Locking In MileagePlus Awards At Pre-Devaluation Rates?

United has a huge award chart devaluation which kicks in for bookings made on/after February 1, 2014, and I know a lot of people are trying to redeem miles in anticipation of that. The awards going up most in price are those for travel in premium cabins on Star Alliance partners, as United is now making a separate award chart for travel on United vs. travel on partner airlines.

The big question has been whether it’s possible to lock in an award now and then make changes to it after February 1, 2014. United has been somewhat vague in answering this, though my understanding is that they’ll allow flight and date changes without recalculating the miles, though once you change the route, airline, class of service, etc., you’ll be charged per the new award chart.

Anyway, Dan’s Deals suggests there’s a possible workaround for booking award travel at the current rates now and being able to change it for future travel. Here’s what he suggests:

Within a year from the date of ticketing you can rebook the award for a different date on the same route and just pay a $50-$100 date change fee,  you won’t have to use more miles.  Don’t wait until 01/31 to book something though as lots of people will have that same strategy.

For example below is the cancellation screen for a one-way ANA First Class Suites award to South Asia for 70K miles.  Come 02/01 and it will be 130K miles.  But just use the change ticket later option to pay a date change fee later without having to use more miles:

united

Lets say you make a booking for travel next week from Detroit to Frankfurt in Lufthansa first class. Dan is suggesting that before the travel date you cancel the trip. However, instead of redepositing the miles you choose the “cancel reservation now and change ticket later” option, which appears on the website when trying to cancel a booking. Then when you later go back to change the ticket, you can rebook the same route without having to pay a difference in miles.

He seems convinced this will work for locking in the old rates. I don’t necessarily disagree, I’m just not as confident about United’s system working that way as he is. If this works, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You would have to rebook in the future on exactly the same routing, since routing changes would trigger an award rate reprice. So if you’re trying to use this method to lock in Lufthansa first class, consider booking one of the more readily available Lufthansa first class routes, and not a super-tough one like Los Angeles to Frankfurt, for example.
  • All travel has to be completed within a year of the date the ticket is issued. So if you issue the ticket today and cancel the ticket next week and save it for future travel, all travel still has to be complete within a year from today.
  • You would have to pay change fees to do this, per United’s award change fee chart. These fees can be up to a $100 if you don’t have status.

United-Award-Change-Fees-101

Bottom line

We don’t know exactly how United will handle changes starting February 1. Dan is more confident about the above method working than I am, which isn’t to say that I don’t think it’ll work, but rather just that I’m not positive. I’d suggest doing what you can to redeem United miles before February 1 for travel you actually intend to take, but if you can’t then there’s little downside to trying the above method. Worst case scenario you’re out of pocket $100, best case scenario you can possibly book Lufthansa first class at the old award rates 10 months from now.

Comments

  1. DBest says

    An even worse case scenario is that you transfer UR points to try this and end up stuck with UA miles.

    On an aside, do you ever see last minute space open up in LH F on the 747-8?

  2. PH says

    Ben

    If I do this method, do I have to find availability in the exact same route? Let’s say that I have a ATH-BRU-JFK and later there is only availability in the ATH-FRA-JFK route, would this work? In other words, does it matter the connection point or only departure and destination?

  3. Donn says

    Having trouble pulling trigger on United award MUC to LAX . 2 Options MUC via YYZ on LH 330-300 or MUC to LAX VIA CLT on LH 343-600. we are Family of 3 travaling in business class? Thanks in advance

  4. dan ray says

    my strategy from PDX to CDG via FRA is to book 2 one way awards to and from for more flexibility. Seems like the only downside if we want to keep the trip and they don’t let us stay on LH is to switch to a United flight.

  5. says

    But why even bother cancelling? Might as well book now for a year out, and then make the change when you know what you want to fly.

    Roughly speaking this should work and is consistent with how United changes work — anything that doesn’t require a reissue shouldn’t change the mileage price. But anything that does — change of routing or carrier — will mean a new award cost.

    Not sure how the cancel button is a hack or benefit of any kind, though I’m probably missing something obvious?

  6. Tiara says

    @Gary, I think the keyword here is “Lufthansa First Class”. As we all know, LH F is not bookable if you book a year out from now.

  7. turgutbey says

    Two questions on this.

