polaris united seat

For those deep into using miles and points to book flights, award charts are the backbone of the whole loyalty system. If you’re unfamiliar with award charts, these charts let you know how many miles you need to redeem to book an award ticket on a given route and they’re a simple way to help you plan.

United had just such a chart. You could simply look at the chart, find the region from which you would be departing and the region to which you would love to fly and, voila, you’d know how many miles you needed to start saving for your dream trip.

If that seems simple, it’s because it is simple. Well, at least as far as points go.

Unfortunately, United has decided to revamp its MileagePlus program and ditch the award charts — for flights starting November 15, 2019 — and instead chosen to make it annoyingly difficult to know how many miles are needed for award fights.

Delta already operates this way and the situation isn’t pretty. From staggeringly high redemption rates on many dates to unannounced devaluations, life has been tough for those with SkyMiles.

With United going the way of Delta, we wouldn’t blame you for worrying. Here’s what it all means.

Why This Is Bad For You

United Interactive Award Chart

I’ll try not to get carried away with this but no promises.

Let’s start with the simple. Until this change, you could look at an award chart to see how many United miles would be required for an award ticket, which is a ticket where you cash in your points. As a judicious user of miles, you knew that saver level — the fewest number of miles required — was the best way to book and that helped you plan for your next trip.

You may have noticed that on some dates United needed more points — what it calls Everyday level, but you knew the lowest possible mileage cost between two places. It’s nice to set goals.

With a goal number in mind, you could then earn United miles directly with Chase United cards or transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your United account. For those who book a lot of paid flights, you could calculate how long it would take to earn enough miles for your next aspirational award ticket from all your flights.

With variable award rates, United can move the price around at a whim. There’s literally no way to know how many points any flight in the world will cost.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this nonsense before. Delta removed award charts from its website several years ago, leaving the average traveler with no ability to calculate how many miles they’ll need, for anything. Search one day, it might be 50,000 points, search another, it may be 500,000 – for the same exact flights!

As a reference point, you could look at an entire year’s worth of dates on a route to find what the lowest going rate on select dates might be, but who wants to do that> Better question: who should have to? Aren’t points complicated enough?

This “dynamic pricing” structure can argue in favor of upside, like pricing awards cheaper — and United will surely promote that there are some cheaper economy awards from time to time — but, if you look at what Delta has done, it’s hard to see how this won’t lead to tons of dates with terrible redemption rates. In fact, just about every date you might want to book could have sky-high prices.

Good deals using United miles will become the exception to the rule.

Covering It Up With Spin

United 737 MAX 9

Speaking of United spinning the rare positive into some huge gain for consumers, let’s talk some more about spin. United has also made two other changes. First, United will no longer charge a close-in booking fee to book an award within 21 days of departure. Second, you will now earn miles instantly once you have completed your travel with United.

Removing a close-in booking fee — as of November 15 — is a bit like someone punching you in the face then asking you to thank them for stopping. Never mind that United didn’t need to charge a close-in booking fee in the first place. United doesn’t get kudos for this. Nice try.

When it comes to miles posting instantly, I mean… good job? United now has the tech in place to put in right where it should be in 2019. Again, are we really going to fall over ourselves to thank United for handling basic stuff?

The fact that United is promoting these changes as the entire MileagePlus program is devalued might be the most frustrating part of this whole ordeal. We’re not stupid enough to be distracted by a small shiny object while getting hosed.

Final Thoughts

It’s not that we’re entirely surprised by this move by United, it’s just that we’re sick and tired of being treated like chumps. The constant effort to gut loyalty programs while spinning things as good for us is maddening.

Assuming United goes full Delta and lets you redeem miles for just about any flight, we just don’t see how this will be good for you unless you earn more points than you can possibly burn. If that’s the case, cheers to you. Sure, this technically gives you more options, but most are absolutely terrible options which no one who’s working towards a goal will be able to realistically achieve.

