My thoughts on the United Airlines 2012 Mileage Plus program

United Airlines provided the details for the 2012 Mileage Plus program yesterday, as was widely reported and blogged. Many of the speculated changes did not actually come to pass, but there are some program details leaving many disappointed. All the specifics can be found here and I offer my comments on some of them below.

Tiers. As expected, United officially rolled out four mileage/segment-based tiers from Silver to 1K with “Premier” being the branded leading word at all levels. Global Services still exists, of course, on an invitation-only basis determined by your annual spend. I think adding the 75,000-mile level was a smart move to further reward the higher mileage flying 75,000 to 99,999 members with some extra goodies, including matching the fee waivers 1Ks currently enjoy. A few other highlights (Elite Qualifying Miles & Segments are now Premier Qualifying Miles & Segments: PQM/PQS):

United cut bonus miles back down below 100% for lower level elites, as it was about 20 years ago. I think it’s fair, actually, but will be uncompetitive with the rest of the industry except US Airways. Slight adjustments to the upgrade windows were made and the minimum four-segment requirement – the least worrisome rumored change – did make an appearance. Apparently the backlash United received from the “leaked” tier-based revenue requirements were bad enough to keep it totally off the program. I was ready to book a discounted business class ticket to Australia next year had they required it, but will happily achieve 1K again inexpensively.

Upgrades. After Global Services, priority is now given to elites on full-fare Y and B tickets (plus M for 1Ks), so the all mighty dollar on any given flight is now more important to United than long-term loyalty. I think this is remarkably unfair to the consistently loyal elite who, say, normally buys last-minute tickets for business travel only to get penalized when they pre-plan a vacation and booked a cheaper rate. It just doesn’t make sense to me. On the other hand, mileage upgrades – and regionals & systemwides, now named Regional Premier Upgrades & Global Premier Upgrades – will trump anyone looking for a complimentary upgrade and while hard to swallow, I agree with this. Priority should be given to instrument-sponsored upgrades before any complimentaries should come into play. I know some of you will disagree with me here.

Fare-based bonus miles. Finally United is awarding bonus miles for full-fare economy tickets and also greatly enhanced bonuses for the premium cabins. Here’s a summary showing the current percentages and what will eventually be the new structure once both carriers are on the Shares GDS (late first quarter 2012).

Economy Plus access. In quite a bitch-slap to the 25,000- to 49,999-mile flyers, United will now only allow Premier Silvers to reserve an Economy Plus seat at time of check-in. I think United had better end one of their current advertisements advising “Place your expectations in the upright position.”

Lifetime benefits. I am incredibly pleased with the details for the million-miler program. First, United will make a one-time adjustment to add in elite qualifying miles (EQMs) from years past since Continental Airlines’ current program incorporates those miles. Not counting the “roll-over” bonus EQMs I received in 2009 and 2010 (will those count?) I probably have about 15,000 miles coming to me. Going forward, only actual flight miles will count toward status and I’m fine with that having been used to it as a United flyer. Thankfully, at one million miles, United will bestow lifetime Premier Gold status (I had feared Silver), Premier Platinum for two million, Premier 1K for three million and (wow!) Global Services for four million. Also, million-milers will be able to designate a spouse or significant other with matching status.

I can now happily continue my trek for million-miler status having seriously been considering a jump over to American Airlines if the program were unattractive. I still have a nagging worry, though, that we’ll eventually see reduced PQMs for the cheapest tickets. With United relenting on a hard figure revenue requirement, will they boldly be the first U.S. carrier to attempt a shakeup of elite qualification based on fare?

Comments

  1. Contra your chart I do not believe that Global Services requires 4 segments on United metal, it’s often extended independent of flying (eg sales volume to key decision-maker).

    “United is the first carrier to cut bonus miles back down below 100% for lower level elites, ”

    US AIrways already did this.

  2. For the fare based bonus miles, I thought Continental gave a 50% bonus for full fare Economy tickets. Unless I am mistaken, this is now being reduced to only 25%. Given many companies only allow employees to book coach for domestic flights, and if you are booking last minute, then you would book a Y fare, and get the 50% bonus miles. Now you are only getting 25%, which I view as one of the negatives about the announced changes, although not many people seem to have commented on it.

