and dynamic award pricing.
I mean, I think their intentions are pretty clear, based on the fact that they lifted the embargo on this news on a Friday afternoon, which is when you announce things that you know are objectively negative.
What MileagePlus is changing
A few weeks ago there was some buzz around MileagePlus pricing domestic economy awards at a much lower rate than was reflected in the United Award chart. At the time I noted:
Personally I’m much more concerned about the overall trend we’re seeing from United MileagePlus as they move towards dynamic award pricing.
We’re seeing more variability than ever before when it comes to United’s award pricing, and I don’t consider that to be a good thing, especially for those of us looking to get outsized value from our miles.
And that seems to in fact be the case. For travel starting November 15, 2019:
- MileagePlus redemption rates on United will be dynamic, and there will no longer be a minimum or maximum price for awards
- United isn’t immediately adjusting redemption costs on partner airlines, but they’re also not publishing a partner award chart anymore, so I expect we’ll see those change over time
United says that these changes are being made to better “match award pricing to customer demand.” Of course in reality this means a lot more customers will be paying a lot more miles for a lot more travel. Airlines make these changes because they’ll come out ahead, not because members come out ahead.
The only good news is that United is eliminating close-in award ticketing fees as of that date. That’s not surprising, though, given that the program is now revenue based, so you’ll be charged based on how much a ticket costs.
My initial take on this news
Based on my initial check of United award pricing, it seems to me like prices largely aren’t changing that radically overnight between November 14 and November 15. However, I imagine that’s intentional, because they don’t want the changes to seem too radical at first.
I imagine over time the changes will get significantly worse, since there will be no transparency here, and soon enough we’ll see MileagePlus award tickets that cost a million miles, like we see with SkyMiles.
Lastly, it’s worth explaining that there’s a difference between dynamic pricing and fully revenue based pricing. That’s to say that a ticket that’s retailing for $10,000 in cash won’t necessarily cost 100x as many miles as a ticket retailing for $100 in cash.
Update: Having slept on this, I have quite a few more thoughts on the United change, and what it means for the future of frequent flyer programs.
Using United miles
I’ll of course have more thoughts on the best ways to use United miles going forward once we see the full impact of these changes. Partner awards won’t be immediately impacted by the move to dynamic pricing, so those will likely continue to be the best value.
In the meantime, there are several great United redemptions you may want to consider before the new pricing takes effect.
And for future reference, you can find the full United award charts here.
What’s your first thought regarding these MileagePlus changes?