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United’s Changing Award Booking Process and Fees on October 6

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Update: We updated this post to include an example of a stopover that can be booked now but won’t be available beginning October 6.

United continues to offer one of the most generous frequent flyer programs when it comes to flexibility, offering stopovers and open jaws on round-trip awards. I’ve taken advantage of this generosity on numerous occasions, but unfortunately there are some major changes on the horizon. As of October 6, the airline is switching up the process for booking multi-stop itineraries, and it’ll be adjusting award fees as well.

So what’s changing, exactly? Essentially, the current process of adding stopovers and open jaws to a round-trip award will be no more. Instead, each “trip” will be priced individually, as multiple one-way flights combined into a single itinerary. Fortunately, UA is allowing customers to still add on a free stopover, as something the airline is calling an “Excursionist Perk.”

Rather than try to explain what that means, I’ll show you a couple of examples, courtesy of United.

Here’s a round-trip award to Paris with a stopover in London, booked now, and after October 6:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.23.24 AM

As you can see, the stopover is still free, and you can book an open jaw as well — say, Chicago to London, London to Paris and Brussels to Newark — but you wouldn’t be able to add a free stop in the US upon your return, as you can do now:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 12.06.38 PM

This perk also extends to more complicated itineraries:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.28.24 AM

United is positioning this change as an improvement — which it largely is for most customers who may not be familiar with the airline’s current award routing rules. As part of this change, United is publicizing the stopover perk, which will in turn make MileagePlus more valuable for the majority of members — just not you and me. Additionally, the airline says that customers will now be able to book more complicated itineraries online, freeing up agents for other calls.

Here’s how United explains the Excursionist Perk:

The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free, if it meets all of these conditions:

 

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)
  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  • The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

As part of this change, United is eliminating around-the-world awards.

And, unfortunately, with this change comes a new fee structure. Here’s how it breaks down:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.15.16 AM

By comparison, here’s the current fee structure:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.34.38 AM

Right off the bat, you’ll notice that Premier Platinum members are no longer grouped in with 1K and Global Services members — they now have their own tier. Award changes and cancelations will continue to be free for 1Ks and above, but Platinum members will pay $50 when making a change within 60 days of departure. Silver and Gold members will be paying more in most cases as well, though Silver elites will pay $100 to redeposit an award within 60 days of departure, vs. the $125 redeposit fee they’ll pay now. General members will pay less to redeposit an award, but more to make some changes.

Additionally, while higher fees currently kick in when changes are made within 20 days of departure, they’ll now be due when you make changes to an award within 60 days of your flight. As the airline explains:

A reduced fee is applied for members making changes to awards 61 or more days prior to original departure date instead of 21 days to encourage members to maintain their travel plans closer to departure. When a customer changes or cancels a ticket closer to departure date, it reduces the chance for that seat to be used by another customer.

Note that awards booked before October 6 will be honored as ticketed, so the current rules will apply across the board, including when it comes to change fees. So if you don’t like these new changes, be sure to ticket your award flights by October 5! The airline has many other answers to your questions in an FAQ section on the page outlining these new procedures.

What do you think of these United MileagePlus changes?

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