Ben Mutzabaugh , USA TODAY
United Airlines announced that it is making changes to frequent-flier awards offered through its MileagePlus loyalty program.
The airline will now move to a “dynamic pricing model” where the number of miles needed for an award ticket will vary from flight to flight. The change will take effect for award tickets booked for travel on Nov. 1 and beyond.
United says those new “Every Day Awards” that fluctuate in price will replace its “Standard Awards,” currently its highest-mileage option for award tickets.
United’s low-level “Saver” awards will remain. The airline says it will increase the availability of those award types by more than 10% throughout U.S. and Canadian markets.
With the changes, United customers will no longer have just two levels (“Saver” and “Standard”) when booking award tickets.
“Today our customers have only two price points,” says Praveen Sharma, United’s vice president of digital products and analytics. But once the changes begin, “they will have multiple price points every day.”
In making the changes, however, United stressed it will continue to publish an award chart that gives a baseline for the amount of miles needed for a free ticket.
Delta Air Lines has come under fire from many of its frequent-fliers after it stopped publishing a public award chart two years ago. Delta’s change came is it also moved to a dynamic pricing model for its mileage awards. But, by eliminating its award chart, critics say Delta has obscured the value of its SkyMiles program by making it difficult for customers to understand what their miles can be used for.
“Unlike some of our competitors, we will have a published award chart and we’ll stick the ranges in that award chart,” Sharma says. “We will not have exceptions.”
To coincide with its move to dynamic pricing, United will publish a new award chart. But the current chart will remain in effect for flights booked through the end of October, a move United says gives customers nearly four months of advance warning about the change.
Sharma acknowledged some award levels will change. Most notable for U.S. fliers is that the range for free domestic award tickets will increase. Currently, economy seats go for 25,000 miles round trip at the “Saver” and 50,000 miles round trip at the “Standard” level. Starting with tickets booked for travel on Nov. 1 and after, the upper range will move to 65,000 miles round trip.
Sharma suggests that’s largely because of the increase of the airline’s high-end service on some transcontinental routes. For example, United has started offering flat-bed seats on a handful of such routes.
Sharma says that on those routes, “the product is significantly better and deserved a different pricing.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how many other domestic flights might be subject to United’s new 65,000-mile ceiling.
More broadly, United acknowledged that miles needed for tickets at peak travel times and for “popular markets” could climb under the new Everyday Award chart as compared to the current Standard Award prices. However, United counters that Everyday Award prices may now be lower the current mileage requirements for flights at off-peak times.
United posted a message about the changes to its frequent-fliers on Thursday.
“Planning ahead and booking early is a great way to take advantage of potential savings that may be available during off-peak travel times,” United says in the message.
One other notable change is a no-show fee for customers who cancel an award booking but decline to cancel before departure. United says customers who do that will be able to have miles redeposited into their accounts, but only for a fee of $125.
No changes are being made to United’s MileagePlus Upgrade Awards.