United announced some changes today to their MileagePlus scheme and it’s likely that it’ll turn out to be extremely negative.
For starters, they’re eliminating their award chart for all flights on and after November 15, 2019. That’s because there’ll no longer be a minimum or maximum number of miles required for award flights. While this could result in cheaper award flights, there’s a limit to how low award flights can go. By contrast, there’s no upper limit for how expensive award flights could be, so it’s likely that we’ll see ever-increasing mileage requirements.
It remains to be seen how closely United will follow Delta’s lead with dynamic award pricing. Premium awards can be obscenely expensive when using Delta, such as 305,000-465,000 SkyMiles for a one-way flight in Delta One from Los Angeles to Sydney.
On the other hand, Delta frequently offers flash sales which can dramatically improve the redemption value of SkyMiles. For example, I just got back from a trip to Europe that only cost 35,000 miles round trip flying from Boston to London and then back to Boston from Amsterdam. American Airlines and United both wanted ~60,000 miles for similar flights, so dynamic pricing and flash sales have the potential for some bargains to be had.
One potential silver lining is that in addition to eliminating award charts, United will also be eliminating close-in booking fees. If last-minute award prices don’t increase exponentially, that’s a positive development. I suspect though that what we gain in not being charged $75, we’ll lose in how many more miles we have to pay.
Until we have some real-life examples of United’s new pricing strategy, we won’t know for sure how bad this will be. Let’s just hope United doesn’t Bonvoy their loyalty scheme and change it from MileagePlus to MileageMinus.