    • It looks like Continental currently gives a 50% bonus on elite qualifying miles, but no bonus for redeemable miles for which my chart refers. I haven’t looked at the EQM side yet, but there might not be any changes since United’s announcement didn’t specifically call any out.

    • Couldn’t agree more RB …. that’s the one that kills me – going from Naples to DC 7 times a year on a Y class ticket I was enjoying the 50% EQM bonus … cutting it to 25% is a hard one to swallow, given the cost of Y class tickets …

      • I think there is some confusion here. It remains to be seen if the EQM, now PQM bonus will be reduced from 50% to 25% for full Y. I believe 50% will stick. I was referring directly to the RDM, redeemable miles being at 25% going forward. So… if I’m right, you’ll actually keep your 50% PQM, but now also get a 25% bonus in RDMs.

  3. Your complaints make sense regarding the new upgrade policy and E+ allocation, but you need to see the other side. There are many 1Ps who fly last minute full fare transcon @ $1500 only to get shut out by a 1K who is flying on a $300 ticket. And then adding insult to injury when they find the E+ cabin is fully booked. That customer will defect to Virgin or JetBlue where he can simply pay for a better seat and better IFE. 1Ks still have other ways of guaranteeing an upgrade on cheapo tix – methods that aren’t available to the 1P and 2P flying on the $1500 ticket.

    • That a good scenario noting the pros of blocking E+ to 1Ps and above should they be purchasing and traveling last minute. Makes sense here to give them the pick of E+ before 2Ps. As far as the upgrades, if a 1K hadn’t used an instrument to support an upgrade in advance AND they didn’t clear at their window (which I admit is unlikely), then that 1P would trump the 1K if they are booked in Y or B.

  4. some good, some bad. While I’m happy that I will now be 1MM without doing anything in the next few months, I’m not happy that MANY will join me. I’m happy it is still GOLD, but not happy that there are many new levels BETWEEN my and GS now for upgrade and not happy that a 1MM+ member no longer gets ANY RPU’s for GPU’s (one time) annually. Bummer of a loss IMHO. But, money talks. It is clear that UACO is trying to “bend the curve” on their forward going mileage account liabilities, by both giving out FEWER miles to many members, but also encouraging members to SPEND SPEND SPEND to guarantee upgrades. From a financial balance sheet standpoint it makes a heck of a lot of sense.

    • Have to agree about the loss of RPUs being crappy for 1MMs (didn’t mention that in the post). Even with the increase in million milers, it’s still a select group and I’ll look forward to crossing that mark soon.

  5. I’m very upset about loss of RPU’s for 1MM’s. After all, loyalty & only miles flown on UA counted towards that level………no cr. card activity, etc. to reach 1MM, as it does in some other programs. I hope many of you will email Mileage Plus with your feedback about these changes.

  6. Darren,

    I’ve asked various people at United if Million Milers will no longer earn two Regional Upgrades every year after January, 2012, and nobody seems to know or is willing to say. I’m assuming by the thread of comments above that you’ve verified this to be the case?

    • Hi Dave, no unfortunately I’m not certain either. Just perused the boards on FT & MP and can’t find a real answer. Not sure if Ken will return to give his source of the claim.

  7. Darren,
    Unfortunately I found this from Scott O’Leary, United’s Managing Director, Customer Solutions, dated 9/21, regarding granting Premier Gold for spouses of Million Milers:

    This spousal benefit will replace the one-time and annual upgrade gifts, and hopefully you’ll agree this is a better deal

    Needless to say, I don’t agree!

  8. What was missing is the loss of life time red carpet club at 2M miles. I am very close to that now. Crappy at best. I know United needs to make money, but I don’t care about my wife getting the same status as me, thats about as worthless as the $25.00 service coupons they used give out.

  9. I am a million mile flier on United and am very disappointed at the devaluation of the MM program that has taken place in 2012. MM fliers have been devalued from Premier Exec status to this new lower gold status. I predict that the benefits for gold status will erode over the next few years.

    What United should include in their MM program is a different starting point for achieving upward elite status. For example, a one million flier should start at a base of 50K elite miles, which means that they only need 50K to hit 1K status. This gives incentive for MM fliers to continue flying with United and gives United the opportunity to actually reward their most loyal customers.

