The bright sides of the United award chart purge


This morning I published a mostly negative look at United’s decision to eliminate their award chart: Fallout from the United award chart obliteration.  But the news isn’t all bad.  There are, or may be, big advantages.

Here’s my “glass is 3/4th full” look at the idea of United eliminating award charts by November 15th 2019:

The Excursionist Perk hack gets cheaper

One of the features of Unites MileagePlus program is the Excursionist Perk.  This feature basically lets you insert a free one-way flight within any round-trip award flight.  The one-way flight must happen after your outbound flight and before your return flight and must begin and end in a single region.  We’ve described this benefit before, along with details about why it is so valuable: Leveraging the United Excursionist Perk to save miles.

This morning, Travel is Free wrote about the Excursionist Perk with relation to the new award-chart-free United: The Good News In United Stopovers.  Drew points out that the ability to book domestic flights for as little as 5500 miles means that United miles have just become more valuable than before for those who book throw-away returns in order to fly super-valuable excursions.  If you’re at all into maximizing the value of your miles, his post is a must read.

Possible increase in award space when booking with partner miles

United will still release award space at the “saver” level, there’s just no guarantee that the award prices will remain as low as they are today.  If saver level pricing dramatically increases, it’s logical to assume that fewer saver awards will be booked with United miles.  And, theoretically, that means that more award space should be available to book with partner miles.

We’ve seen this happen frequently with Delta.  Since they eliminated award charts, their international business class award prices have increased frequently.  At the time of this writing, a one-way business class award to Europe costs a minimum of 105,000 miles.  That’s more than some airline charge for round-trip business class to Europe!   That’s the bad news.  The good news is that we frequently see more availability for booking Delta business class with partner miles.  Virgin Atlantic and Air France miles are both easy to come by (as they are transfer partners with most transferable points programs) and they each frequently price awards on Delta flights much, much cheaper than Delta does.

One of the great things about booking United flights with partner miles is that United never charges fuel surcharges.  This is important because many of United’s Star Alliance partners do charge fuel surcharges when you use their miles, but not if the carrier doesn’t impose them.  ANA is a good example.  ANA charges only 88,000 miles round-trip from the US to Europe on Star Alliance carriers, but they do pass along carrier imposed fuel surcharges.  By using ANA to book United flights, you get the best of both worlds: super cheap award pricing and very low taxes and fees.

Your aunt Sally will get better value

I’m sure that everyone knows someone who would rather pay “free” miles for a flight than pay cash, even if the cash price is crazy low.  Let’s call this person “aunt Sally” (with apologies to everyone named Sally).  I have no doubt that there are times where aunt Sally would pay 25,000 miles for a domestic flight that would otherwise cost only $125 cash.  That’s a pathetic half cent per mile value, but aunt Sally doesn’t care because she thinks of her miles as being free.

The good news is that when award prices are even loosely tied to cash prices, aunt Sally is likely to get better value automatically.  While it is still possible to find exceptions, this is almost always the case with Delta today.  Aunt Sally won’t necessarily get great value from her Delta miles, but she won’t usually get hosed either.  Here’s a random example for a round-trip fight between New York and DC:

After taking into account the $11.20 award fees, the above awards offer the following per mile value:

  • Economy (Main): 1.23 cents per mile
  • Comfort+: 1.36 cents per mile
  • First: 1.36 cents per mile

None of the above results account for the fact that Aunt Sally won’t earn miles on the award flights, but they do show that she’s getting more than a penny per mile.  That’s far from great value, but at least it’s no longer cringe-worthy.

No close-in award booking fees

Today, if you try to book a United award within 21 days of departure you’ll be charged a $75 close-in booking fee (less for elite members).  Starting November 15th, United says they’ll eliminate those fees.

Dans Deals thinks that this is bad news since United will probably compensate for the lack of fees by increasing award prices.  That’s probably true, but it’s arguably still good for Aunt Sally.  In the old way of doing things she would have gotten terrible value from her miles and paid $75 for that last minute booking.  In the new world, she’ll get OK value and save $75.  In the spirit of this post, let’s call that a win.

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[…] had done away with its own award chart last year (Greg did eventually note the bright side of that, but let’s be real: it was mostly a devaluation). When they removed the chart for their own […]


I just got a email from United for 100% bonus when I buy points Pure trash Go BK again.


Looks like a lot of blogs will reference Drew’s findings


I’ll give you credit for being optimistic about a catastrophe.


No matter what the cost is you are still flying on United………a company where the employees hate their customers and management in almost equal disdain……..the flying public is just seen by United employees as a necessary evil to get them their free flights for family and friends……It’s a shame…..I have a Lifetime United Club and a Lifetime Presidents Club membership and they are now both worthless to me!


Ha. Had the misfortune to fly SFO-AKL in so-called Polaris biz a month ago. Had the same FA on both legs. She exuded contempt and disdain for those unfortunate to be in her section. Literally snapped her fingers in my wife’s face when she wanted her attention. Dropped meals on the table, thunk! – shoved my tablet out of the way so she could place the warm nuts. Never had eye contact – never once smiled in 26 hrs on board.. She made it abundantly clear she hated every second being on the job.


Oh dear…that’s been along the lines of my experiences up front on United. I gave up. Just lost weight and sit WAY in the back with two Benadryl. We refuse most food and drinks. I bring my own bottle of Coke Zero. That’s it. I don’t even watch the movies. Now I noticed we don’t bother with the United Club in Hong Kong. That used to be one of my favorites. The staff is fine, they just downgraded the food to unacceptable. Btw I actually kinda like the flight attendants in the back of international flights. But the seat is so freaking uncomfortable I gotta knock myself out to get through it.


Another possible advantage, it becomes easier to quantify the value of miles? For me, it’s easy to value Delta, Hawaiian, SW, and Jet Blue miles because of what is essentially a fixed value award chard. Just saying…

[…] Please also see the flip side to this post: The bright sides of the United award chart purge. […]