United increases change fees for non-elite member on award tickets

Over the past couple of months all the legacies have increased their change fees on revenue tickets, and it’s a bit ironic that they’ve left award tickets untouched. Of course I’m thrilled about that, but from their perspective it’s kind of funny how much more flexible award tickets are than revenue tickets, and how much cheaper they are to change.

It seems United agreed, because starting for tickets issued today (June 19, 2013), the change fees on award tickets for non-elite members are increasing.

The fees for elite members remain the same, though for non-elite members the changes are as follows:

So what are the changes? Previously if you made a change to an award ticket 21 days or more before departure there were no change fees, assuming the origin and destination remained the same. Now the change fee for changes more than 21 days out is $75, even if the origin and destination remains the same. Meanwhile changes within 21 days of departure, or changes to the origin or destination, go from costing $75 to $100. Lastly, the mileage redeposit fee goes from $150 to $200.

This sucks big time. I wish I were surprised, but I’m not, and I expect the other legacies to at least match the $200 mileage redeposit fee in due time.

Yesterday United added a revenue requirement for elite status, and many said “well damnit, if they want me to spend more they better add more benefits for elite members.” I guess this is their way of doing that. 😉

(Tip of the hat to Hack My Trip)

Comments

  1. Yeah that definitely sucks but I’m ok with it since from my knowledge I’ve never changed an award ticket. I normally book months in advance and will admit these award tickets “force” me to actually go on vacation! 🙂

  2. The fees aren’t different for elites – but my family members usually aren’t elite and will have to pay $75 for every little change. That really sucks, and considerably devalues UA miles for them. The bottom line is that it will make our supposedly “free” family vacation air travel more expensive. So it devalues UA miles for me as well.

    Like someone on the FT thread on the spend requirements posted: I feel like a frog swimming around in a pot that’s being slowly heated. At some point I’ll jump.

  3. snic – where will you jump to? It seems most or all of the major airlines have been making similar changes.

    While I agree this sucks big time, at least they haven’t made award tickets “nonrefundable” like most purchased fares are. In other words, I am just thankful it’s possible to change an award ticket for “only” $75-$100 without using any additional miles. This saved me during my recent honeymoon trip, as we needed to change our return flight mid-trip. If we purchased tickets, we would have had to pay $150 – $200 each + the difference in fare (which would have been exorbitant). Instead, we paid $75 each and didn’t have to redeem any additional miles for the change.

  4. LUCKY– That is a bogus argument and here’s why. If you pay cash for a ticket you have your pick of any number of flights. The price will be virtually the same with a little advance planning.

    Award inventory is extremely limited. Even with several months advance planning, UA releases very few seats. You’re often stuck with a time and/or date that is not ideal. You’re lucky to get your whole party on one flight. For that reason, it is often very likely that you want to change your ticket at some time if the seats you really wanted become available. Since the change is much more likely, the fee should be much less.

    Honestly I can’t believe you came up with some kind of defense for this.

    How about comparing them to other airlines that allow changes for less money or even free changes? UA is not on par and not competitive on this issue.

  5. Glad I changed the dates of my upcoming award flight (Incld UA#94 787 IAD-DEN) last week. 🙂

  6. @ Nun — I’m not defending them, I’m simply saying I’m not surprised. There’s a difference.

  7. This sucks but still not as harsh as Delta. “Now the change fee for changes more than 21 days out is $75, even if the origin and destination remains the same.” That part totally sucks. Especially since award inventory is so capacity controlled and you book what is initially available and later try and improve upon it when more inventory opens up. UNITED YOU SUCK, STOP TRYING BE LIKE DELTA.

    I hope American keeps their fees unchanged. I am now going to give most of my pd flts to American. No more spend on Chase United credit cards.

  8. Jeff Smisek commented a few days ago he really admires Delta and wants United to be more like them in terms of profitability and squeezing out more revenue and fees. There you go.

  9. @Jon – I’d jump out of the miles game altogether. I realize that there aren’t really better options out there. If it becomes too expensive and/or onerous to remain loyal to one carrier, I’ll just stop being loyal entirely.

    I’m not quite there yet, but the heat is gradually going up…

  10. @John – AA is still in bankruptcy, right? They might not pull a move like this until they get out of it, but eventually they’ll almost certainly match these fees (and revenue requirements for elite status, for good measure).

  11. snic- I have been buying more Southwest tickets recently since they don’t charge any change fees. But who really wants to collect a bunch of SW miles? Plus, I don’t really like the cattle call of no assigned seating on SW.

  12. So if I booked tickets before the 19th, does that mean I can freely change them without fee 21 days out? And if so, unlimited changes or just 1 as the ticket gets reissued?

  13. @ Paul — The new policy is based on the date the ticket is issued, so you’re fine if it was issued before today. You can make unlimited date/flight changes more than 21 days out assuming the origin and destination remain the same.

  14. I have never really looked into the fees yet on United for booking an award ticket, as I’ve only done it once. That will soon change. But, they charge $75 to book an award ticket less than 21 days from departure? As fees go, that one doesn’t make an ounce of sense to me in any way. I can understand making changes, but wow.

  15. Guess that makes Lufthansa 1st redemptions slightly less appealing. Not that $75 should stop anyone. But, still. Dumb.

  16. I agree with Nun — this one is a lot more upsetting than it looks. The ability to book a less ideal time in anticipation of something better opening up is pretty crucial. I could see having to pay $75 multiple times to tweak an itinerary.

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

  18. Snic – I believe the fees are based on the elite status of the account that “paid” for the award ticket – not the elite status of the traveler. So if you use your miles to book travel for your family, they won’t be subject to the non-elite fees. (I also believe that, if you don’t put the family member’s MP # in the res, the traveler “inherits” your other elite benefits, such as free E+ access and no bag check fees. Lucky, can you confirm whether this is true?)

    There are trade-offs between UA and Southwest for domestic coach travel. Southwest has no change fees, and award bookings are de facto fully refundable for everyone – not just top tier elites. But same day changes are outrageously expensive on Southwest (must buy up to full fare); $75 on United (or free for Premier Gold and above). I always consider these trade-offs when deciding who to fly for a given domestic itinerary.

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