Uh Oh, What's United up to now?

United Airline Plane

Any change to a frequent flier program is usually bad for the consumer; all those points and miles you've accrued become harder and harder to use. United Airlines just announced a significant shift in its frequent flier program—though experts say it could be worse. Personally I have found United to be one of the most difficult programs to use miles. How can they make it worse? Read on.

The U.S.'s fourth-largest airline is adding a "dynamic pricing model" to some of its award tickets. That means the number of miles you'll need for an award flight won't always be a set number for the same route. The new "Every Day Awards" will replace the "Standard Awards" in the airline's Mileage-Plus program. It won’t affect the lowest "Saver" awards. The change will go into effect for flights happening after November 1.

Experts say that using miles for flights like United's Every Day Awards is poor value compared to premium-class redemptions and Saver-style awards. United's change also brings minor increases on certain routes and partner redemptions, such as a round-trip business class ticket to Europe increasing to 120,000 miles from 115,000 miles, and a one-way from Boston to San Francisco increasing from 25,000 miles to 35,000 miles.


"Come November 1, your United miles will be worth less than today and the dynamic nature of these new Every Day Awards means a step in the direction of redemptions becoming more tied to the cash price of a ticket—or what is called 'revenue based redemption,'" says Dave Grossman, a frequent flier expert. "That's what you have with Southwest and JetBlue where the price is literally tied to the ticket price rather than the award charts we are used to with the legacy airlines."

United’s vice president of digital products and analytics, Praveen Sharma, emphasized that the airline was sticking to a published award chart, despite the change in Every Day Awards.  “Unlike some of our competitors, we will have a published award chart and we’ll stick to the ranges in that award chart,” Sharma told USA Today. “We will not have exceptions.”

The clarification was a shot at Delta Air Lines, which does not publish an award redemption chart; a problem for frequent fliers looking to make the best use of their miles.

"There's now going to be much more room for United to charge more miles when flights are more expensive meaning the miles are worth less," says Grossman.

Despite the changes, Tiffany Funk of One Mile at a Time says the Mileage-Plus update could be worse.

"Saver awards continue to provide the best value for your miles, and rule-buster awards (like Every Day) should be used very sparingly, and ideally only in emergency situations or by folks with no flexibility who have planned on more expensive awards as part of their mileage strategy," says Funk.

United also announced a new fee. If a customer books an award flight and cancels after the flight's departure, the airline will now charge $125 to have the miles redeposited in the customer's account. Most passengers won't have to deal with that, if they cancel the award flight in advance.

Overall, the changes fit in line with the industry's shift in frequent flier redemptions; domestic programs have become less lucrative over time. But according to Funk, while the latest change complicates United's program, they won't have a massive impact for most travelers. "These particular updates don't significantly detract from the Mileage-Plus program as such," says Funk. "I suppose one could argue that there really isn't much left to take away there."

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No need to take these home with you!

On my travels, I always come home with a collection of shampoos, soaps etc. from all the hotels I stay in.  I even leave the maid nice tips so they’ll replenish the bottles I stash away. I never use any of the things I bring home. Is this some weird compulsive behavior?  Well maybe.  I do this because charitable organizations I support, collect these items for people living in shelters or are homeless.


No need to take these home with you!

Clean the World (CTW), an Orlando-based company, collects used hotel soaps, shampoos..Read more!

On my recent trip back from Cancun, one of the bottles of shampoos opened. Fortunately it was in a plastic bag (plastic bags are a staple on my packing list) and only the other bottles of shampoo got wet. Easily washed off and ready to be donated. So, when I read about what many hotels do with the left-over shampoos and soaps, I’m rethinking my "collecting", thanks to Clean the World.

Clean the World (CTW), an Orlando-based company, collects used hotel soap, melts it down, and makes new soap to send to impoverished countries, through a process called rebatching. Thus saving landfill space locally and lives globally. Worldwide, thousands of children die every day from illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea, which the World Health Organization finds are largely preventable with proper hygiene.

Hotels pay CTW 50 cents/room/month to have soaps recycled. CTW provides bins, pickup, delivery, shipping, and training to the housekeeping staff. CTW then trucks the bins to one of the company’s processing plants in Orlando, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Montreal and India. The bins arrive at giant, fragrant warehouses. The hotel soaps meet reject soaps from companies like Unilever. The soap is melted, reformed and packed into new bars and sent to NGOs and charities like the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

CTW also works with hotels to recycle partially used shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles. At the warehouse, the bottles are examined to see if they’re over three-quarters full. If so, the bottles are cleaned and included in hygiene kits along with toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and other items, then sent to homeless shelters around the world. Empty bottles get recycled. About 5,000 hotels participate in the program in the United States; all of Disney's properties, most of the Vegas strip, and dozens in New York and Chicago. Internationally, most of the Macau strip, as well as hotels in Hong Kong, London, and pretty much anywhere else people travel. The company gives hotels placards and information cards to put in rooms, so guests know.

United Airlines just agreed to donate the unused items out of its first-class passenger kits for use in hygiene kits, including sleep masks and ear plugs for people staying in bright, noisy shelters.
There’s still a lot of room to grow, only 20% of US hotels participate. The next time you get a pang of guilt because you used only a bit of your soap, check to see if your hotel is part of Clean the World. If not, ask them to check into this program.

Happily, leave that soap and shampoo, knowing you might just save a life around the world.


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