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Domestic Economy Award Pricing for 3 Routes over time

Domestic Economy Award Pricing for 3 Routes over time

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Old Sep 16, 18, 8:50 am
  #1  
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Domestic Economy Award Pricing for 3 Routes over time

Last March my relatives needed a return flight for their vacation and I offered to book it using Plan B. The rest of the trip was set in stone so they could only fly SLC-Maine on Thurs 13SEP18 with the best schedule: noon departure with a short connection. I figured UA would open up Saver space on one of the 3 options within a few weeks since Sept is shoulder season. I started monitoring prices for fun twice a day as Iím sure many of you do.

Well initially I was right; UA opened a single seat via EWR in early April. I booked it and no, another did not magically appear. I cancelled and continued patiently waiting. For months. I waited so long they actually changed the pricing system by the time 3 Saver seats via EWR appeared in late August. Of course, that was just inside of 21 days so I had the privilege of paying 50 bucks to use my miles after waiting an eternity. Well, at least it beats paying full price. But after all that work, my relatives didnít even clear SLC-EWR! So maybe I should have splurgedÖ

Award Pricing


Award Pricing T-7 Days


Revenue pricing from Google Flights (forgot to monitor BGR!)

Raw Data

Some thoughts:

Award availability can be incredibly dynamic, with prices changing up to twice a day. With that being said, award prices appear to track revenue pretty darn closely (as we suspected), staying fixed when revenue are fixed and generally moving in the same direction.

I only looked at expanded space (XN/YN). Just imagine how bad regular space would be! In fact, there was no I space on any routings period (e.g. via SFO) until late August and I space didnít open on a favorable route until DoD (ORD-PWM).

Surprisingly, the longer routes (SLC-EWR/ORD) had XN space pretty consistently. The shorter EWR/ORD-PWM segments did not. While I realize the segments are married, that was likely the problem.

UA can be very stingy with award space, particularly with prime flights. Great for RM, bad for us. They do tend to lower fares/release seats closer to departure, as one would expect due to spoilage. The really didnít open the floodgates (saver on all routes) until t-7d and even then it was sporadic. There was some saver space on DoD but thatís not a waiting game I want to play, considering some routes zeroed out completely for T-2/3d before coming back for the grand finale.

The pecking order of routes is fixed, much like with revenue tickets. For whatever reason, SLC-ORD-EWR commanded a premium over the similar routing via EWR. And BGR was consistently the highest priced route, maxing out for the majority of the period. The loads (at least to me) did not appear to be that different based on seat maps and inventory.

Plan B is a lot harder to do domestically due to GS CPUs and elite RPUs. The common refrain is ďyouíll be #1 on the upgrade listĒ but thatís far from true on some routes. In this case they were 6 and 7! As an aside, I had another failed Plan B last month DCA-SFO where they were actually #1 and 2 but only one seat avail and taken by a cash upgrade. I knew that route would be tough (once a day perimeter TCON).

With a low fare of $147, I would have been much better off paying cash here. But I didn't pay 12.5k miles for a coach ticket, I paid 25k miles for the chance at a first class ticket (compare at $453), which is a rational choice IMO. And it's still a nice gift (although F would have been better!).
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Old Sep 16, 18, 1:08 pm
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Dumb question -- assuming HN is available is it always the same price as YN?
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Old Sep 16, 18, 1:15 pm
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Out of curiosity how were you polling the data? Surely you weren't manually updating a spreadsheet every day?
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Old Sep 16, 18, 1:15 pm
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
Dumb question -- assuming HN is available is it always the same price as YN?
It is not! I was also surprised to learn that.
Edit: I tried to find some examples and couldn't so it's possible that I'm misremembering (or confused).

Originally Posted by augs View Post
Out of curiosity how were you polling the data? Surely you weren't manually updating a spreadsheet every day?
Yep! Twice a day. You can bookmark searches if you start from the UA homepage. In full disclosure, I may have missed a few queries due to being on vacation but as you can see, the prices don't typically change on a daily basis anyways.