    1) If you keep routing the same, but change flight times, would that trigger the new award rates? E.g. IAD-FRA-BUD and you later change only the time of the FRA-BUD leg.

    2) Could you, as gary suggests, book a IAD-FRA-BUD in biz for an open date in, say October, then change it to your desired August dates when availability opens up?

  8. Sean says

    @Donn
    I would transit through YYZ. I believe all LH 330 feature new biz while the 340-600 will more likely be the old style.

  9. Frank says

    I have a one-way Business Class SFO to JNB leaving later this month for 2 pax). But I cannot get any decent return with Star Alliance in late February. So, right now my plan is to book on United a partial JNB to GRU before the end of the month to get the cheaper rate and that is easily available.

    Star Alliance doesn’t have a decent return from GRU in Business Class so I think I will use AA miles for first class from GRU to SFO (I have a lot of AA miles). This looks much more doable and even though this return will cost 45,000 United miles PLUS 50,000 AA miles (each) I can’t see a better way to get decent routing and decent seats. Can you?

  10. says

    @ turgutbey — Yes you can change the flight as long as the route and airline stays the same and won’t be charged the new mileage rates. And yes, you could book something for October and then later change it to August.

  11. says

    @ Frank — For a decent product that’s probably your best bet. Otherwise EgyptAir often has at least some award availability to South Africa, so might be worth looking at.

  12. Steve says

    Lucky… so in theory would you be able to do something like this?

    Book a ticket on Jan 31, 2014 so that the last day you would have to get re-booked would be Jan 31, 2015? Then sometime in Jan 2015… pay the same fee and allow yourself more time until Jan 31, 2016?

  13. 30HK says

    @Lucky – Do you know if there is a schedule change on the booked flights, would rebooking at that point triggered a reprice on the award ticket?

    Also, if United posts a waiver due to say, severe weather, would rebooking that point triggered a reprice on the award ticket?

    Thanks in advance!

  14. Brian says

    @lucky – Would adding an infant after 2/1 to a reservation booked pre-devaluation cause the ticket to reprice at the new levels? Our baby is coming in mid-Feb but our travel dates aren’t yet firm.

    TIA!

  15. Steve says

    @PH – I guessed i missed out on the “must be completed by”… but in the same scenario… it would mean that it “can be done” to book travels up till 2015!

  16. says

    @ 30HK — If you’re making the change due to something outside of your control like weather or a schedule change you should be able to make the change without a difference in mileage.

  17. dan ray says

    If traveling from FRA to Vancouver do you think it would be issue to book an Alaska flight from Vancouver to PDX? I realize bags wouldn’t be checked through. Otherwise long layover in Vancouver on Air Canada.

  18. acs says

    Hi Lucky,

    Do you know if same city, but different airport changes would lead to a repricing?

    I’m ticketed on ORD-NRT/HND-BKK-SYD.Ideally would switch to ORD-NRT-BKK-SYD if that becomes available. Also, any availability trends on TG F for NRT-BKK that you know of? Seems like not many seats open far advance.

  19. Nkid says

    I might have a trip to north Asia next winter and have been thinking of booking a ticket before the US/AA merger and UA devaluation. I probably will have to change the dates after ticketing. Should I use US airways miles or United miles for a biz seat? I have about the same amount of miles on both airlines. Any suggestion would be appreciated.

  20. says

    @ acs — Hmm, since they’re co-terminal I’m not positive, to be honest. Thai seems to be opening up space last minute nowadays from Tokyo to Bangkok in first class.

  21. says

    @ Nkid — That’s a toughie. If you’re going to North Asia I’d suggest waiting and hoping that US Airways continues charging 90,000 miles for business class, which is a value that’s tough to beat.

  22. E says

    Just scored ANA F on LAX-NRT.. but they’re not allowing 65 min connection to BKK.. worth it to layover night to fly the morning TG A380 in F?

  23. says

    @ E — I guess it depends how much time you have to travel and what the alternative is, but I’m always happy to overnight somewhere for a nice first class product the next day.

  24. Joe says

    I got onto using my United miles right after devaluation was announced. Finally got entire route booked on Dec 23rd. Two seats in (I) from US to New Zealand with a stopover in Tokyo that allows enough time to visit Japan and China. 270k miles is pricey, but it includes 4 long haul segments in Lie Flat and is honestly a trip my wife and I could never justify paying for business class otherwise.

