United Airlines has introduced “money + miles” awards as another option for MileagePlus redemptions. While perfectly reasonable in theory, my concern is that it will only hasten the move toward dynamic pricing on all awards and thereby lessen the value proposition and transparency of the program.
United Airlines “Money + Miles” Awards
Although the new program has not formally been announced, Brian Sumers shared an internal memo to reservation agents about a new “money + miles” MileagePlus award option.
- MileagePlus members can use a combination of money and miles to make their ticket purchase
- Redemptions for as few as 500 miles may be made
- This new payment method will roll out slowly and, in the beginning, only appear in a handful of markets
- domestic flights only
- only on the U.S. United website or the mobile app
- payment only in USD
United is hardly unique in offering a cash + points offering. Delta Air Lines has for years (at a rate of $50 per 5,000 miles) and Star Alliance partners Air Canada Aeroplan and Avianca LifeMiles also offer this option.
I poked around on united.com and did not see this offered on any of the domestic routes I checked. My gut is that miles will be valued somewhere between 0.7 and 1.2 cents each and it may not be consistent.
As an extra option, I am okay money + miles. However, if it becomes a blueprint for general redemptions, we will see a further erosion in the MileagePlus program.
Here’s what has me worried: some users on Flyertalk reported that when searching for award space on united.com, a separate column for “saver” and “everyday” award space no longer appears:
This is how it still appears for me, even after clearing my cache, suggesting that this change is being rolled out on a trial basis:
On the one hand, we should have seen this change coming. United Airlines no longer publishes award charts and during the pandemic we have seen pricing not only for United flights, but partner airlines fluctuate based upon the date purchased. While partner award tickets generally stick to a consistent pricing structure, the price itself can change overnight.
Nevertheless, with the removal of the saver column at the same time a new “money + miles” option is introduced, MileagePlus seems to be further moving in the direction of linking revenue prices to redemption prices.
Should that happen at some point for partner airline premium awards, MileagePlus will no longer be a program worth considering on the redemption side for those who enjoy business and first class.
Perhaps the removal of the “saver” column and the introduction of money + mile awards are not linked, but both items suggest a dangerous move toward a fully revenue-based redemption model. That’s not a happy prospect for discerning customers.