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One Potential Downside to United's New Routing Rules for Star Alliance Awards

Last week I blogged about generous changes to United’s award chart including the ability to schedule in both an open-jaw and a stopover (previously only one was allowed on a r/t ticket) and the ability to surpass the MPM (maximum permitted mileage) by 15%. I speculated that there had to be a catch; that United never gives without taking something away. Upon further clarification from our UA insider at HNL Reservations, it appears I’ve found it—agents will no longer be able to use published fares to book award trips that exceed the MPM by more than 15%. 

For example, the UA MPM from New York (JFK) to Tokyo (NRT) is 8,084 miles each way. With the 15% allowance, the MPM rises to 9,297. UA also publishes valid routings on the JFK-NRT route. For example, I am just finalizing the booking on a JFK-LAX-HNL-GUM-NRT ticket that is 10,379 miles. It appears that under the new rules, I would not be able to fly to Japan this way on an award ticket anymore. Even though this routing exceeds the MPM by over 2,000 miles (about 25%), under the old rules it was a valid routing.

Up until last week, United did not allow routing to exceed the MPM unless it was a published routing (of any Star carrier). With the new rules in place, UA agents will only use the MPM. At least in this early stage, I prefer UA’s new rules to their old rules, but it would be nice to have both. Air Canada, for example, allows award tickets to either exceed the MPM (by only 5% on AC) or conform to a published routing.

Theoretically, there could be advantages if UA agents really will calculate validity solely based on the MPM. For example, the UA MPM for SFO-SIN is 10,130 miles each way. With the 15% bonus, that’s 11,649 miles. That means that routing from SFO to SIN via Sydney, Australia, at 11,330 miles, is now under the MPM. A trip going through Australia would incur the higher Australia award redemption rate, but a stopover in Australia may now be possible on award to Asia.

I still have a feeling we will soon see award redemption rates go up, but the revelation that UA is scrapping published routings on award travel indicates that there is one potential downside, albeit slight, to the new mileage award rules.

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