Last edited by sexykitten7; Sep 17, 18 at 7:42 am Reason: Added response. And Edit
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Old Sep 16, 18, 4:21 pm
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Interesting data! Thanks for posting.
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Old Sep 16, 18, 7:01 pm
  #6  
 
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
Dumb question -- assuming HN is available is it always the same price as YN?
Originally Posted by sexykitten7 View Post
It is not! I was also surprised to learn that.
Wait.... what??

If that's true -- how would you know? You're only going to see one fare displayed on a given set of flights at a given time. Are you saying that you checked in while logged into two accounts, only one of which had YN access, and the YN fare was fewer miles than the HN fare at the same time on the same flights?
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Old Sep 17, 18, 5:47 am
  #7  
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Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
Wait.... what??

If that's true -- how would you know? You're only going to see one fare displayed on a given set of flights at a given time. Are you saying that you checked in while logged into two accounts, only one of which had YN access, and the YN fare was fewer miles than the HN fare at the same time on the same flights?
It's not that complicated. Hypothetically, if I search without logging in, the price might be HN=32.5k. When I log in, it drops to YN=25k. Yes on the same flights.

Edit: I tried to find some examples and couldn't so it's possible that I'm misremembering (or confused).

Last edited by sexykitten7; Sep 17, 18 at 9:06 am Reason: switched YN and HN
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Old Sep 17, 18, 9:02 am
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Originally Posted by sexykitten7 View Post
It's not that complicated. Hypothetically, if I search without logging in, the price might be YN=32.5k. When I log in, it drops to HN=25k. Yes on the same flights.

Edit: I tried to find some examples and couldn't so it's possible that I'm misremembering (or confused).
OK, except you have your fare classes backwards -- non-logged-in users would get HN, not YN. So YN would have to be a lower price than HN in order for this to make any sense. (I also seem to think that I now *always* get YN / XN instead of HN / X when I book an award, even if the more-limited class is available).

That would seem strange to me, but I admit I don't have any data. I guess it's something to watch for. Thanks for this, BTW. :-) I really expected that these would track directly with inventory buckets -- the way cash fares do -- and I was surprised to see that I was wrong. This study makes it obvious that not only was I wrong, but just how it pays to continue to search regularly for a better price when redeeming an Everyday award.
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Old Sep 17, 18, 9:06 am
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Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
OK, except you have your fare classes backwards -- non-logged-in users would get HN, not YN. So YN would have to be a lower price than HN in order for this to make any sense. (I also seem to think that I now *always* get YN / XN instead of HN / X when I book an award, even if the more-limited class is available).
Yes I got it backwards. Now fixed!
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Old Sep 17, 18, 9:19 am
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Originally Posted by sexykitten7 View Post
Surprisingly, the longer routes (SLC-EWR/ORD) had XN space pretty consistently. The shorter EWR/ORD-PWM segments did not. While I realize the segments are married, that was likely the problem.
In my experience trying to actually use United miles, the choke point is typically indeed that first hop from outstation to hub or larger airport. It's quite frustrating to find a decent saver option for the transatlantic or transpacific leg only to see it price out to 'stupid and insane' for the entire route over a lack of saver space for the PNS-IAH leg. (VPS--IAH is even more of a saver unicorn for me, though I sometimes have good luck with last minute bookings from there)
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Old Sep 17, 18, 2:14 pm
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Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
(I also seem to think that I now *always* get YN / XN instead of HN / X when I book an award, even if the more-limited class is available).
This is true -- always books into the elite bucket even if it didn't need to.

Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
That would seem strange to me, but I admit I don't have any data. I guess it's something to watch for. Thanks for this, BTW. :-) I really expected that these would track directly with inventory buckets -- the way cash fares do -- and I was surprised to see that I was wrong. This study makes it obvious that not only was I wrong, but just how it pays to continue to search regularly for a better price when redeeming an Everyday award.
Yeah, sample size n=1 I saw HN/YN price the same but I did not really go poking. The pricing structure for YN is so downright baffling since it's patently not something so simple as inventory and it bugs me since I can't figure out how it works

