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Yesterday I wrote about the change United made to add a revenue component to elite status. Later in the day I discussed that even though I did not like the changes at all, there were some semi “upsides”. One of those was that it did not impact those who didn’t care about elite status and instead primarily redeemed award tickets to fly on United. While there are certainly plenty of United elites that read this site, there are far more people who read this site (and travel in general) who don’t have elite status. Yesterdays revenue changes didn’t impact those folks one bit.
However, the change that was announced shortly before midnight last night (really, United?) hits non-elite award travelers. Previously anyone could make changes to an award ticket at least 21 days before departure for free as long as the origin and destination remained the same. This meant you could change the times of your flights, the routing from connecting flights to non-stop, or even change the dates of your trip. I wrote about that policy here, and even though there was sometimes confusion with that policy from United, it was there and it was very helpful when making plans for family trips.
Elites are spared this one as it is still free for all United elites to make these sort of changes to their trips 21 days before departure, but non-elite members are now hit with a $75 fee for changes at least 21 days before departure. That wasn’t the only fee increase that was announced just before midnight. Here is a list of all of the award fee changes.
- $75 for non-elites to change award tickets 21 days+ before departures (with no change to origin or destination)
- $100 (up from $75) for non-elites to make any change less than 21 days prior to the date of travel; or changing origin/destination at any time
- $200 (up from $150) for non-elites to cancel the trip and re-crediting the miles, regardless of the date
You can see the new award fee chart here
…and the old award chart here.
One of the reasons I highly value my United Platinum elite status is so that I can re-deposit awards or make changes at any time without a charge. I book as many awards out of my account as possible (and my husband has lower tier United status that helps him a little), but our daughter also accrues miles that we use from time to time and has no status. Even though I have Platinum status, that does not translate to my daughter’s account that I manage. Thus, even parents who are United elites are hit by these changes since they apply to their dependents’ non-elite accounts.
There isn’t much of an upside to share about this change. I can say that when you book far in advance there are often schedule changes initiated by the airline that can then allow you to make some free changes to your award ticket, or potentially even cancel it if the routing no longer works for you. There is no magic threshold of how large the schedule change has to be in order for you to be able to make free changes, but it never hurts to call in and try if you notice there has been a schedule change. I generally have had great flexibility when dealing with schedule changes. If you have the United Club Card you are spared the close-in booking fee even if you don’t have elite status, but it doesn’t get you out of any of these other fees.
If you don’t have elite status, I would also recommend booking award tickets that you think have a greater likelihood of potentially needing changes with another carrier. Just yesterday I cancelled a British Airways Avios award (on American Airlines metal) that I no longer needed. I have no elite status with BA or American, but still only lost $5.00 in taxes for cancelling the award online. I got all of my Avios back and was able to do the entire transaction online within seconds. Be aware that there is technically a $40 fee for changes or re-deposits with BA, but online cancels are only resulting in a loss in the taxes paid. I’ll take losing a few dollars in taxes over $200 every day of the week.
Another option for domestic travel is shifting more focus to Southwest who doesn’t charge for bags, doesn’t have seat assignments, and doesn’t charge for changing or redepositing award tickets. If you live near a Southwest served airport, fly domestically, and don’t care about elite status this really is worth considering – especially if you can get the Companion Pass!
These changes apply to United tickets issued on or after today, June 19. Nothing like a little advance notice to lessen the blow. At least this doesn’t impact anything you already have booked with United, but do be aware it will impact anything you book from today forward. I sure do hope United’s next announcement includes good news of some sort.
Thanks to Amol @ Hack My Trip for sharing the (bad) news.