As promised and threatened, on November 15th 2019, United eliminated close-in booking fees and stopped publishing award charts. I previously covered my thoughts about these changes with both a pessimistic view and an optimistic view:
Both of the above posts were written before the changes went into effect. Now that the changes are in place, we’re seeing both good and bad. Let’s start with the bad:
- Higher award fees within 30 days: United appears to have replaced 21 day close-in booking fees with 30 day close-in increased award prices. Milestalk reports seeing one-way award prices inflated by 2,000 to 3,500 miles when booked within 30 days of departure. This is similar to what Delta did after dumping award charts. When this started in 2015, I called this a sneaky new close-in award ticketing fee. United seems to be doing the same but with both United and partner awards. Worse, 30 days is more than a week longer than Delta’s sneaky fee.
- Business class awards are not cheaper: With award charts disappearing, we expected to see award prices go down on cheaper flights. This already happened with economy flights well before November 15th (see: Finding United MileagePlus 5K Awards). However, we’re not seeing the same with business/first class flights. Through quite a few searches, I have yet to find a domestic first class flight priced at less than 25,000 miles one-way.
- Saver awards still bookable with partner miles: It never seemed likely to me, but with United moving towards revenue based pricing there was always the possibility that they would eliminate “saver” awards as a concept from their system. Luckily, that concept is still there and on display. That’s important because the existence of saver awards tells us that those same flights are bookable with partner miles.
- 30 day close-in award prices do not prevent booking with partner miles: This is huge. When Delta raised their close-in award prices it became impossible to book those flights with partner miles. Luckily, United is doing it differently and you can still book flights within 30 days of departure using partner miles as long as saver awards exist.
- United has kept the partner award chart intact: When Delta eliminated award charts, all charts were gone, not just those for flying Delta itself. Fortunately, United has continued to publish their partner award prices (found here).
For those that primarily book United flights with partner miles, the news is all good. You can keep doing what you’re doing. For those that book flights with United miles, the news is mixed. True, the $75 close-in fees went away (great!), but that’s not news — that was expected. The good news is that saver awards still exist, and that the partner award chart has not changed. The bad news is that we will now pay slightly higher award fees for flights booked within 30 days of departure.