    • @Mark: That’s an interesting thought re: MMs starting at 50K, but United would never do that. I’m just happy they didn’t knock the 1MM level down to Premier… that would have been painful.

  10. Very upset about the loss of economy plus seating at booking benefit for Premier Silver members. Now there is no benefit to United loyalty. Can’t even buy yearly Economy Plus seating. The loss of economy plus at booking has ended my United loyalty. Only when/if United returns this benefit to loyal members who book more than 25k miles will I return to United. I encourages others to complain about this as well!

    • @David: I, too, would be incredibly furious about the loss of Economy Plus at the time of booking. American, as you probably know, just announced their version of Economy Plus and while Golds (the equivalent of Premiers) have free access through 12/31/2013, they won’t even be able to get those seats after 12/31/13 without paying for them. I have a feeling this trend will continue.

  11. @David I, too, am very upset. I have sent United couple complaint email. First time I received back an email “reminding” me the Premier Silver benefits… I replied back saying I didn’t need to be reminded of my Premier benefits since I have been enjoying them for years, which is how I can easily feel the “bitch slap” for being loyal to them for the past years. I also mentioned to them that my loyalty is now gone, especially for my trans-pacific travel. United is one of the worst airlines to fly to Asia, and without Economy Plus seating benefits, I will now fly other airlines with the possibility of giving up on United all together.

  12. I am abandoning United AFTER they abandoned me. I fly from Baltimore to northern CA (San Fran or Sacramento) several times a year and now with Silver status feel the loss of E+ seating. I remained loyal to United for that perk (and the free bag check was nice too) but now will pay less and fly Southwest and pay their $10 to get automatic check-in so I am sure to get a decent seat. And the bags are free. It’s a no brainer.

  13. Wanted to let you view the response (below in quotes) to my letter of complaint about the lack of E+ seating for silver status that I received from Martin Hand who has something to do with status. He was very glib and explained nothing except that I am a victim of economics, that my several K spent each year is unimportant. And other than a free bag check what are the many other benefits? I truly don’t know.

    “Thank you very much for your feedback. Unfortunately, we had to balance the economics of the program. While there were changes we do still provide many benefits at the Silver level.
    We are collecting feedback and are always reviewing our programs.
    Thanks you again!!
    Best regards,
    Martin

    • @Betsy: Thanks for the info & yeah… that’s a typical “corporate” response. He at least could have apologized and made it sound like United still appreciates your business.

  14. haha, thanks Darren, yep I guess he didn’t show up for the lesson about honey and vinegar. I’m a mother and my adult children know well that it’s much nicer to put a smile on Mom’s face. Anyway off I am on Southwest next month. Best to all you travelers.

  15. Very disappointed with the latest “upgrades” to the mileage program and to call it “world’s best” is simply a bold face lie. I have maintained at least gold status for the last 9 years and seen nothing but diminishing benefits. And sorry guys but the “first class” on these regional jets is simply a joke. I wish they had Delta in Chicago, but I guess I will be switching to Southwest from now on forward.

  16. I think these programs all are inadequate. While I have no issue with rewarding those who fly very frequently, they make it impossible for those that fly less frequently to get any significant benefit. Let’s face reality here. Most of the very frequent flyers are doing so for business and yes, FOR FREE. Their company pays for their travel. So they get these benefits for nothing. Pretty sweet deal, huh? The infrequent business traveler who barely travels 25,000 a year is basically screwed. Silver status does not get you much and United makes it very hard to keep qualifying.

    • @PTL008: And I’m sure we’ll be seeing a shift in frequency-based loyalty to revenue-based. While companies pay for their employee biz travel the majority of the time, the benefits the traveler gets is reward in itself for the frequency of travel they endure. Silver status has certainly been downgraded the last year or two. You can “buy it” now simply by getting a co-branded credit card.

  17. I was Premier Exec for 5 years, Gold last year and will probably hit Platinum or 1K this year. Have only been upgraded once this year and flying more miles than ever. What the heck happened to comp upgrades for loyal fliers? Is this due to the merger, that there are simply double or more people with higher status now? The program has gone to the dogs!

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