Related wondering... can you SDC from YN into YN? Seems like a nice benefit if you can score a 15k YN award on a silly routing and get last-seat SDC onto a better routing.
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Old Sep 18, 18, 6:00 am
  #12  
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
Related wondering... can you SDC from YN into YN? Seems like a nice benefit if you can score a 15k YN award on a silly routing and get last-seat SDC onto a better routing.
yep
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Old Sep 18, 18, 8:47 am
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Originally Posted by sexykitten7 View Post
Last March my relatives needed a return flight for their vacation and I offered to book it using Plan B. The rest of the trip was set in stone so they could only fly SLC-Maine on Thurs 13SEP18 with the best schedule: noon departure with a short connection. I figured UA would open up Saver space on one of the 3 options within a few weeks since Sept is shoulder season. I started monitoring prices for fun twice a day as I’m sure many of you do.

Well initially I was right; UA opened a single seat via EWR in early April. I booked it and no, another did not magically appear. I cancelled and continued patiently waiting. For months. I waited so long they actually changed the pricing system by the time 3 Saver seats via EWR appeared in late August. Of course, that was just inside of 21 days so I had the privilege of paying 50 bucks to use my miles after waiting an eternity. Well, at least it beats paying full price. But after all that work, my relatives didn’t even clear SLC-EWR! So maybe I should have splurged…

Award Pricing
img

Award Pricing T-7 Days
img

Revenue pricing from Google Flights (forgot to monitor BGR!)
img
Raw Data

Some thoughts:

Award availability can be incredibly dynamic, with prices changing up to twice a day. With that being said, award prices appear to track revenue pretty darn closely (as we suspected), staying fixed when revenue are fixed and generally moving in the same direction.

I only looked at expanded space (XN/YN). Just imagine how bad regular space would be! In fact, there was no I space on any routings period (e.g. via SFO) until late August and I space didn’t open on a favorable route until DoD (ORD-PWM).

Surprisingly, the longer routes (SLC-EWR/ORD) had XN space pretty consistently. The shorter EWR/ORD-PWM segments did not. While I realize the segments are married, that was likely the problem.

UA can be very stingy with award space, particularly with prime flights. Great for RM, bad for us. They do tend to lower fares/release seats closer to departure, as one would expect due to spoilage. The really didn’t open the floodgates (saver on all routes) until t-7d and even then it was sporadic. There was some saver space on DoD but that’s not a waiting game I want to play, considering some routes zeroed out completely for T-2/3d before coming back for the grand finale.

The pecking order of routes is fixed, much like with revenue tickets. For whatever reason, SLC-ORD-EWR commanded a premium over the similar routing via EWR. And BGR was consistently the highest priced route, maxing out for the majority of the period. The loads (at least to me) did not appear to be that different based on seat maps and inventory.

Plan B is a lot harder to do domestically due to GS CPUs and elite RPUs. The common refrain is “you’ll be #1 on the upgrade list” but that’s far from true on some routes. In this case they were 6 and 7! As an aside, I had another failed Plan B last month DCA-SFO where they were actually #1 and 2 but only one seat avail and taken by a cash upgrade. I knew that route would be tough (once a day perimeter TCON).

With a low fare of $147, I would have been much better off paying cash here. But I didn't pay 12.5k miles for a coach ticket, I paid 25k miles for the chance at a first class ticket (compare at $453), which is a rational choice IMO. And it's still a nice gift (although F would have been better!).
Neat report, thanks for sharing.

For fun, I overlaid the award and revenue prices you tracked:





Especially in the T-50d to T-30d time frame, the price movement tracks very closely.
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Old Sep 18, 18, 9:22 am
  #14  
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Originally Posted by fumje View Post
Neat report, thanks for sharing.

For fun, I overlaid the award and revenue prices you tracked:





Especially in the T-50d to T-30d time frame, the price movement tracks very closely.
Thanks! Yeah it's scary how closely those match for ORD.
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Old Sep 18, 18, 9:32 am
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Originally Posted by sexykitten7 View Post
Thanks! Yeah it's scary how closely those match for ORD.
Well, if the Everyday Award price were tied directly to Economy inventory, that's exactly what we'd see happen during a time period where advance purchase rules wouldn't come into effect.

The thing is, there aren't enough economy inventory buckets to explain pricing at the current granularity. Inventory may be a factor but it can't be the only one.
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