United improves their award routing rules… what’s the catch?

As reported by Gary and Matthew, United has loosened their routing rules significantly as of February 1. The first major change is that double open jaws are now allowed. Previously you were allowed one open jaw (meaning you fly into city and out of another), like flying from Los Angeles to Frankfurt and then from Munich to Los Angeles. A double open jaw would be flying from Los Angeles to Frankfurt and then Munich to San Francisco. Now, since United allows one way awards, you could already have a double open jaw, but not on the same reservation — you would have to book those tickets as one ways. The benefit here is that if you needed to make a change or cancel, you would only be hit with the change fee once, as opposed to twice.

Even better news is that United now allows one stopover AND one open jaw on roundtrip awards between regions. Previously it was one or the other, but not both. That’s a huge improvement, and mirrors Continental’s policy.

Now the biggest news of all is how generous United is making their routing rules. In order for a routing to be considered legal for a United award, it has to either be a valid, published routing, or within the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for the city pair. Well, while programs like Aeroplan have long allowed you to go 5% over the MPM, United is now allowing you to go 15% over the MPM. That’s insanely generous.

Now, being the eternal realist (I prefer that term over pessimist) that I am, I’ve gotta wonder, “what gives?” I mean, I can see them adding a 5% buffer, but what could possibly prompt them to make routing rules that much more generous?

Now, United hasn’t updated their award chart pricing by a whole lot over the past couple of years, so maybe I should leave my pom poms at home, but for the time being I’ll commend United on this one.


  1. Still missing the ability to mix-and-match pricing of awards (eg biz one way, first the other) without losing stopovers by having to do one-ways.

    Also, while generous, 15% of the standard direction MPM is just reasonable for award travel…doesn’t necessarily mean Asia via Europe (certainly not from the West Coast) or similar will be possible.

  2. @ sjs — Who said Asia via Europe isn’t possible? I’ve booked plenty of awards from the US to Asia via Europe with United, as several airlines publish Atlantic MPMs for US to Asia.

  3. Simple answer regarding MPM. It allows them to use some of the further east European gateways for transatlantic redemptions now that previously were not always legal routings, thus reducing pressure on their own metal inventory to Western Europe and improving the balance of redemptions with some of those partners.

  4. Cute, Ben, but that’s not allowed. You don’t use “some airline’s” MPM – you use the UA MPM via applicable routing for the route (if such exists).

    Also, if you read the fine print (and as I said on Gary’s blog), looks like JFK-ICN-SYD-ICN-JFK will now be allowed, but JFK-ICN-SYD-SFO-JFK won’t, which is just dumb.

  5. @sjs MPM is generally an IATA concept, I don’t really see it varying by airline.

    Also not obvious that other routing restrictions won’t remain in place.

    UA used to allow validation of award itineraries via published routing rather than MPM but still prohibited US to Australia via Asia.

    That may or may not still be in place, have to try it to find out!

  6. >Still missing the ability to mix-and-match pricing of awards (eg biz one way, first the other) without losing stopovers by having to do one-ways.

    Was this fixed yesterday? They implemented mixed award single PNRs yesterday.

  7. I agree that it’s an IATA concept – but each airline specifies allowed MPMs by routing. EG if you look up United rules on MPM from LHR-SYD it clearly specifies Atlantic and Pacifc, not Asia , to determine MPM. That doesn’t mean the routing through Asia won’t be under the MPM, which is fine, but that’s not how UA would look it up. Just saying.

  8. Also, any substantiation to that rumor I mentioned to you of changes now being allowed after departure on * awards?

  9. @sjs – I was on an award trip back in December where I was allowed to make changes after departure without incident (or begging) and several agents told me when I booked the ticket that changes would be allowed (although the tickets still say no changes after departure)

  10. Yes, UA now allows changes to at least some *A awards after departure. I made two changes to my return on a straightforward domestic UA/CO roundtrip in December. In both cases I encountered severe IT glitches (example: I changed my return from Dec. 13 to Dec. 14. The change showed correctly on ua.bomb, but my Dec. 13 flight was not cancelled in my CO booking. As a result my whole CO res was cancelled when I did not show for Dec. 13 flights UA had to call CO to manually reinstate the new Dec. 14 return.).

    Bottom line: Double check everything with all involved carriers if you make a change to a *A award before you go to the airport :-).

  11. UA no longer does a Mile & Money Award for Saver Awards and they now base the 1K award on flight segments, not just your awarded miles. Really screwed up my program, but doesn’t affect everyone.

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