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United’s Mileage Plus Awards Can Now Be Booked Last Minute With No Fee
The one silver lining in United’s announcement about moving to dynamic award pricing beginning November 15th
(today!) was that they would also, as of today, eliminate close-in booking fees.
The fees were a punitive surcharge for booking within 21 days of travel and was $75 for general members, $25 for Gold members, and $50 for Silver members. It was waived for higher statuses.
There were many people that regularly tried to get around these fees by booking more than 21 days out and then calling within 24 hours for a free change to a preferred date. For a while it worked like clockwork but became significantly harder to get done in the last couple of years as their systems attempted to block such maneuvers. A year and a half ago I penned this piece speculating we wouldn’t be having luck with that trick much longer.
Indeed, as promised, the fees are gone today. If I wanted to fly to Amsterdam tomorrow, I’d pay just the $5.60 in required US fees.
One question that remains is if they will follow Delta’s lead in restricting last minute availability by charging more for it in miles (as a sort of new punishment for booking last minute). I have not run exhaustive but Charlie at Running With Miles says he has run a number of searches and has not yet found any indication of that. Update: It turns out United IS doing this! Charlie uncovered one hour after I posted this that United is adding close-in fees – in miles! – within 30 days of the flight.
I’m finding these added on as a 3,000 mile surcharge on UA operates flights in business class, 3,500 miles for a partner business class flight, and it looks like 2,000 – 2,500 miles in coach on UA or 3,500 on partners.
This also means that Lufthansa First class rises from 110,000 to 113,500 miles each way. Lufthansa never makes it available to partners outside of 14 days before the flight – so this marks a more than 3% fixed increase.
Aside from this change, I still find United’s program changes to be bad for all of us long term, even though some less involved members no doubt see the variable pricing as a good thing as it’s technically “easier” to find awards now.
For the time being, while partner awards remain tethered to the award chart (not withstanding the above close-in surcharges), great redemption opportunities remain (remember, United won’t pass along carrier surcharges like those imposed by airlines like Lufthansa), so we just have to keep that in mind.
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