United has notified customers of “More flexible award booking and streamlined fees – A new user-friendly booking experience and more.” MileagePlus Updates shows the changes to award flights and award fees.
Of course this is all for the benefit of the customer. Quoting the FAQ:
Why are you removing the stopover policy?
Many members found the stopover policy to be confusing. Our goal is to keep the benefit while making the process of booking your multi-city trip easier, so we are introducing the Excursionist Perk, which is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries.
Naturally they are helpfully making award rules more confusing and eliminating many types of stopover. View from the Wing goes through the details.
What is actionable is that tickets booked up to October 5 will be governed by the old rules, even when changed from October 6. Book your max awards now. Trips like this.
The award fees sting as well. To get reduced fees you’ll have to make changes or cancel 61 days prior to travel instead of 21. The fees themselves are a mixed bag among status levels.
The current fees:
Platinums will pay $50 for changes within 60 days of departure where previously they, like 1K and GS, paid no fees. This is similar to upcoming AA Platinum Pro. Delta Platinum continues to waive award fees up to 72 hours prior to departure and overall looks like the most valuable Platinum status among the three.
I am not sure there is any value left to United Platinum vs Gold. Once you start imposing fees a chunk of the psychological benefit of elite status is wiped out. Gold gets you Star Alliance Gold. The United benefits between Gold, Platinum and 1K are marginal unless you pay higher fares to make use of upgrade certificates. As a 1K my upgrade rate is terrible. Elite status treatment and recognition at United is desultory, from the customer service line greeting, “[Long sigh], [groan], premier line,” to the ‘scan your own boarding pass’ look you get at the gate.
Since 1K doesn’t have a credit card spend waiver, this year I will stop at Gold and save myself the trouble of earning 25k PQMs.
Awards also need to changed or canceled at least 24 hours prior to departure (4 days for intra-Japan itineraries on ANA). Currently you can cancel up to and even after departure, helpful for lounge access.