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New From United: Discounted Last-Minute Weekend Awards

New From United: Discounted Last-Minute Weekend Awards

In my coverage of United’s "We Want You to Use Your Miles" ad campaign, I noted that the final verdict would rest with the airline’s customers.

The reader comments on the blog post have been mixed. Some examples:

We’ve had a Mileage Plus card for a long time and find it more and more difficult to get to use the miles for the times and places I want to go.

The quality of service has deteriorated over the years to those using miles and those with Premier flying status. Recently we both used the new ‘one-way’ mileage saver ticket to book our flights because we couldn’t get the right dates to do a mileage round-trip ticket. I made my return flight on Delta on a paid ticket because I couldn’t get any date in the month I wanted to return, the paid ticket on United was triple what I paid on Delta. Keep in mind we are both very flexible with our dates and still can’t spend the miles on a United award ticket. United is full of talk. No action.

I have used United’s Miles and Money—what a deal. Can’t get on all flights but best deal in the industry. I have tried to use my Delta miles many times and have never found a flight except for the highest level. I have also tried to use American miles in the past two years, found it totally impossible to use on the dates needed. United is the only carrier that had flights I could use at the lowest mileage level. United ROCKS.

I have never had a problem redeeming my miles with United or the Star Alliance when booking a trip to Europe.

It is not easy to get the flights using miles on United. It is next to impossible to get a 25,000 mile award even on domestic flights. On flights to Europe, they make it tough to use a minimum miles ticket unless they overcharge you with larger miles requirements.

Three years ago I used my United miles to fly to India and Bali business class for 90,000 miles. When I went to use my miles to go to Kauai last year, the only direct flight required 85,000. You could get a saver award of 45,000 miles, but it required you to go from SFO to Phoenix, then LAX and be in transit over 22 hours. What??? I am not satisfied and cancelled my Signature card on United. I can get better rewards for my money.

Bottom line: There’s no clear consensus on whether United’s claim to operate the most rewarding loyalty program is fact or fiction. But United does deserve credit for addressing the issue head on, and for offering an industry-leading assortment of award options, promotions, and policies, including:

  • Hotel and car awards
  • Mileage Plus Merchandise Rewards
  • Miles & Money awards
  • One-way awards
  • Periodic award sales
  • No last minute booking fee

Yet Another Mileage Plus Award Option

United has added yet another new award option to that list with the introduction of Weekend Saver Awards, last-minute weekend award trips to selected destinations for up to 40 percent fewer miles.

Here’s how it works:

  • On Tuesday, United publishes on its website a list of routes that will be available at discounted rates over the coming weekend. (If you’ve opted to receive Mileage Plus promotional emails, you’ll also receive a weekly notice of eligible flights from your home airport.)
  • Flights can be booked between Tuesday and Friday of that week.
  • Fly on Saturday outbound, returning the following Monday or Tuesday.

So, for example, last Tuesday, I received an email from United, with the headline "Miles that love last minute getaways." Because United’s records show Los Angeles as my city of residence, the email promoted five LAX-originating flights for the coming weekend: to Pittsburgh, for 19,000 miles; and to Salt Lake City, Reno, Santa Maria, or Bakersfield, for 15,000 miles.

This is hardly a new idea. Discounted last-minute weekend getaways have been a fixture of the travel landscape since the early days of the Internet. Think of American’s Net SAAver Weekend Getaways, Delta’s Weekly Web Fares, and United’s own E-Fares, among others.

What United has done is extend that tried-and-true concept to frequent flyer award tickets.

As with the paid version of weekend web fares, United’s Weekend Saver Awards are either great deals or non-starters depending on a) your interest in and ability to book within a week of travel; b) your ability to fit a meaningful trip between Saturday and Monday or Tuesday; and c) your interest in the destinations being featured during a given week.

And as with United’s other award options, it will be up to Mileage Plus members to evaluate the value and convenience (and availability) of Weekend Saver Awards.

Reader Reality Check

Is this a significant addition to the Mileage Plus program? A baby step? A non-event?

More generally, how satisfied are you with United’s Mileage Plus awards?

  • John Zia

    I’ve been mileage plus for years and mostly (till last 2 yrs) Premier and higher. One change I’ve noticed this year in particular is the crappy travel dates for saver flights. Truly horrible. In past years we’ve always been able to find good flights and sometimes quite close to flight dates. Recently, 2,4 or even 6 months out is booked up. So, for us, the value of the miles has become very low since there’s so little flight wise we can use them for. Hotels and gifts are silly values, really, as you rarely even get 1 cent a mile in value.

  • LRL

    I’ve outgrown reward programs. After many years as a Hilton Diamond, United 100k, etc I just dropped out of all programs. INSTEAD, I now book the flights and hotels most convenient to me through a fairly sophisticated series of discount sites. The FF games may have been valuable before internet sites but now I pay what the FF people pay and the hassle I avoid is worth giving up the “free” flights (which, even if you can find them, are about as valid as a “free room” for big better suckers in Vegas.) Sorry suckers (and oh yeah, while you were reading this the airlines & hotels just decreased the pretend value of your award by increasing the points needed AND making fewer flights/rooms available.)

  • Betsy Gerrity

    I am a premier member with UA and have never had any problems getting reward seats when I need them. I will continue to fly with UA-it is my airline of choice!!.