United Raises Award Change and Cancellation Fees for Non-Premiers

As if yesterday's move of adding minimum-spend requirements to attain elite status was not bad enough, United today (with no advance notice) has updated its award fee chart and General Members will be hit hard.

  • No more free routing changes outside of 21 days. Now $75.
  • Changes within 21 days now $100.
  • Cancellation and redeposit now $200 for General Members.
  • Premier Members not affected.
  • Affects only tickets booked on or after June 19, 2013.

Here's the new fee schedule. I've highlighted the changes in red below.


Why the change now?

Many asked yesterday how United would make elite status more valuable in exchange for adding minimum revenue requirements. Today we get a taste of Untied's answer: make MileagePlus less valuable for General Members!

So I suppose you can say that elite status will be more valuable on United when it comes to booking award travel, but none of us should be comforted by the addition of more consumer fees: especially in light of the fact that an award routing change more than 21-days out (and even close-in) is cost-neutral to United when done online. In fact, I would think that United would welcome online changes as travel approaches, because usually people change to more direct flights, meaning that United theoretically saves on money it must shell out to partners for award seats.

What is next?

While I do not believe that United will embrace a revenue-based redemption model, I would look for an inflated award chart and the introduction of fuel surcharges in the next 18 months. Those changes would certainly affect more than just General Members...

Bottom Line

United MileagePlus still is the most valuable U.S. mileage currency overall, but the ability to change routing outside of 21 days (now only available with American Airlines and not for long I suspect) was a great benefit that will be missed by many of my Chase-card-holding clients, no doubt.

I wonder if UA cleared this with Chase? Poor form that more notice was not given...

(HT: Hack my Trip)


Kelvin June 19, 2013 at 10:32 am

Like you mentioned, this is something that will not be good for Chase. I often change my award tickets more than 21 days out so this new fee is a big disadvantage for me booking with United now. I concentrate most of my business spending on my Chase United card but it looks like it will be a smarter move to put most of that spend on my Citi AAdvantage Card from now on. When I move most of my spending to the AAdvantage card I probably won't renew the United card once the fee is due.

Thanks for the update.

PK June 19, 2013 at 11:11 am

In another recent article, the author celebrated that elite status would be harder to achieve. I thought to myself: how... elitist! I can sympathize with his feelings but that's the wrong way to look at it: Making travel better for everyone means improving it overall and raising the boat. As a current non-elite traveler (due to family responsibilities), I have adapted. I avoid airlines that treat their non-elites badly. This means I fly with Jetblue and Southwest locally and European carriers internationally. I'll pay more for a better airline than a cheaper one with fees. Ironically, it has undermined my ability to earn elite status because I use a variety of carriers.

I'm one of those guys you probably hate: My wife insisted that the ONE time we flew Delta we didn't pay the baggage fees. So we stuffed up two properly sized carry-ons and dragged them through security. Then the overhead was full of bags (both segments) so we wound up checking the bag at the gate anyway. Then we liced up the gate waiting for our bags to be handed off to us. We refuse to fly Spirit and so far, it hasn't even been an issue (price was always usually as good or better with Jetblue or Southwest.)

rocky June 19, 2013 at 01:09 pm

You can book award tickets on Delta at any time even day of travel (grant is you have to find a space). The only thing they do not let you do is change your ticket within 3 days of travel.the 21 day window that united offers is by far the least consumer friendly.

@PK: Just want to confirm you realize that author you mention was Fozz and not me.

PK June 19, 2013 at 05:24 pm

Apologies for the inaccurate inference. I thought I had implied otherwise: "In another recent article, the author celebrated" which I can see now how it implies you rather than a recent article on the upgrd blog overall. I thought at the time about being more explicit.

John June 19, 2013 at 08:28 pm

Rocky- "the 21 day window that united offers is by far the least consumer friendly." What the heck are you talking about? While I think the United ($75) move sucks, at least they let you make changes. Delta is the one that does not let you make changes in that last 72 hr window. Also, Delta charges $150 for even the simplest change (even changing the date on an award ticket without changing the city pairs).

rocky June 19, 2013 at 10:19 pm

@john ALthough delta charges fees for changes, delta does not charge fees for last minute bookings. United however charges for bookings made in the last 3 weeks and/or changes made during that time

John P June 21, 2013 at 01:21 pm

I think Matthew's point about changing/cancel/re-depositing an award far out from the departure day is revenue neutral should be talked about more. For instance, my wife and I have an award trip ticketed for this october to Honolulu. I booked and ticketed the tickets myself on UA's website in Febuary of this year. I did it so early because I also had to book my Hilton stay on points before the HH devaluation. So, my reward for being early with my bookings is a big fat bill if I cancel! very nice, UA! way to keep customers! If I cancelled today, UA would EASILY fill those 2 economy seats, either on another award ticket, or sell outright to another customer! UA claiming such changes or re-deposits cost them money doesn't wash!

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