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?