United Adds Mileage Surcharge For Close-In Award Bookings, Here Are Ways To Avoid Them

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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.

United flights:
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.

Partner flights:
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:

 

You can find more of United’s Star Alliance partners and where you can transfer mileage from in this chart.

What do you make of United’s new close-in surcharge?

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15 Comments On "United Adds Mileage Surcharge For Close-In Award Bookings, Here Are Ways To Avoid Them"

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Joetraveller

So, no way to dodge the surcharge completely on an expanded availability award ticket?

yup

I always found united agents willing to waive the close in fee

Diane

What is Lifemiles?

Danny

Another way to screw 1K customers

bruce

Is it to late to set up a plan B if I already have an economy saver booked? The economy saver that I booked is presently not available anymore.

Curry

You can still set it up.

yankel

with this immediate blog comments, they are surely going to make changes… maybe even to match or at least be comparable to the competition
we all know the airlines cohort and collude. its so evident by the pace of implementing the changes. especially the big 3
its anti trust at its best yet barely gets attention until the hill has a hearing – which was a complete joke in its own right – after some dr gets dragged off a plane
the airlines are in the business of making money
they are finding new and creative ways to do so and they should be applauded for that even though its at the customer expense
to offset, by the airline stocks and at least you will benefit from that avenue

How

I found that if you look for a round trip within 21 days as 2 one ways you will pay more miles than booking as a round trip.

How

NYC-IAH 11-22 – 11-24
NYC-LAX 11-22 – 11-24
15K as a one-way
14,500 as a roundtrip

Dav

since both of those awards are marked saver How would we know if an award isn’t or is expended availability?

BFinCLE

@Dan Is there any reason now with the lack of close in booking fees to have the united club card and pay $450 instead of just the regular card to have the expanded award availability?

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