Skift Take

United is refining how it defines a stopover and cranking up fees for award ticket changes -- but we get a better award booking tool in the process.

Chicago-based United Airlines announced a handful changes to its MileagePlus award booking process last week that should make finding complicated award tickets easier for most casual travelers.

The changes center around improvements to United’s online booking engine to make complicated award bookings involving a stopover simpler. Until recently, the airline allowed for free stopovers on many award tickets with typical restrictions, though complicated itineraries with multiple stops or atypical routings often required the help of a phone agent.

United has now updated its online award search engine to accommodate many of those complicated searches involving stopovers. In doing so, it also refined the way that it defines a stopover and coined a new “Excursionist” term (or perk) to better market the product. By many standards, though, that new Excursionist perk is nothing more than a simple stopover on an award ticket with a few extra restrictions. Those constraints have been published by the airline in a new FAQ, while a deeper look at the mechanics of the award calculations on the stopover is available at The Points Guy.

United also took advantage of the stopover overhaul to take another look at its fee structure for changing award tickets. Prominently, the airline changed the time at which award change fees kick in. Change fees on award tickets for most elite members currently increase at 21 days prior to the day of travel. United’s updated policy changes that to 61 days, an increase of more than a month. Premier 1K elite members who fly more than 100,000 miles (and spend $12,000) are still exempt from these fees.

Overall, the upcoming changes should make life slightly better for general travelers looking to book complicated award travel online without the help of a phone agent. The travelers that may suffer will be those who typically book ultra-complex award tickets — perhaps to circumvent United’s award ticket rules — and mid-tier elites who like to change award tickets near the date of travel. For the lion’s share of MileagePlus members who are simply trying to save enough miles for a round trip ticket to Hawaii, though, these changes should pass without much ado.

Full changes go into effect on October 6 and are detailed on United’s website.

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Tags: loyalty, united airlines

Photo credit: United is making it easier for its MileagePlus loyalty member to redeem online.

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