  25. E says

    Would you recommend to do that cancel book later trick for a round trip just to get the stopover? Lax-nrt-bkk-syd-bkk-pek-lax.. Possible that TG or CA might pull F space later in 2014?

  26. Larry says

    Lucky — I am having real trouble figuring this out. I have booked a one-way this summer, CPH-FRA-ORD-PHX. CPH to FRA is on LH (business). FRA to ORD is on UA (Global First). ORD to PHX is on US (First) after an over-night stop over. It’s an F award. Two questions.

    1) I’ve been carefully monitoring availability for the ORD to PHX leg, because I don’t want the overnight stopover. I think there’s a good chance an afternoon flight will eventually open up — either on UA or US (before US goes to One World). If that happens after 2/1, is the thing going to reprice as a partner award, because the CPH-FRA segment is on LH?

    2) If I understand what you’re saying, even if LH F opens up in the two weeks before this trip for the FRA-ORD leg, the change of airlines is going to require rebooking at the higher point price.

  27. AT says

    I have Bali-BKK-ZRH-YYZ-SEA booked for August. The BKK-ZRH is in F while the rest are in J. If I change my flights to Bali-BKK-FRA-IAH/YYZ-SEA in LH F, will I be charged the new mileage required (note my destination and origin are the same)?

  28. says

    @ E — Well the major challenge is that the more segments you add, the more unlikely that later all the individual segments will have availability when you go to rebook. So generally the simpler you can keep the itinerary, the better.

  29. says

    @ Larry — If you switch Chicago to Phoenix from US Airways to United it would at least theoretically cause the itinerary to reprice.

    Correct about Lufthansa as well, that would trigger a reprice.

  30. ffi says

    @donn and Lucky
    If I had to go LAX-YYZ in domestic F and then go YYZ-MUC in new bz,
    vs
    just go in old biz from LAX-MUC, I would just go in 1 segment than do a longer more tiring trip with half the trip in terrible seats

    The way I look at it, you might luck into the new seats from LAX; for avoiding the risk of old C vs new C, you are going to fly in domestic F from LA to YYZ for certain?

  31. Joe says

    @donn

    Actually I’d check LAX-YVR-YYZ-MUC

    YVR-YYZ has high availability and Lie flat business, although, its only a little over 4hr flight if I remember.

    Even if LAX-YVR is in economy its a really short flight and something I’d suffer through.

    Adding segments adds time, but at least YVR-YYZ could be done comfortably

  32. Ivan Y says

    @ Lucky – my next trips will be to Europe (via FRA) and Asia (HKG or BKK; but can go via some other hub and use diff. miles). Since finding F award space on IAH-FRA is so tough, would you recommend booking a placeholder award to Asia instead?

  33. Kacee says

    Lot of people are in for a bad surprise when they’re told their tickets are going to reprice and they’re stuck with either coming up with a whole bunch more miles or flying an itinerary they never intended to fly.

  34. says

    @ Ben This is an interesting one. I’ve been monitoring LH First Class availability from FRA to NRT and it’s really good, but I can’t really travel until later in the year. Using this tactic, I could book the tickets now and cancel but as you know on 30 March Lufthansa will change to Haneda and the NRT route will stop in Osaka first. Hopefully availability will still be good on the latter and if so I don’t mind the Osaka stop. You gave us great info about availability patterns on LH First Class to/from the US – any quick advice on which flights Europe-Asia or Europe-America have best potential for scoring seats in First using the 14 day window?

  35. says

    @ Ivan Y — If you’re going to change the dates later I’d definitely book a placeholder, though on a route that’s fairly easy to come by for award space (like DFW-FRA, maybe).

  36. says

    @ Andy — Generally I find that there’s better availability to Asia out of MUC, so any flight out of MUC generally has better availability than flights out of FRA, in my experience.

  37. Larry says

    This all is really good stuff, Lucky. I’m imagining the bean counters and flight attendants wondering why F is more full and why patterns of cancellations in the last two weeks on UA metal seem to be changing.

