United makes stealth devaluation of award tickets without warning!

United announced a little while back they would be making a change the MileagePlus program to severely limit stopovers on round trip award tickets. This was not good but we have seen worse devaluations in the miles and points world recently. I thought we could live with it.

The change took place on October 6th, 2016 where now you can only have a stopover in your destination region. This sounds good on paper but here I will provide what used to be possible versus what is now possible.

Before October 6, 2016 you could book a trip and stopover anywhere along the way. If you were planning a trip to Shanghai, China from the USA it used to be possible to fly via Europe, stopover in Europe for a visit, and continue onto Shanghai. You would return to the USA from Shanghai and you got to see 2 places for the price of one. That’s great!

On or after October 6, 2016 the above trip would break into 3 award tickets: USA-Europe, Europe-China, China-USA costing a lot more in terms of miles to create the same itinerary. Today you can only book USA-China-USA to preserve the round trip price. The only possible stopover you could add to this is within the North Asia region and it would not cost any extra miles under the the “Excursionist Perk” which is what United calls a stopover now.

An example of an itinerary that would have a valid stopover today:

USA – Shanghai <stopover> – Beijing <destination> – Return to USA.

In the above scenario you can stopover in Shanghai on your way to Beijing and see both places and it will price as a normal round trip award ticket. While they have not completely killed stopovers we are severely limited compared to being able to stop in any place along our flight routing and stay a while.

I was OK with this change because myself as well as a lot of our Award Booking Service customers can make use of this on our vacations. What I am NOT OK with is the unannounced severe change in how they price the award tickets I will detail below.

A little back story: United.com website (as well as the system the phone agents use) is notoriously awful at putting together flights to get from point A to point B for award tickets. In the past we sometimes had to enter each flight separately to get it to price correctly or even get the exact flights we want in order to book it. It was tedious but allowed us to choose which carriers and routes without relying on a bad computer system.

The devaluation: As of October 6, 2016 we can no longer manually input each flight together to get the ticket we want. Doing so will price each flight as a separate ticket and charge you a LOT MORE MILES for what was once considered a normal one way ticket. This means we now have to take what the “dumb computer” gives us as options for flights from Point A to Point B even though there are other flights available it simply will not show us. Phone agents have no power to override this as of now that I have seen thus far.

I hope this is a glitch and not a permanent change. I am not sure if this was intentional. Even if you take a flight option that is shown by the computer and try to piece it together segment-by-segment it will price as separate tickets. Here is an example:

Atlanta – London via Newark in economy class:

Simple one way search on united.com allowing computer to build and price the ticket:

 

ua-comp-generated-award-price

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I add each flight manually under a multi-city search on united.com using the exact same flights the price for each flight as charged as if they were 2 tickets. This is awful!

ua-manual-multi-city-bad-price

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is BAD NEWS for those of us who like to select our flights / carriers / routings without relying on the computer to find it for us. I hope that United will get this fixed but based on their past actions I wouldn’t be surprised if this never gets fixed. This makes United MileagePlus a lot less valuable and overall a much less attractive frequent flyer program.

I recommend using your United miles as soon as you can to book tickets for future trips while availability for the future is better. If you need help we are here!