United has addressed some initial confusion stemming from its announcement yesterday that on 01 February 2014 the award chart chart will be massacred.
1. United claims the cost of premium seats on partner carriers is “out of sync” with what current mileage levels.
Frankly, the levels at which we currently offer these awards, particularly in the premium cabins, have not kept up with the increased cost from our partners to United. It’s been several years since we’ve adjusted our award pricing, and in many cases what we’ve been charging for awards has gotten highly out of sync with what it costs United to supply partner award seats to our customers. Being able to book premium-cabin award travel across 30+ MileagePlus partners is of course a strong benefit of the program, and we wanted to maintain access to these itineraries instead of restricting them altogether—an approach other programs have taken.
With no transparency into what United actually pays for these seats, we can only take United’s word for this, but I find it unlikely that United would allow such an imbalance to exist for so long. I also find it a non-credible threat that United would ever restrict access to these seats altogether, though legacy United demonstrated this was more than theoretically possible with StarNet blocking.
2. Award date changes after 01 Feb 2014 will not incur repricing.
Our existing change process will apply. Changes to awards that require a change in date do not result in a change to the award price. Any other change will require an add/collect in miles and fees for changes or cancellations will still apply as per our existing policies.
We still need more clarification in this area–if origin/destination remain the same but routings or carriers change, will there still be no reprice? That could be very valuable, particularly for MileagePlus elite members who can modify award reservations for no fee. I am fully prepared to zero out my MileagePlus account, as depressing as that makes me feel.
3. For United awards (much cheaper), connecting flights on Star Alliance carriers can be added as long they are in a lower cabin of service.
Finally, a note about mixed-carrier Saver Awards. Although there will now be two charts, it will be still be possible to combine United/United Express and MileagePlus partner award flights on the same itinerary. However, the MileagePlus partner award cabin level will need to be lower than that of the United-operated segment(s) in order to take advantage of the United Saver Award price. So, for a US to Europe itinerary where the long-haul segment is in United Global First, the intra-Europe connecting segment would need to be in Business or Economy (as they typically already are) to take advantage of the United Saver Award price. Similarly, for a US to Europe itinerary where the long-haul segment is in United BusinessFirst, the intra-Europe connecting segment would need to be in Economy to take advantage of the United Saver Award price.
This has to be the oddest of the rule changes, though at least it allows flyers to reach the 2/3s of Star Alliance destinations that United does not serve directly. Still, it seems foolhardy that you pay United for a business class ticket and on the one hour flight from Frankfurt to Nice you are relegated to coach even if there is business class space. But this is a concession–if you can call it that–that will help lessen the pain.
More analysis will be forthcoming.