    It seems to me that a blog entry looking at alternative programs for booking star alliance awards is probably in order, with the key details: one ways/stop overs; on which partners do they charge taxes; how is availability; change fees and terms; how is partner availability. I know you’ve done some of this on an ad hoc basis — like recently with aeroplan for opening one ways from NA at half miles. But with US leaving and UA going insane if a partner segment is added, other previously unthinkable programs all of the sudden look relative attractive. Two years ago, 160k for Europe and 200k for Asia 2 seemed excessive and not worth looking seriously at accumulating SQ for anything other than suites, especially with UA miles so easy to accumulate with chase cards and US so easily to buy at 1.5 cents or better. But now they are actually worth looking at.

  38. AT says

    another question…right now I have SEA-YYZ-MUC-CDG-BKK-CGK award with CDG-BKK in F and the rest in J. If an F seat opens up 14-days out on the YYZ-MUC leg, will I be automatically bumped up or will I have to pay the extra amount of miles?

  39. says

    @ AT — Well it’s definitely not automatic, you’ll have to call no matter what. I don’t think you should be charged the new mileage rates, but am also not positive about that.

  40. Steve says

    @AT how do you get United rep to allow you 5 flight segments?
    1.) SEA-YYZ
    2.) YYZ-MUC
    3.) MUC-CDG
    4.) CDG-BKK
    5.) BKK-CGK

  41. says

    @ Steve — Not sure if it’s a roundtrip or not, but on a roundtrip you’re allowed five segments per direction, so maybe AT has a return as well?

  42. Steve says

    @lucky – thanks… i was trying to figure out how he managed to do that… most of us books one way and not RT haha

  43. E says

    Are you personally planning to book some awards with this method?

    Also, is there any limit to the number of changes you can make to a ticketed reservation? As a 1k, you can technically just keep rebooking to a further date out with no fees? Although a pita..

  44. mangoceviche says

    i am still unsure how united’s 2 open jaw/1stopover rule works. is this allowed:

    bos-fra
    fra-szg (stopover)
    muc-sin(destination)
    bkk-fra
    fra-muc
    muc-yyz
    yyz-bos

    bkk to bos has been ticketed. need to combine bos to sin to make it a RT award.

  45. says

    @ mangoceviche — The open jaw has to be at the turnaround point, so in the US or Asia. It can’t be mid-itinerary. So you could stopover in Munich or Salzburg, but can’t have an open jaw between the two. Hope that makes sense.

  46. Jonathan says

    I’m trying to plan a trip ORD-FRA;CDG-ORD in May/June. Debating between attempting this trick vs the Aeroplan post-outbound change to avoid fuel surcharges on the return. Leaning towards the Aeroplan option as I would at least have a United first class booked both ways and this United method seems tenuous. But I would use up all of my MR points for the Aeroplan award. Any advice?

  47. says

    @ Jonathan — Why not lock in a good business class award on some good Star Alliance airlines using United miles? That’s probably what I would do in your shoes. I hate relying on the Aeroplan trick unless you’d ultimately be happy flying United, since you never know if they’ll be releasing space then or if Aeroplan will have changed their policy by then.

  48. Jonathan says

    Thanks. I might just do that if I can find the right availability on the dates I need before Feb 1. Right now I’m mainly seeing the angled LH seats which don’t sound too fun.

  49. cruisr says

    Is the worst case scenario that UA does not allow you to change without giving them additional miles?

    For example: You have booked a RT F award on LH from EWR to FRA at current rates. You cancel and click the option to use miles later. If UA says no way can you then use those miles for a UA flight on that route as that mileage will be not as jacked up as the LH award. OR, would you be forced to pony up more miles or lose the miles all together.

    Thanks!

  50. says

    @ cruisr — You can absolutely redeposit the miles or make a new booking and pay the difference in miles (there would be a fee in both cases). But you’re definitely stuck with ponying up the difference in miles or else forfeiting the miles.

  51. says

    Am I right in assuming that you can only make one change? I mean if I book FRA to NRT in LH F, then cancel it and click to use the miles later. Worst case happens and United says no way. In my case I wouldn’t then have enough miles for the new redemption post Feb 1st, so could I then redeposit the miles instead? Granted it would mean two charges but at least I’d keep the 80K miles.

