To sum it up one sentence and rip off the Band-Aid: The results from a basic United award search now define all possible routing options if you want the flights to price as one award. Building your own itinerary if you don’t like what the computer gives you has become considerably more expensive.

In the past, if you didn’t like what United’s award search tool displayed, you could search segment-by-segment and piece them together as one award as long as you followed United’s award rules. Then you could price it out and book via United’s multi-city search tool or with a customer service representative over the phone. Now doing either of those things will cause what you thought was one award to break off into multiple awards, jacking the price up dramatically.

United already took away the ability to book Free One Ways and Three One Ways on October 6— it’s simple one way and roundtrip awards that are taking the blow this time. Something as basic as a one way domestic award could now end up costing tens of thousands of more miles just because you wish to connect somewhere other than what United’s search tool suggests.

This change is not some bug or glitch we’re used to hearing about with the United search tool, it’s been confirmed by United that it’s their new way of pricing.

The Change in United’s Award Pricing Explained

To be clear, any dates and city pairs you plug into the multi-city search tool will return results of separately priced awards. So even if the segments you manually search for fit together in a way that totally abides by United’s award rules, you will not be quoted a single award price when you plug those flights into the multi-city search tool.

Take this simple example of a search from San Francisco to Orlando to illustrate what I mean. Here is what I filled in on the United homepage search box:

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-7-18-18-pm

One of the Saver level results returned from this search, that prices at the standard 12,500 miles, has a connection in Washington, D.C.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-7-20-36-pm

But when I plug those segments into the multi-city search tool instead, like this…

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-7-22-46-pm

… the results I’m returned have each of those segments priced individually at 12,500 miles a pop.

Combining the now two awards into the same flight would cost 25,000 miles, even though it’s the exact same two segments United’s own basic search engine found above.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-7-26-00-pm

Therefore, you can’t use the multi-city tool to force a connection anymore.

It’s very unlikely an agent over the phone will be able to help you either. Some people have had luck getting Premier 1k customer service representatives to price awards at the “old rate”. The agent that was ultimately able to help in the linked data point also said they didn’t know how long they would be able to keep pricing things at the “old rate” because it entails them using the “old system”. Essentially this means, under the new system, United reps are only able to price awards the same way the online tools we have access to do, which does not allow the manual piecing together of flight segments under one award price.

That conclusion is consistent with what a United spokesperson told View From The Wing, that: “…Selecting the multi-city option will break up the search into separate awards.”

An Example of Why This Sucks

Let’s say you want to book an economy award with your United miles between New York and Cape Town this coming April, and you’d like to work in a long layover (under 24 hours, to make it a connection and not a stopover by United rules) in Europe along the way to help break up the long journey and to see an extra city.

You do an initial basic origin to destination search from New York City to Cape Town on united.com’s homepage, and aren’t returned any schedule of flights that look appealing considering your travel goals. This is not surprising since most people wouldn’t want as long as a layover as what you’re seeking.

So you search segment-by-segment and eventually find the following flights that suit your needs and that (theoretically) follow United’s rules to keep it priced as one award:

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-9-06-12-pm

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-9-06-23-pm

The is only two segments (you should be able to have up to four segments on a one way award) and the connection is 20 hours and 25 minutes, under the 24 hour limit that should maintain the layover’s status as a connection and not a stopover. It should be totally legal as a single award that prices at 40,000 United miles for travel between the Mainland U.S./Alaska/Canada and Central/Southern Africa.

Yet when you plug those dates and city pairs into the multi-city search tool…

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-9-24-30-pm

…and you pick the same legs you found doing your own manual segment-by-segment search, what should be a single award splits into separately priced awards and you’re quoted an award price that reflects being charged for both:

  • United States to Europe, for 30,000 miles
  • Europe to South Africa, for 30,000 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-9-17-33-pm

I called United MileagePlus multiple times to try to get an agent to help me price this above example the way it would have been priced in the recent past– at 40,000 United miles– but no matter how hard I negotiated, they all quoted a price of 60,000 miles and said it was due to the fact that they had to price it as two separate awards. No award space showed up if they searched for it as a connecting itinerary.

In this example it is, but the bummer is not just the lack of ability to build in long layovers. Maybe there isn’t direct award space between your desired origin and destination, but a different routing (that still follows United rules) does have award space– like One Mile at a Time’s example of routing Los Angeles to Seoul to Shanghai to Auckland to get to New Zealand in Business Class that results in additive pricing instead of a clean US to New Zealand price. Less award space options is going to be crippling for miles enthusiasts.

Moral of that story: You now have to pay for choosing your own legal/logical routing. That’s a serious bummer and devaluation for loyal United MileagePlus members.

By the Way, United’s Award Search Calendar Isn’t Accurate

To add insult to injury, United’s award search calendar isn’t accurate at the moment. Tiffany from One Mile at a Time pointed it out, and I’ve seen tons of instances today that back up what she says– that available Saver level award space is not always reflected on the calendar.

For example, here’s a calendar for one traveler between New York and Cape Town. You can see that April 9th has no solid nor dotted line, meaning there’s no award space at the Saver level in economy nor Business Class.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-9-48-28-pm

Yet, the search results underneath show a lot of Saver level economy options for April 9th.

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The search tool’s United-only filter continues to be glitchy as well, making it frustrating to find award flights flown specifically on United planes. You’ll have to keep searching day by day if you’re trying to keep the cost of a premium cabin award down by flying United specifically.

This United-only filter glitch has been a problem for months, so I don’t really have much hope of that one getting fixed anytime soon.

Bottom Line

United gutted their stopover rules and gave us the “Excursionist Perk” instead on October 6, allowing only the most traditional routings and vetoing our ability to book Free One Ways and Three One Ways. But it has become apparent now that that’s not all they took away.

If you want an award to price from A to B, you are now limited to the routings provided in the search results from a basic origin to destination search on united.com. Any other award flights not listed that you may find manually– that would have previously fit together under one award price– will be priced additively.

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