United has offered up an innovative new spin on cashing in frequent flier miles: “Weekend Saver” discounts. But is it worth spending your miles on this?
The concept is essentially the same as their e-fares: For last-minute reservations on flights from their hub cities, you pay less than the normal walkup rate. Your travel dates are limited, and you never know more than a week or two in advance which cities will be in the mix. It’s all determined by supply and demand.
For cash fares, this can be a good deal if your travel plans align with the e-fare rules (typically a Saturday departure and a Monday or Tuesday return). But for fares “paid” with miles, the discount isn’t as enthralling. You’re getting a discount on the mileage cost, but the product you’re buying is already discounted.
For example, the e-fare for Chicago to Los Angeles this coming weekend is $135 each way, plus taxes. (That comes to $291.40) The Weekend Saver fare: 19,000 miles, instead of the typical “saver” rate of 25,000 miles. That comes to about 1.5 cents per mile. That’s better than the 1.1 cents per mile you’d be getting if paying 25k miles, but it’s still not great value. But if you’re in a gotta-go, low-on-cash but miles-rich state, this could come in handy.
Nonetheless, it’s nice to see an airline offering discounts.