United delivers more than promised with award chart changes (but they’re still not great)


First it was the 2-day delay in implementation. Then it was the all-day outage on the website for most international award searches. But now the new United Airlines award charts are bookable in the system and, quite pleasantly, not as bad as previously expected. Two main things to consider with the new rules:

Better options for short-haul connections

When the changes were first announced the rule was essentially that anything which involved a partner flight would price at the partner rate. Even if it was a short hop within a region on that partner, the original rule was that it would be a partner award. A few days later that was revised such that short-haul partner flights would be permitted within the UA rates, but only if at a class of service lower than that of the long-haul flight. So a business class award would require a partner flight to be in coach to price properly. And now we get the actual rule as implemented:

If a United/Copa award itinerary contains a connecting segment on a MileagePlus/Star partner that is wholly within one MileagePlus award region, then the United award price will apply.

  • For example: IAD-FRA in United BusinessFirst connecting to FRA-FCO in Lufthansa Business, will be priced at the United mileage award amount.
  • Note that this exception will not apply to a few specific regions and routings, such as intra-Africa connecting segments and certain fifth-freedom routes (e.g. BKK-KUL operated by Lufthansa)

This is a pretty nice give-back from United and makes a lot of sense with the way the awards are priced on the back-end.

Here’s SFO-PVG in business class showing UA and partner long-haul options and the differing prices.

SFO-NRT

 

One bit I’ve noticed in a few searches is that connecting to Asia via Japan is going to trigger a higher price in nearly every scenario because Japan is its own region and there are only two UA operated routes (SIN & ICN) onward from there. Everything else will price at the full partner rate, even if you fly UA into Asia. I saw this on a simple SFO-ICN-NRT award where even with UA on SFO-ICN it is pricing at the 75k partner rate because of the ICN-NRT on OZ in business class.

image_thumb.png

 

For travel to mainland China this means connecting in Seoul or Taipei in most cases. For travel to South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) you’ll need UA metal into Hong Kong; that’s not often an easy get.

 

What’s a “change” to an award?

When the chart adjustment was announced there was much confusion about what would qualify as a “change” to an award which would trigger a re-price. The only advice offered for the past three months was that changing the date of an award would be safe. Turns out there is more to it than that. Straight from the source:

Change clarification for itineraries booked before February 3: Many of you have also been asking about what kinds of itinerary changes will re-trigger a re-price to the new award chart, and I can share some additional follow-up details about that. As a reminder, the existing change process will apply, and any change that requires an award to re-price will require an add/collect of the additional miles under the new award price structure. Fees for change/cancel will still apply per our existing policies. Changes that will not trigger a re-price for itineraries ticketed before February 3, 2014 include:

  • Date/time (cabin, region, and award type can’t change)
  • Carrier on one or more segments (cabin, region, and award type can’t change)
  • Origin/Destination within the same regions (carrier and cabin can’t change)

This is very nice and WAY more generous than expected. United is essentially saying that an issued award is similar to a coupon valid for travel between two regions in a specific cabin. So long as you are not changing the booked cabin or the regions the “coupon” remains valid. Much like the connection rules revision this is one tips heavily in favor of the customer.

Of course, we still need to see some real-world examples of these in action. I’ve already spoken with one reader who says the changes he’s trying to make aren’t going 100% smoothly. But at least the theoretical rules are looking a bit better than previously announced.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

30 Comments

  1. Would adding intra-Europe segments to my international round trip award trigger a re-price?

    1. As I’m reading it, joshl, I don’t think the change you’re describing will require a re-price. Like I said in the post we’re going to need some more real world examples before we can draw conclusions but it seems like it might work in your favor.

      1. I’ll try to reply back here or if you send me an email, I’ll definitely let you know what happens. I currently have phl-clt-muc *open jaw* lis-clt-phl booked in business for this summer, but I’m going to try adding a couple segments into that open-jaw.

  2. If i booked an lh j flight but have an f award redemption, can I later change the j segment to f when availability pops up?

    1. I don’t think the change you’re describing will require a re-price, Keith, but it may depend on the agent interpretation of the rule. Until we see some examples it is hard to know for certain what is going to happen.

      1. Thank you, Seth! I’m looking forward to more reports. I hope one of your posts documents some of your readers’ experiences.

  3. Seth, UA does not manually price awards, like US for example. Under the new chart, does that stay the same or are agents pricing these things by hand?

    1. Trick question!

      UA actually does manually price some awards (specifically if it includes SQ metal and probably a few others), though the vast majority are auto-priced. That is not changing AFAIK.

  4. What if I have an F award issued prior to Feb 3 and only a J seat available on LH.
    Does that mean that I will trigger a re-price if F is available 14 days before departure as it is a change in cabin or does that change of cabin means that I move from J to F on the entire award?

  5. I just tried to do a test online to see if I could change the date and I got the error message. Guess I need to call and start the HUCA routine. I wonder when the first “test flight” will be? I’m sure some have flights coming up this week. UA is very frustrating.

    1. I wouldn’t trust the online system to handle the changes, Cruisr. It was only marginally functional without the complexities the new award charts have introduced and until you’re on all “new” awards I’d avoid it.

  6. Interestingly I was running some SIN-NRT tests yesterday. If booking TG J it priced out as 40k one way, but if it happened to go TG J to BKK and TG Y from BKK-NRT, the price dropped down to 35k.

  7. I made a minor change to an Award Ticket today–I was booked DEN-ORD (UA) ORD-FRA (LH) FRA-EDI (LH) (EDI=destination) EDI-FRA (LH) FRA-ZRH (LX) ZRH-YUL (LX) YUL-DEN (AC).
    Originally, the ZRH was 15 hour layover. We decided to make it a stopover, so I called today and moved the EDI-FRA-ZRH flights back a day. As advertised, it was no problem at all. All legs are in business (and have been) except the DEN-ORD. Today, the agent even put the DEN-ORG segment on a First class waitlist. I didn’t even know they still did waitlists… No one else has offered to do so.

    1. That’s great news, Denise! Sounds like a VERY successful first test of the change policies. I like that a lot.

      As for the waitlist thing, it depends on the agent you deal with. The legacy CO agents are more used to doing it.

  8. *ORD Also, thanks, Seth, for your “First Class” reminders. A couple of those intra-Europe legs were booked in Economy, and about 4 days ago, I got an alert that mileage space had opened up in business.

  9. Thank you for this info, Seth! It eases my mind, because we are currently holding MCO-PHL-YYZ-CDG, and I would love to be able to eliminate Philadelphia, if and when a MCO-YYZ segment becomes available.

    One more question: Have the stopover/open jaw rules on international RT awards changed, or will we still get one of each?

    With thanks,
    Tom

  10. does this mean if you want to change destination in same region and carrier you have to phone in one change then phone in another-you cant do both at same time?

      1. understood..

        one more thing-often changing tkt gives a new reiisue number and date will this be a problem if try to make changes later(as date will be after feb 3)

  11. I booked EWR-FRA-SSG; DLA-LBV-IST-EWR in business class, before the devaluation, but there was no business availability on FRA-SSG, so I’m in economy on that leg.

    I was assured that I would be able to change into a business class seat without repricing. The new rules aren’t clear about whether this change will trigger a reprice. Thoughts?

  12. I was able to change from SJC-DEL on ANA to SEA-DEL via SFO on UA/ANA on a different day. It also looked like I could change to any other carrier (LH, OZ) without a fare change. Just the change fee. I did it all online too

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