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United Ups Frequent-Flyer Fees, Ditches Round-the-World Awards

To seasoned travelers, the words “program updates” are the ultimate buzzkill, foreshadowing a raft of customer-unfriendly changes to the loyalty programs they’re invested in.

Their trepidation usually turns out to be well founded, as it was with the program updates announced by United earlier this week.

Of the four major changes, three are negative. But first, following United’s example, the good news.

Beginning in the fall, United will introduce a new award-booking engine, allowing MileagePlus members more flexibility in creating multi-city itineraries. If it works as advertised, it will be a modest plus for program members.

Together with the new booking app, United is eliminating Round-the-World awards and limiting free stopovers on roundtrip awards. So, one step forward, two steps back.

And the third step back: Also beginning on October 6, new change fees take effect. Most members will pay more for changes, and the definition of close-in booking—important, since that’s when heftier fees kick in—changes from 21 days to 60 days.

While the changes are hardly draconian, they are on balance a setback for most MileagePlus members. Another setback. Another reason to fear the words “program update.”

Reader Reality Check

When’s the last time a program update benefited you?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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