Increased United Award Change Fees for Non-Elites

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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. 

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  1. Oh man. I was so happy to hear this only applies to tickets issued after June 19. I have one right now that I am going to need to change the date of the last leg. For 3 tickets. That $225 would have hurt and probably made it not worth it. (This was a separate “stopover” I added at the end of my Thailand roundtrip for next March. You know….that “free one way” ticket 🙂 )

    This is still bad news for the future though. Boo! 🙁

  2. I thought the new rule was the old rule and lived with a connection on my recent return leg with the fam. If I knew about no fee’s for same city’s I would have more closely stalked the direct, non-red eye SAN to IAD flight.

    One other tip, the $395 club card gets you out of these fees IIRC. May be worth it for low level elites or other borderline folks. 1.5 miles per $ spent isn’t bad either.

  3. It would really be lovely to have some actual innovation in the loyalty space, creating family accounts where miles and some of the benefits of status can be pooled in limited ways, like award ticketing rules for any awards coming from the pooled account where at least one person has a particular status level. But it wouldn’t extend to upgrade priority, for example.

    Pie in the sky stuff, I’m sure.

  4. D, good reminder about the Club card. I’ll add that in, though I think it only gets you out of close-in award booking fees. Sorry you didn’t know about the old rule – it was a good one.
    Joe, agree.
    Corey, couldn’t agree more. I think that would be a welcome change to have United allow free transfer of miles between household accounts of immediate family members. I don’t think it is that unrealistic to want – though agree I’m not sure they really have any good additions heading our way right now.

  5. There’s definitely something refreshing about speculatively booking an award ticket on Southwest, knowing that if you won’t end up taking the trip, you can just cancel the ticket for a full redeposit of points, no fees incurred.

  6. I also noticed their website now forces you to agree to any schedule changes before they let you view or modify your reservation. I would advise not to agree and save it until you need to make a change so that it’s free, and you can potentially rebook yourself onto flights that don’t even have open award seats.

  7. Wow, United is making Delta seem better and better each day. More fees than DL and poor customer service on top of it? Must be a race to the bottom. 😉
    I wonder how the new AA will shake out, given these policies. AA could either be the new go to airline that doesn’t have these restrictions or they could just join the herd.
    In the end, the real winner for the US domestic business travel market may be Alaska. With both DL and AA as partners, it is easy to credit flights to them. On the redemption side, they partner with some solid international airlines, like British Airways, that can also accept miles from AMEX and Ultimate Rewards.

  8. Before, it just shows the modified times in red and displays a warning, but you could still work on the reservation, like changing seats, changing segments, etc.. Now, before you can do anything like that, it requires you to agree to the new times, hence waiving your right to later complain about the changes and use them as an excuse to rebook to a more favorable time.

  9. On Monday, I just changed from Economy international award (SFO – IST) to business international award (same day, still SFO – IST). So I paid 20k more miles, and a $75 change fee since I was “switching classes”.
    Is this normal? Or was this a part of the new policy?

    • Kathleen, I have heard that one go either way, but I do think it was within their rules to charge a fee for a change in cabin.

  10. This policy really hurts families. My 9 year old has 50k miles and gets around 10k more each year when we travel as a family. Sure, I can get elite status and use credit card spend to avoid the changes they just made to elite qualification, but my child can not get a credit card in his own name. So there is no way that he is ever going to be anything other than a general member under the new 2014 rules. This change makes using his miles even more difficult than it already is. I am afraid to buy him a ticket on his own pnr using his miles because of an irrops situation we had once in which he was protected on a different flight from me – one day later! I am really frustrated with UA right now. 🙁

  11. Nearly every day recently, the majors have made changes that make Southwest seem better and better. I wonder if the FFP managers own Southwest stock?

    • Miles, yes but I hate that you then can’t book for non-household members so I don’t personally use that feature. Works great for some though!

  12. Note that the UA award change/cancel fees are based on the elite status of the account that pays for the trip, not the status of the traveler. For families, a good strategy (that isn’t always feasible) is to book everyone in a single reservation, with the elite member using their miles to pay for everyone. That protects everyone in case of irrops and minimizes change/cancel fees.

    • UAPhil, very good strategy that we use as well. However, doesn’t help when it comes time to use miles from the other accounts. Sure do wish they allowed free household transfers. 😉

  13. @mommypoints.

    I sometimes have schedule changes to my award tx occur in the form of clearing a wait list. Are these changes now also subject to the new $75 change fee?

    • Winger, good question. I could guess but I’m honestly not 100% sure (my guess would be no, but I don’t know).

  14. With the recent devaluation of the United awards chart, I’m trying to plan ahead and book all my trips prior to February 1, 2014. With that said, one trip will occur late December ’14 through early January ’15. Assuming I can book 330 days prior, I’d be able to get my outbound flights before the devaluation, but would not be able to book the flights home since it will be too far in the future. Do i need to book a dummy return flight and then call in later when the flight is available to book and pay the $75 change fee? Is that my only option? Thanks for all the help!

    • Nick, date changes are supposedly the only changes that won’t trigger a re-pricing, so that is your best bet. There will likely be a $75 fee imposed per ticket if you don’t have United elite status.

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