This is old news by now, but I did not want to let the opportunity to blog about it pass me by. United Mileage Plus has announced a return of certain award fees which aligns the program with Continental OnePass effective June 15th. United is reinstating a fee for booking award travel within 21 days of departure. However, the fee is being reintroduced with a tiered structure starting at $75 dollars for general members and then dropping by $25 dollars for each level of Mileage Plus elite status. The fee is $50 dollars for Premiers, $25 dollars for Premier Executives, and is waived for 1K and Global Services customers. While this particular fee is among the most annoying to me, I suppose it could have been worse. Although American AAdvantage notably now waives the close-in award fee for all elite customers.

Some fees are actually going down. For example, the fee for changing your origin or destination on award tickets will be dropping immediately to $75 dollars for all Mileage Plus members below 1K and Global Services status who are exempt. For tickets issued on or after June 15, 2011, the fee evolves into a tiered pricing structure with General Members continuing to pay $75 dollars while Premiers and Premier executives will be out $50 and $75 dollars respectively. There are other changes which United details here.

All in all, these changes aren’t that bad, and for elite members, they’re mostly beneficial. That said, I am not a fan of paying any extra surcharge for booking your trip less than 21 days before departure. That fee is, and always has been, a pure money grab and I do not care for it. Frankly, I don’t even think non-elites should be charged this fee. Let’s face it, if you’re down to booking a trip less than 3 weeks in advance, you’re more likely to have to use “double miles” awards anyway. Isn’t that indignity enough?

Why is United doing this now? I think they really are just aligning with Continental. But with oil prices headed north, I think the fee structure that they thought might be slightly more revenue positive is the one they went with. I’m betting a lot more non-elites than we think actually use their miles for simpleton trips, and wind up booking closer to departure than they might like, especially with fares are high as they are in many markets. Just a thought…that I can’t back up with hard data. In any event, I can’t help but think that some other airlines may be looking at tweaking the fee structure on their award programs to boost revenue. Personally, I hope American’s fee waiver for elites on close-in bookings is the model that wins the day. Will I get my wish? Doubt it. Though it is gratifying to see that all award fees for United’s top elite 1K and Global Services customers continue to be waived. Perhaps I need a 1K card? 🙂