I’m sure United would love to say this makes things easier for you but that’s garbage spin which hasn’t worked before. Unless they keep the lowest level award rates in place and continue to offer award tickets at those levels at the same rate as they previously have, this isn’t simpler.

Frankly, if they wanted to do that, they could’ve just left the charts up, so you, your uncle or your friends could know how many miles you’ll need to save for that dream business class flight to Europe, Asia or any other exciting place, even if it’s the next state over.

For now, we’ll have to take solace in the fact that United won’t be messing with the miles required for awards on its partners.

H/T: View From The Wing

Spencer Howard

Spencer Howard is a credit card rewards and award travel expert. He’s living proof that points and miles can unlock many of the greatest travel experiences and uses his skills to tick off new bucket...

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23 Comments

  1. You might be the only guy who actually tells it like it is with this nonsense move by United. It’s a massive devaluation. We know who’s next to do this too. Damn shame.

    1. It’s so frustrating. Definitely not the post I wanted to write today. I’ve been meaning to consolidate my thoughts/issues with Delta in a post and now it seems United wants to compete for my frustration.

  2. Yeah this is very bad news. Well said. Just another copy Delta tactic. Problem for United is that they aren’t Delta. If they don’t differentiate , they got nothing left to offer.

    1. You hit the nail on the head – differentiate. It seems like so little thought is put into that by the big 3 US carriers these days. Instead, they just stick closely to what the others are doing. It would be great if even just one of them was innovative and made positive moves.

    2. hahaha nothing to differentiate ? do you live inside a rat hole ? Did UA follow DL and surrender HKG because DL is too worthless to fly a monopoly route ?

      1. Hey Henry – Thanks for reading. I’m mostly looking at this from the perspective of the loyalty programs. However,I don’t think we can use one route as an example of airlines putting a ton of effort into differentiating.

      2. Seriously, the big 3 US carriers are becoming more similar… Sub-par service, copy each other with economy basic fares, mediocre catering, consistent complaints about competion from foreign carriers, hyped roll out of “industry leading” cabins (new Polaris product misleading and slowww to appear; AA 737 Oasis super sucks with uncomfortable seats and bathroom). Lame

        1. I keep hoping that one of them will break the trend and go their own way, but it looks unlikely at this point.

          1. I thought they landed Jet Blue as a transfer partner after losing KE? Big loss and small gain in my book, though. With potential United devaluations, Citibank becomes the most valuable transferable air currency for my needs.

          2. Yeah, I just don’t consider that on the same level with JetBlue’s revenue-based redemptions. As a huge ThankYou Points fan, I won’t argue. 🙂 Lots of value there. I think it’s all about making the transferable points program work together for your needs.

    1. Shouldn’t mess with the regions. Would be nice if they’d include Japan in North Asia rather than making it its own region.

  3. It is indeed insulting when companies pee on our shoes then tell us it’s raining. At least try and treat customers like intelligent adults.

    I can’t believe they made immediate flight credits something to brag about.

    Thanks for an honest and even post.

    1. Thanks for reading, Ryan! I think a lot of us continue to be frustrated by this kind of behavior. The instant crediting of miles bit was just silly if you ask me.

  4. Let’s just be frank about this: UA wants to make it as difficult as possible for its loyalists to be able to redeem their miles for award seats. Let me emphasize: Make it as difficult as possible!!! How can a person plan for a trip if they don’t know how much it will cost them??? How can a person know if they have enough miles or not??? Especially when UA can change the rates on a whim at the last minute???? It’s amazing ( or may be not?) that UA would do this to their most loyal customers???? Why???? Is it because they are bleeding money and suffering huge losses??? NO!!! They are already making HUGE profits and just need to make even more so that the current executives can enjoy a larger near term bonus, and of course, couldn’t care less about how this will damage the company long term. The current executives will be long gone with their loot by the time these actions start hurting the company. Utterly Despicable.

  5. “…distracted by a small shiny object while getting hosed…”
    When I read that I got a really funny cartoon visual. Hilarity…
    Thanks!

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