Can Dynamic Pricing Be A Good Thing? Some Initial Impressions of the New United Airlines Mileage Plus

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Many of us have a few travel hacks that we really enjoy playing around with. I discovered one of my favourites thanks to Joe (and an old Marriott Travel Package for a big stash of UA miles), with his series on United Airlines’ “Excursionist Perk”. If you want to catch up, you can read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.  So when United Airlines Mileage Plus announced that it was moving to “dynamic pricing”, I was worried that the Excursionist perk might be doomed. Instead I’ve found that it might have gotten even better…

The Basics of Excursionist Perk

The Excursionist Perk is essentially a free one-way flight nested within a return ticket.  It is designed mainly for holiday itineraries such as this:

  • Fly from London to New York
  • Spend a few days in New York before flying to Chicago
  • After a few days in Chicago you fly back home to London

You would pay the appropriate miles for your reward flight from London to New York and for the reward flight from Chicago to London. However, the New York to Chicago flight would cost ZERO miles. The only restrictions for that “middle / free” flight are:

  • It must be in the same (or lower cabin) as the first flight
  • It must remain within any single award region apart from the region you departed from (i.e. North America, Africa, etc. – anything other than Europe)

However, you are actually allowed open jaws, so the travel hacker version of the Excursionist Perk would be:

  • Short, cheap flight – say London to Brussels
  • Long, expensive, single region flight elsewhere – for example New York to Los Angeles or Nairobi to Cape Town.
  • Short, cheap flight in original region – say London to Brussels again

I hope that summary is clear, but if not I suggest that you re-read Joe’s entire series.

What is Happening With Dynamic Pricing?

Oddly enough, reward flights on United Airlines are pricing out for fewer miles as part of an Excursionist Perk itinerary. Here is a simple reward search for Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Because cash fares are typically quite cheap on this route, they now cost fewer miles due to “dynamic pricing”.

However, if you search for Los Angeles to Las Vegas as the first leg of a multi-leg “Excursionist Perk” reward, you will see this:

So, not only will your Excursionist Perk “second flight” cost zero miles (assuming you tack on a return flight), but you will pay 1,000 fewer miles for that first flight!

The Return of Throwaway Ticketing?

Once you start adding elements together, the travel hacking opportunities become even greater (assuming you visit the U.S. occasionally).  Imagine that you wanted a reward flight between Turkey and the United Kingdom.  (i.e. a long, but single region, reward flight)  You could simply pay for a straightforward reward ticket and pay…

Or, if you knew that you would be visiting a couple of cities in the United States and could put together an Excursionist Perk itinerary, you could end up with something like this:

All you would need to do is tag on a “throwaway return”, like many of us would do back in the days when paid return tickets required a Saturday night stay in order to be cheaper. Of course, perhaps you would be able to use that throwaway flight in the future, but with some research and thanks to United’s new “dynamic pricing” you can find really cheap flights to throw away…

Of course, it is worth remembering that you can’t just show up to Istanbul for your flight. If you don’t fly any leg on your itinerary, the entire ticket is cancelled. So you can ONLY safely throw away the final leg. And of course you might not want to repeat this so many times that UA takes interest in your mileage account…  😉

Conclusion

Perhaps this is just a short-term glitch as United Airlines Mileage Plus implements “dynamic pricing”. But instead of running to spend those UA miles on whatever partner flight you can find, perhaps you should commence some serious travel hacking.  I know the opportunity is doing my head in these days…  😀

Comments

  1. Joe Deeney says

    Great article (not least because I was intending to write something very similar myself soon!). If there was some crazy low pricing for biz class, that would be the real diamond – although, I flew TK Economy a couple of months ago and actually quite enjoyed it.

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