United is raising the prices for some award travel. Picture is a United Boeing 787-9. Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
Skift Take: Starting July 1, United will begin hawking Chase-branded credit cards on board, with flight attendants earning a $50 commission for each approval. Will the flight attendants remind customers that they'll need a lot more miles for some trips starting later this year? We doubt it.
— Brian Sumers
Want to use United MileagePlus miles for travel on popular domestic flights?
It may soon cost you more miles. On Thursday, United said it will copy most other U.S. airlines, including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, and raise prices for the most sought-after trips. However, if a flight is not in demand, United promised to keep prices relatively low.
The change, which takes effect on November 1, makes United’s program more complicated for domestic flights. For now, on all but the shortest trips, United has two levels of coach award pricing — either 12,500 miles or 25,000 miles one-way.
Under the new system, 12,500-mile one-way tickets will remain for less-in-demand flights. But if a flight is popular — think holiday or summer travel, or even a flight on Thursday afternoon, when many business travelers prefer to fly — United will charge more miles.
The reason is simple. Airfares change constantly, and United, like its competitors, has calculated it’s not sound business to offer every domestic seat for two set prices. In addition to Delta and American, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways also require more points based on a flight’s popularity.
“Since flight prices fluctuate based on a variety of factors, we’ve decided to take those same factors into consideration for award travel pricing,” United said in a question and answer memo to employees.
For travelers, the good news is that United will cap what it charges. In the lower 48 U.S. states, United said it will require no more than 32,500 miles for one-way coach seats. It recommends customers who want the cheapest price consider “planning ahead and booking early.”
Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of the ThePointsGuy, evaluated United’s changes and said they are not as “egregious” as American’s, which last year charged as many as 75,000 miles one-way for domestic economy class flights over the Thanksgiving holiday. American made significant changes to its mileage tickets in 2016, when its president was Scott Kirby, who now has the same job at United.
Honig credited United with being more transparent than Delta, an airline that has often raised prices of award tickets without notice.
Business class tweaks
United also will require more miles for many business class tickets both within the United States — on some transcontinental flights and flights to Hawaii — and worldwide.
To many international destinations, United will require 2,500 to 10,000 more miles for business class, each way, for the cheapest awards. Prices will go up on United flights and flights flown by the airline’s partners.
United also made charges that will be welcomed by more worldly MileagePlus members. Most program members don’t redeem flights in Europe, but United will be reducing the number of miles required for short nonstops, such as Frankfurt to Paris. Savvy travelers, like Honig of the PointsGuy, often capitalize on offers outside the United States.
Still, Honig said MileagePlus will no longer be as lucrative for travelers.
“Could these changes have been a heck of a lot worse?” he said. “Absolutely. But there’s no question that this latest round of updates represents a significant devaluation.”
You can find United’s entire new award chart here.