    The way you worded your reply Ben I’m assuming I wouldn’t have that option – in which case this is a bit more of a gamble. I notice that a reader on Dans Deals claims that the agent they spoke with said that any bookings made this way would result in requiring the new level of miles but I think everyone here knows that the agents are not always 100% reliable :-)

    I really don’t know if I can resist trying this for the chance of Lufthansa First out of Frankfurt, with the terminal and all, going to a place I’ve always wanted to visit anyway…

  52. Nancy M says

    this slightly contradicts the info I got from UA last month when I asked about making changes to an award booking (not to origin or destination), if the changes were made after the new award chart is in effect:
    ” Thank you for contacting United Airlines.
    Fare rules at the time of purchase would apply to your ticket. However, if you make additional changes, the fare rules from that reissue date would apply.
    We appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming you onboard your next United flight. ”

    so – does that mean if one changes carrier (UA to LH for example) on an itinerary booked before Feb. 1, but with no change in class of service, that your understanding is that there would no request for additional miles?

  53. E says

    Ben, any recent luck on booking US to Aus via Asia?

    I’m getting constantly shut down to add onto my LAX-NRT-BKK segment to SYD. 4 times now on the premier/1k desk.

  54. says

    @ E — The total routing is LAX-NRT-BKK-SYD? At least up until recently that was allowed, though rules are constantly changing, so I guess maybe that’s the case here.

  55. E says

    Yup I already have LAX-NRT-BKK booked, trying to add BKK-SYD. The last agent told me the alliance desk says Thai will charge an additional 60k instead of the 10k.. I assume you haven’t done that booking in the past few days?

  56. says

    @ E — Have any of the agents actually been willing to price it, or did they all refuse before even trying? Because if they tried to price it that would be pretty definitive.

  57. E says

    They all tried it and got denied by the computer. All said should be fine and put me on hold and came back each time saying the rates and alliance desks says it’s not a valid route.

  58. E says

    Would downgrading a cabin cause an award reprice? Afraid I might not find a suitable domestic connection before the long haul.

  59. E says

    Are Asian carriers strict on names matching exactly? My ticket was issued with middle initial instead of middle name on the UA profile.. Can’t re-book since NH F not available.

  60. Stacy says

    If I have to call to get the ticket booked because the routing isn’t coming up on UA’s website, but I know it is there when I look at separate pieces of it, will I still be able to cancel it online like the ANA screen shot example above…Routing is HKG-BKK-FRA-IAD…thanks as always for your input and expertise…

  61. Stacy says

    I am assuming btw that the routing is legal…I went SIN-NRT-FRA-IAD last year, but I had to call to get the reservation built that way, again because the website wouldn’t display it…

  62. E says

    Do you think we’d be able to change the time/flight # on same route/carrier without triggering reprice? Or does date change mean date only.

  63. E says

    Do you mean as “long”?

    So I can change between any of the TG bkk-nrt flights for example? Or even more the intra-region segments

  64. E says

    I’m being denied by multiple supervisors 1k the following:

    lax-tpe-dps(s/o)-sin-hkg(o/j) tpe-lax

    The hkg s/o can’t be o/j as well is what they’re saying.. true?

  65. says

    @ E – For the past few months, yes. The open-jaw needs to be at the turnaround point in order for the computer to price the award correctly.

  66. says

    So I tried this and reserved TRD-OSL-FRA-NRT with the crucial point being the last leg in Lufthansa First. Booked on 24.01 for travel 31.01. The problem is it’s been showing as awaiting confirmation from SAS for their flights. Then today I checked and it’s showing this
    “Your purchase is confirmed. You will be promptly notified once the internal processing of your reservation has been finalized so that you can request additional receipts, export to Microsoft Outlook, refund or change your flight, view/change seats, check-in, or email or print your itinerary”
    I think that if I cancel it now it will be like canceling before it is ticketed, and not give me the redeposit option because the miles have yet to be taken from the account. I emailed United 2 days ago but have had no response; I figure I better cancel it today as I can’t travel on it anyway but will give them a few hours…

  67. Dan says

    I’ve found some LH F space in the next couple of weeks, but I’d really like to travel in late summer/fall. Once they are ticketed, I was going to try the Cancel & Rebook Later option and hope I could rebook the same routing at the same mileage rate within 1yr — if that fails, i.e. they want the higher mileage rate, can I simply have the miles redeposited back to the MP account at that time, or do I forfeit them forever? Miles came from a 1K account, so I wouldn’t expect any fees either way.

  68. itsme says

    Seems to be reports on FT that this is not working. Appears extra miles are being asked for. Have you tested it yourself since Feb. 3?

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