United Airlines switched this year from a fixed award chart to one that changes based on availability. United dynamic award pricing is a one-way street.
What Is Dynamic Award Pricing?
United Airlines, like Delta, introduced dynamic award pricing which that the price a member pays in miles reflects the availability of the flight. Delta has used this as a reason to charge as much as 450,000 points on a one-way in Delta One (business class) because the flight was very full.
Dynamic pricing should work for consumers and for the airlines equally. When airplanes are emptier, the price should be lower, when they are fuller it should be higher. The advantage for consumers is the ability to utilize unspent miles below standard award levels.
For the airlines, it fills seats when airplanes are emptier and clears miles off their balance sheets, or helps them clear far more when they are full. It also allows passengers who have lots of miles and don’t really care what the cost of a flight may be, use their miles when they would otherwise find capacity restrictions in place.
United Dynamic Award Pricing is a One-Way Street
United is not holding up its end of the bargain. Some travelers need to travel right now (work, to help a family member, or some other reason) and they should have access to the very best award flight prices in the history of the hobby. But that’s not what United is offering. Just take a look at this flight to Denver from Pittsburgh:
The carrier has priced the flight right, it’s about halfway across the country and there are fewer flights between the two cities so $179/roundtrip seems fair. But they have sold very few seats (understandably) yet want a premium for a coach seat (29,000 miles).
It’s not an isolated matter.
Take a look at a $57 roundtrip to Chicago from LAX. United has likely sold 19 seats on this flight next week, of 210 available in coach. The carrier, again, wants a premium over what should be a standard award of 25,000 miles. Instead, they want 30,000 miles for a $57 roundtrip that will fly almost empty.
BTW: No, Expert Flyer seat maps are not a replacement for true flight sales data. But let’s just be a little bit realistic, if there was ever a time where it was representative of the accurate number, this is about the closest it will come.
Either one of these would be purchased through the use of Chase Ultimate Rewards points as cash tickets rather than using United miles. You can sign-up for cards here, we receive a commission for credit card sign-ups if you so choose.
Delta Has Done it Better in the Past
I don’t have status with Delta at the moment so my searches wouldn’t be comparable to searches with United, however, in the past Delta has behaved properly in this trade with their members. Weekly offers as low as 10,000 miles roundtrip add value to Skymiles members, a program I otherwise avoid.
Even in business class, Delta Air Lines has offered roundtrips to Asia for 75,000 Skymiles. Those rates are best in the US, and add real value over their normal rates of 140-170,000 (worst in the US for saver awards.)
I have previously supported dynamic awards with the caveat that, when done right, they open up seats that would not otherwise be available and add value to flyers that have miles they can’t otherwise utilize. However, United has demonstrated that there is no value in its new dynamic award system. Prices do not reflect excess capacity in the market, prices can go up when it is convenient but not down even when it’s helpful for the carrier. The coronavirus outbreak in the US has laid bare many entities who could hide their intentions behind a robust economy, corporate-speak, and high utilization. United should match what they’ve said, but that’s not what they’ve done.
What do you think? Are United Airlines dynamic awards a one-way street? Does it only work as it’s convenient for them? Will the current crisis change the carrier’s thinking?