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As of last week, the new United MileagePlus award chart took effect (SEE: 5 bad changes to United MileagePlus, and 2 good ones). There really wasn’t much to like about it. Some of the best sweet spots (such as Thai First Class for 40,000 miles) are now a thing of the past. It definitely could have been worse, but the devaluation still wasn’t pretty.

There is one bright spot among the changes that United rolled out: reduced mileage awards for non-stop, short-haul, intra-region partner flights.

New United partner short-haul awards cost only 8,000 miles

I’m very excited about United’s new partner short-haul awards. They offer some increased flexibility to the travel hacker as there are plenty of short-haul flights that are prohibitively expensive. To qualify for the cheap pricing, the flight must fall within the following criteria to price out at 8,000 miles:

  • The flight must be a non-stop partner flight outside the United States (and Canada, which is not explicit in the program update, but the pricing doesn’t appear to apply)
  • The flight must be less than 800 miles.
  • The flight must be within the same MileagePlus region

United has had discounted short-haul flights within the U.S.-Canada region for years. You can still fly United itineraries less than 700 miles (including connections) for 10,000 miles. As the new award pricing doesn’t appear to apply within Canada (since it is in the same MileagePlus region), you’re out of luck if you hoped to fly to the Great White North for cheap.

Sample options for the new United short-haul awards

In many instances, even 8,000 miles one-way won’t be better than paying cash for a short-haul ticket, especially within Europe. But there are some instances in which it absolutely makes sense. For example, consider a flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Catania, Italy. The non-stop flight often runs $150+ one-way. You could fly this for 8,000 United miles and $15.

Moving on to the Middle East, you can fly non-stop from Cairo to Baghdad on EgyptAir for a mere 8,000 miles and $45.80. This flight is typically $200 or more one-way.

Another destination on my personal list of interests in Gondar, Ethiopia. Given that Ethiopian is a StarAlliance partner, I figured that the hop from Addis Ababa to Gondar might be a good use of miles. Cash tickets are $400 round-trip.

However, I could not find any award space searching the United website. Given that revenue flights for Ethiopian appear just fine, it is possible that Ethiopian is not releasing award space on this particular route. I also tried Addis Ababa to Juba, which resulted in the same outcome. I’d be curious to call in to United and see what they can find.

There is some potential in southern Africa, though. You can fly from Johannesburg to Vilankulo. Mozambique for 8,000 miles and $32.30.

I’ll throw in one more example before I turn you loose to do your own research. Here is Guyaquil, Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands on Avianca for 8,000 miles and a Hamilton.

Add a short-haul award to an excursionist perk itinerary

While this isn’t really necessary, I was curious if you could ticket an entire itinerary including both a free “Excursionist Perk” segment and a subsequent short-haul segment for 8,000 miles. Sure enough, it prices out just fine. This open-jaw itinerary is 55,500 United miles and $168.50 in taxes and fees.

Courtesy of Karl Swartz and Great Circle Mapper.

However, the calendar had a glitch each time and showed the price as 0 miles + taxes. I’ve previously ranted about the United award search calendar. The new calendar rolled out seems to be a bit of a step up.

Conclusion

The best use of these short-haul awards in my opinion is for getting to hard-to-reach destinations where short-haul flights are prohibitively expensive. In many cases (think most of Europe), a budget carrier will probably be the best option, and you should save your miles. But no matter what, these new United short-haul awards are a great tool to have handy as a travel hacker.

Featured image courtesy of Raimond Spekking under CC 4.0 license


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