United Rolls Out One Way and Cash Plus Miles Awards

I had heard rumblings of this nearly six months ago, but now it’s official. United is offering one way award redemptions, and we should all be happy about that. Not only that, but they’re letting you pay with cash plus miles. These changes make your Mileage Plus miles much more useful, but of course, there are some restrictions. Let’s dig in a little bit more.

United's Cash Plus Points Option

American has been doing one way awards for awhile, and my guess is that’s what spurred United to follow as well. Even though Delta may be the largest airline around these days, American and United have always seen each other as chief competitors. The shared O’Hare hub and long history certainly contributes to the rivalry. So United is matching American with one way awards and stepping up with cash plus miles.

Like American (and unlike some international carriers), United will simply charge you half the number of miles required for a roundtrip ticket to go one way. That means you can get a one way domestically for only 12,500 miles. This makes your miles much more useful.

For example, when we found an inexpensive one way fare to Indiana for the holidays, we wanted to use miles to get back home. I actually would have preferred to use my United miles, but they didn’t have one way awards. So I used American miles instead. Now I have a choice.

This also creates an opportunity to mix and match awards. Before this change, if you found saver awards available one way but only standard (double price) awards the other, you have to pay the full standard award amount. But now, you can simply buy two separate one way awards at different levels. That saves you a lot. You can also go one way on United and the other way on American, if availability dictates it.

But what if you don’t have enough miles for your trip? Well, you can use miles plus points. This to me seems like the beginning of moving toward a revenue-based mileage system. Right now, it looks like the miles and cash are zone-based, but eventually I would bet it would be able to move toward a dollar per mile valuation. Let’s see how it works now.

A roundtrip from LAX to Chicago is 25,000 miles on random dates. You can also do 15,000 miles plus $110 (actually $131 after taxes). The same award from LAX to New York is 15,000 miles plus $120. For LAX to San Francisco, it’s 10,000 miles plus $90. Nonstops versus connections don’t seem to make a difference, but these are only available on roundtrip saver awards on some routes. So it is restricted now, probably to see how it works.

Is this a good option? For LAX to San Francisco, I’d say not at all unless you’re traveling at the last minute. If you bought a ticket on those flights today, you’d save $83. That means you’re getting less than a penny per mile. For the JFK option, you’d save $266 so that’s up near 2 cents a mile. The point is, you really need to look at your specific flight to see how much it would cost to just buy it. You just can’t make a blanket statement here.

No matter what, this is a really nice option to have. I know some people are sad that this means the death of stopovers (you now need 3 one way awards), but that’s only for awards using United. If you do Star Alliance awards, then the old rules are still in tact.

This adds a lot of value for fliers and doesn’t take much away. I always like to see that.

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