Well that didn’t take long.
A day after United eliminated their award charts and was praised for eliminating the close-in fee as promised and retaining saver awards, United has added their first stealthy devaluation.
Many people were happy when United announced that they would eliminate their close-in award fee, but I posted back in April that I thought it would be devastating. That’s why I was surprised yesterday when it was eliminated without mileage rates going up.
But United has now added mileage surcharges onto close-in awards. That means they deceived us about partner awards not going up in cost and about the fee for close-in awards being eliminated.
For now the damage isn’t too bad, certainly nothing like what Delta does with close-in awards.
Non-elite members may prefer the new structure to the old one, as the extra 1,500-3,500 miles charged for close-in tickets is less than paying a $75 fee. However the $75 fee only applied once for round-trip tickets, while the 1,500-3,500 mile fee applies to each direction. Plus the new close-in surcharge applies to flights up to 29 days in advance as opposed to 21 days in advance.
But for higher tier elite members and United club cardholders, this represents a major devaluation as they weren’t subject to the close-in fee. It’s yet another kick in the teeth to elites after announcing the increase in spending required to earn status.
These surcharges aren’t official, they’re just what I found through searching several routes. I’m guessing that this is just a test run and that we’ll see these change in the future. My worry is that these surcharges will seem low compared to what may be introduced down the line.
I guess the good news here is that United isn’t charging Delta like rates for one-way or last minute awards. For now…
Below is what you can expect to pay in mileage above the normal saver award fees that can be found in their deleted award charts that can be seen here.
Surcharge of 2,500-3,000 miles for flights within 7 days from the day of booking.
Surcharge of 2,000-2,500 miles for flights between 8 days and 25 days from the day of booking.
Surcharge of 1,500-2,000 miles for flights between 26 and 29 days from the day of booking.
United+Partner flight combos:
Surcharge of 500-1,000 miles on top of surcharge for United flights within 29 days from the day of booking.
Surcharge of 3,500 miles for flights within 29 days from the day of booking.
One thing I found in my research shows just how poorly this has been implemented.
If I search for a flight from Cleveland to Kansas City from November 19-December 18, the return flight will be hit with a 2,500 mile surcharge, even though it is more than 29 days in advance. That matches the same surcharge as the outbound flight:
If I search for a flight from Cleveland to Kansas City from December 15-18, the return flight will be hit with a 1,500 mile surcharge, even though it is more than 29 days in advance. That matches the same surcharge as the outbound flight:
If you just book a one-way ticket for the December 18th flight from Kansas City to Cleveland it can be purchased for just 10K miles, which is the “normal” saver award rate for short-haul flights under 700 miles in distance between the origin and destination airports:
The same logic applies to any round-trip flight where the outbound flight surcharge is higher than the return flight surcharge. The solution is fairly simple, just book your ticket as 2 one-ways in order to avoid the higher surcharge on your return flight.
Of course the surcharges can be avoided altogether if you use partner award miles.
That’s not a perfect solution as United cardholders and elites get much better award availability when using United miles. But it’s certainly worth looking into when you’re looking for an award ticket.
Let’s say someone wants to fly from Cleveland to NYC tomorrow. A paid last minute ticket would be a fortune:
Delta’s close-in mileage surcharges are beyond absurd:
American blocks nonstop close-in saver award space on many routes. Instead they have economy web specials for 8K miles available, but those can’t be booked by partner airlines, so you can’t avoid the $75 close-in fee unless you have elite status.
Before today United would charge 10K miles, plus a $75 close-in fee for non-elites.
Now they charge 12.5K miles with no close-in fee:
But as this isn’t an expanded availability award for cardholders, any United partner can book it.
That means you can transfer AMEX, Capital One, Citi, or Marriott points to Lifemiles, where they only charge 6,500 miles plus a $10 booking fee for flights under 500 miles in distance:
What do you make of United’s new close-in surcharge?