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There are three certainties in life…death, taxes, and airline and hotel award chart changes. Just when you learn the rules and sweet spots, they inevitably change. We are just over two weeks away from some pretty big award routing rule and fee changes for those of us who frequently use the United MileagePlus award chart for our mileage fueled trips.
While you can’t stop these sort of changes from happening, you can delay their impact as long as possible by booking as much as you can before the changes kick in on October 6, 2016. Awards booked before that date will be subject to the old/current rules and fees, so you can potentially lock in some trips until early September 2017 playing by the current rulebook.
I outlined the changes coming in more detail previously, but here are three United MileagePlus awards you should book before October 6, 2016.
Trips between zones where you want to add a “free” one-way leg tagged onto the beginning or end of the trip.
Via the current United award rules you can have a stopover and two open-jaws on round trip awards that involve two zones. Beginning October 6th, those rules will be replaced with an “Excursionist Perk”, which is “a free one-way award within select multi-city trips” that cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates and must be in the same region as your destination. I’ll get back to what that means in a second.
As a relatively simple example of what is allowed via the current rules, I could book a trip from Houston – Frankfurt (destination) – Houston (stopover) – Honolulu (destination via open-jawed trip) for just 65,000 miles in economy. The “free” one-way added on to go to Honolulu at a later date isn’t exactly free as it added on 5,000 miles to the normal 60,000 mile economy round trip saver award to Europe since it is grouped differently than the lower 48 where the trip originated. However, that is a lot less than the 22,500 miles that one-way flight would normally cost by itself.
Beginning October 6th this trip would price each leg individually at 30,000 miles for each leg to/from Europe and another 22,500 miles for the final flight to Hawaii as it would not qualify as the excursionist perk since it is not in the same region as our destination in Europe. That trip would come to 82,500 miles beginning October 6th instead of the current 65,000 miles. If you want to book one of these trips with a “free” one-way at the beginning or end of the trip, do it before the changes kick in. You can read another post about United free one-ways here.
Trips Where You Want Your Stopover and Destination in Different Zones
Even if you don’t want a free one-way, but simply want to stop say, in Europe on the way to Asia, that seems like it will be against the rules beginning October 6th since the new “Excursionist Perk” requires your stopover and your destination to be in the same geographical region.
This means you could do something like Houston – Frankfurt (free stopover via Excursionist Perk) – Rome (destination) – Houston. However, you could not do Houston – Frankfurt (free stopover) – Hong Kong (destination) – Houston without paying for each leg individually since Frankfurt and Hong Kong are in different regions. In that case, your free excursionist perk would have to be in the same region as Hong Kong, your destination. Note that this does not impact connections and routing, but instead is specific to stopovers that are 24 hours or longer on international journeys such as the ones described above.
Award Trips Where Changes are Likely if You Have Status
There is an entirely new fee chart for award changes that will kick in on October 6th and while some of the changes, especially for non-elites, are good, on the whole it is bad news for Platinum elite member like me.
Currently Premier Platinums and above are not charged any fees for award redeposits, changes, etc. It is very nice to be able to make award reservations and change or cancel them without penalty if your plans change. However, beginning on October 6th Platinum elites will have to pay $50 to change, cancel, or redeposit awards 60 days or less before departure. Those changes made 61 days or more from departure will still be free for Platinums. 1Ks and Global Services members will continue to be exempt from all of those fees.
Silver and Gold elite members currently do not pay for changes to award tickets made more than 21 days in advance of travel as long as the origin and destination remain the same, however effective October 6th they will have to pay $50 and $25 respectively for changes made at least 61 days out from departure, and even more than that for changes made within 61 days of departure. Fees to redeposit the trip completely go down for Gold, Silver, and non-elite members.
One piece of good news in this category is that if your status changes between the time of ticketing and time of change you are making to an award, they will apply the lowest fee based on your different status levels. Also, fees for Premier Platinum members will continue to be waived for all tickets booked on or before October 5, 2016, regardless of when the change or cancellation is made. This is great for those that want to make speculative bookings and still take advantage of the current fee structure.
If you are running short on MileagePlus miles and want to make some of these bookings before October 6th, remember you can transfer United miles instantly from Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. What trips are you trying to lock in before the 10/6/16 changes hit?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.