United Airlines has loosened restrictions in its MileagePlus program, a move the carrier hopes will help stimulate business travel demand later in the year.

Recent changes have included eliminating blackout dates for all members — previously, Premier members and qualified co-branded Chase cardholders had no blackout dates, but it has now been expanded program-wide — and cutting award prices on certain routes.

One-way economy fares on some routes to Europe, including Madrid, Lisbon and Reykjavik, have been cut to 22,500 miles, and some domestic routes are available for as little as 5,000 miles, according to the carrier. Additionally, it has increased premium cabin availability for upgrade rewards and discounted the co-pay for upgrade requests to Europe.

United also has temporarily cut the cost in PlusPoints for skipping the premium upgrade waitlist and made the option available across more of its network.

Although business travel levels remain highly depressed — and reward travel generally is used for leisure travel, anyway — the adjustments also have been made with the future of business travel in mind, said Luc Bondar, president of MileagePlus and United vice president of marketing and loyalty.

“It’s getting customers familiarized again with travel, encouraging them to return to travel and take that first trip,” Bondar said. “Whether it was company policy or their personal decisions, many have not traveled for the last 12-plus months, but we’ve found when customers take that first trip, the second trip happens in short order.”

So far, the carrier has seen “record levels of redemption” as more markets open and restrictions ease. United recently saw its largest single day for redemption since the onset of the pandemic, Bondar said. That bodes well for business travel recovery later in the year, he said.

“My sense is that the rate of acceleration and return to business travel is going to come back a lot faster than the industry has forecast,” he said. “I think 2022 might feel like a remarkably normal year.”

Source: Business Travel News

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