Thrash Lab

United Airlines Cuts Number of Reward Miles Needed for Short Flights

Airlines are desperate for some good press after a summer of delays and widespread passenger discontent, and are doing what they can to great some. Now, according to an August 22 press release, at United, a short flight equals a sweet deal as the airline is temporarily reducing the number of frequent flier miles members of its Mileage Plus Awards Travel need to redeem for flights of less than 700 miles.

Award travel for nonstop, roundtrip flights that are 700 miles or less each way on booked on the United website,, will be available for 15,000 redeemable miles instead of the traditionally 25,000 miles. Tickets must be booked on the United Web site by Dec. 12 for travel between Sept. 1, 2007 and Dec. 14, 2007.

In the press release, Robert Sahadevan, United’s vice president of Mileage Plus, said, “United understands that our Mileage Plus members work hard to earn their frequent flyer miles and with this promotion less miles equal more awards.”

Good press for airline, not-so-good deal for passengers?

True, but at what cost to the passenger? Per usual, restrictions apply, seats are limited, and the traveler will be giving up 15,000 frequent flier miles that could be better used for a longer, more expensive trip.

Right now, airfare is less expensive than it has been in previous months as summer vacation travel winds down and airlines try to re-gain consumer loyalty and confidence. Which means a better choice might be to just purchase the ticket and save the miles.

For $118.80, a passenger can book a ticket from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Baltimore Washington International Airport on the United Web site. This particular trip is a Saturday to Wednesday with mid-morning nonstop flights each way. A flight from San Francisco to Phoenix costs $334.50 for a Thursday to Monday flight on a more traditional business travel schedule.

True cost of miles

At the same time, the Chicago to Baltimore trip is 621 miles each flight, earning the passenger up to 1,400 frequent flier miles. The San Francisco to Phoenix flights are 651 miles each way, again earning up to 1,400 frequent flier miles.

If a passenger redeems miles for the Chicago to Baltimore trip the miles would cost $24.15 per mile, San Francisco to Phoenix would average $23.04 per mile. These two trips are eligible for the lower redemption award. In contrast, an October trip from Baltimore to San Francisco starts at $588.80, and can be “purchased” for 25,000 frequent flier awards miles, at an average of $10.18 per mile. This trip is not eligible for the lower redemption level.

The savings of 10,000 miles might not be the best financial choice for a short trip, particularly in light of the simultaneously lower airfares. However, for emergency or un-planned for trips, or individuals who are miles-rich and cash-poor, this is good news.

United Airlines can be profitable for some while not much of a monetarily beneficial option for others so you will not find many people who would opt for it any time soon as the finances are all that matters and private flights are not something that everyone can afford with UA being one of them and is full of hassles on certain occasions.

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