United dropped the heartbreaking news on Friday afternoon that they will move MileagePlus from an award chart based redemption system to dynamically priced awards.
Like a paid ticket, the price for the award will be whatever United says it is when you search for it. For now, partner award prices haven’t changed, but when Delta switched to this system 4 years ago they started devaluing those awards without any notice.
Instead of being able to save up for an aspirational award with a fixed price, you’ll just have to hope you can find a sale.
Some bloggers reported that the “bright side” of the news was that United will get rid of the $75 close-in fee for booking an award within 21 days.
Sadly that is a fallacy. Many people were happy when Delta got rid of their close-in fee, but they more than made up for it by charging more miles for tickets within 3 weeks of travel.
In other words because Delta dynamically changes award prices, the miles needed for travel within 3 weeks is higher as the paid price for the ticket is higher. The greatest mileage values in an award chart based system are often for last minute travel as prices go up, but mileage rates stayed the same. A $75 close-in fee was a fair trade-off for that.
Plus United Club cardholders and higher tier elites don’t pay that close-in fee.
With American’s scarce award availability and Delta’s higher rates within 3 weeks, United has been an excellent option for close-in travel. I fear that will go away when United gets rid of their award charts.
Allow me to demonstrate what I mean.
I find that paid airline tickets are typically cheapest between 3-9 weeks before the flight. More than a couple months into the future you’ll often pay more than what you would if you wait. Less than a few weeks until travel and you can start paying more with each passing day.
Let’s say I want to fly from Cleveland to NYC.
Here is what a one-way nonstop paid ticket will cost on any airline this month from Cleveland to EWR, JFK, or LGA:
Sure, Delta doesn’t charge a close-in fee. But Delta’s dynamically priced awards cost much more in miles than $75 for close-in travel. That takes away from the potential value of Delta Skypesos as the cost in miles closely mirrors the cost of a paid ticket.
Delta close-in availability, nonstop CLE-NYC:
American charges a close-in fee, but their close-in availability is often blacked out. I haven’t been an AA fan since USAirways took them over.
AA close-in availability, nonstop CLE-NYC:
On the other hand, United’s close-in availability is excellent, which is one reason why I’ve always prized their miles.
United close-in availability, nonstop CLE-NYC:
The same applies to other routes:
Delta close-in availability, nonstop LAX-NYC:
AA close-in availability, nonstop LAX-NYC:
United close-in availability, nonstop LAX-NYC:
Delta close-in availability, nonstop NYC-London:
AA close-in availability, nonstop NYC-London (BA flights that have fuel surcharges are excluded from this search) :
United close-in availability, nonstop NYC-London:
United MileagePlus has a lot going for it. They are part of Star Alliance, which means they have tons of great partner airlines with good award availability. Hopefully they don’t kill that with higher pricing.
And as you can see, their close-in availability is fantastic.
I sure hope I’m wrong, but my guess is that #MileagePlus will slowly morph into #MileageMinus with these new changes.