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United raising award change fees, lowering cancellation fees, changing stopover rules

by on Wed August 3, 2016 • 1 Comment


United MileagePlus is making several changes to the fees it charges for awards for tickets booked October 6 or later. It’s also revising its policy for allowing a free stay in an extra city when you book an award ticket.

Here’s a comparison of the new MileagePlus award change / cancellation fees to those currently in effect. Red indicates situations where the fee is going higher, green indicates where it’s going lower, and white indicates no change.


Cancellation fees are being lowered for most

Rather than charging $200 for general members, $125 for Silver, and $100 for Gold Premier members, cancellations will be charged $75 – $125 for general members, $50 – $100 for Silver, $25 – $75 for Gold, and $0 – $50 for Platinum members.

For comparison, Delta SkyMiles charges $150 for all award cancellations for general members – and allows no cancellations within 72 hours of the departure time of the first flight.

American AAdvantage charges $150 for the first passenger and $25 for each additional passenger on the same reservation.

United’s Premier Platinum members are the only losers when it comes to cancellations – instead of free cancellations all the time, they will pay a $50 fee for cancellations made 60 days or less prior to departure. Cancellations made 61 days or more in advance will still be free for Platinum members.

Change fees being raised broadly

For basic changes that don’t require a brand new award, like a date change, most fees are going up.

General members will have to pay $50 more for changes made 60 days or less prior to departure.

The big hurt comes for Premier Silver, Gold, and Platinum level members, who now pay $50 more for changes made 60 days or less prior to departure.

And for changes 61 or more days in advance, Silver and Gold level members will get socked with a $25 – $50 fee versus none before.

For comparison, Delta SkyMiles charges $150 for all changes for general level members. American AAdvantage charges nothing for basic date / flight changes made more than 21 days after the date you book the award.

Some expert level stopover loopholes are closed

United had a more generous policy for stopovers on award tickets than American or Delta.

Stopovers are situations where you stop in a city for more than one day before you reach your final destination, letting you get an additional city in your trip for the same price as a simple roundtrip.

With United, for any award ticket that involved two or more regions, you could stopover anywhere along the way and spend time in that stopover city, before continuing onto your final destination.

So for example, you could fly New York to Paris – stay in Paris for several days – then on to Tokyo. All for the price of a basic New York to Tokyo award.

Now, United is turning the stopover into something called the ‘Excursionist Perk.’

With the Excursionist Perk, you get a free one way flight whenever you book a trip with 3 or more one way awards.

But the free one way destination (which is your stopover) needs to be in the same region as your destination.

So for example, with the New York to Tokyo example, you can’t get a free stop in Paris on the way. Your free stop needs to be in the Japan region (so, Osaka for example).

For a trip to Rome, you can add a free flight to any destination within Europe, like Copenhagen, because both the destination (Rome) and stopover (Copenhagen) are in the same MileagePlus region (Europe).

That’s possible today and is still possible with the new ExcursionistPerk.

However, if you want to say, go from Los Angeles to Rome, and stay in New York for a while, that will no longer be possible for one price, because New York isn’t in the same award region as Rome. Under the current rules, a stopover like that is possible.

Could it have been worse?

Delta does not allow any changes to award tickets less than 72 hour prior to departure, which significantly restricts flexibility, even for its top tier elite level fliers. United chose not to adopt this policy.

It also charges more for cancellations at $150 for general members, vs no more than $125 with the new United fees.

American has the most liberal policy for changes – flight changes with the same origin / destination are free for all members if the change doesn’t result in the flight leaving less than 21 days after the day you bought the ticket.

What this means is, let’s say you buy a ticket on August 1 for travel on November 1. If, on October 30, you decide to change the date of your flight to October 31, that’s fine – no fee, even though it’s a few days before the flight. But if you decide to change the date of your flight to August 15, then you’d get hit with a fee.

When it comes to the stopover policy, the change is not a net positive if you used the stopover feature before. But United could have also decided to eliminate the concept of an extra stop for no additional charge altogether, like American and Delta have done.

Instead, it’s keeping what we think is the most popular option – staying in an additional city in the same region – still possible, but at the expense of some expert level awards that got exceptionally good value. And it’s making the option more visible and easy to book for people who might not have thought to use it before.


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One thought on “United raising award change fees, lowering cancellation fees, changing stopover rules

  1. Chris Gardner

    So, if you are trying to be more like Delta, I have less reason to choose you over them. You should be more different, not more alike.


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