We’re only a day into United’s new dynamic award pricing era and already we are seeing partner awards pricing higher. This directly contradicts what was promised when these changes were first announced in April.
Back in April, United announced that it was eliminating award charts and moving to a more dynamic pricing model for award travel starting on November 15, 2019. But while it was made clear that United flights would fluctuate in price, United promised there would be no immediate changes to pricing on partner award space (partners like Lufthansa or ANA or Ethiopian).
I had a lengthy conversation with Luc Bondar, United’s Vice President of Loyalty and head of the MileagePlus program on this very issue. I asked why would United eliminate award chart for partner awards if there was no plan to increase pricing on such awards.
He stressed the “simplifying” goal once again and told me that partner awards, at least for the foreseeable future, would remain at a fixed level. Furthermore, he assured me there were “no plans” to increase pricing on these awards in November.
Well, here we are and prices have gone up in a very methodical way. By 3,500 miles each way to be exact…
Yesterday morning, partner awards (partner itineraries with no United segments) were still pricing at old levels. For example, a one-way journey between the USA and Europe priced in 30K for economy class, 70K for business class, and 110K for first class.
But by yesterday evening, pricing had jumped by 3.5K points in each direction for flights occurring in the next 30 days.
As you can see, economy class is now 33.5K, business class is 73.5K, and first class is 113.5K. If booking more than 30 days in advance, the old pricing remains.
Put simply, United eliminated its $75 close-in booking fee and replaced it with a 3,500 mile surcharge.
Of all the people at United, Luc Bondar is one of my favorites. He’s a straight shooter and not one that would blatantly lie. But while part of me hopes that this is just an error, I am doubtful.
Here, as always with airline loyalty programs, the problem is not the change itself, but the dishonest way in which it was introduced.
United should be ashamed of itself for explicitly promising no changes to partner award pricing only to increase pricing immediately and without any notice.
But I must say, I called it, didn’t I? From April 8th:
United will not change pricing on partner awards in the near future. That’s good news. But the removal of award charts also removes accountability. Delta also did not immediately increase the price of partner flights overnight. It happened over time. But when it happened, it was swift and painful (30% price increase). And of course, Delta denied a devaluation…how can it raise the price when there is no price published?
Much more so than SkyTeam, Star Alliance partners tend to release award space at the last minute. That makes booking last-minute awards a much more valuable proposition on United than on Delta.
My fear is that United will start charging more miles for close-in bookings, just like Delta. Flying to Asia on Delta? It’s 105K miles if you are booking within 21 days of travel or 85K miles if you are booking more than three weeks out. Delta pays the same price to its partner for award space. The increased pricing is simply a mileage-based close-in booking fee.
If United starts charging a premium for close-in partner awards, its greatest program offering, then I don’t see how it will make sense to continue with the MileagePlus program for my own travel needs.
> Read More: My Thoughts On United MileagePlus Changes
Are you surprised that United broke its promise to consumers?
image: Edwin Leong