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United Million Milers who lost some of their benefits following the United-Continental merger have reason to celebrate. A lawsuit filed against United by George Lagen of Chicago has been cleared for takeoff.
According to a Reuters report, a federal judge has ruled against United’s motion to dismiss the suit, leaving the way open for the case to proceed through the courts.
It is expected that the suit will be certified as a class action, unless there is an out-of-court settlement.
The nub of Lagen’s complaint is that United was in breach of contract when it downgraded certain benefits associated with Million Mile status. Specifically, elite bonus miles were cut from 100 to 50 percent, upgrade priority was lowered, and annual confirmed regional upgrades were discontinued.
There’s no question that the lost benefits were indeed promised, or that they were subsequently diminished. What’s at issue is whether United had the right to break what appeared to be a promise of lifetime benefits once specified conditions had been satisfied.
The judge ruled that the complaint had merit, at least. “It is undeniable that plaintiff claims he has and continues to suffer an injury based upon his lost benefits. At this stage of the litigation, the court finds it plausible that defendants had a contract with Million Miler members which differed from the contract they had with other Mileage Plus members.”
However the case is resolved, it will shine a light on a key provision of all modern loyalty programs. In United’s case, it reads as follows:
MileagePlus membership and benefits, including the Premier Program, are offered at the discretion of United Airlines and its affiliates, and United has the right to terminate the Program and/or the Premier Program or to change the Program Rules, regulations, benefits, conditions of participation or mileage levels, in whole or in part, at any time, with or without notice, even though changes may affect the value of the mileage or certificates already accumulated.
Reader Reality Check
Are you aware that the airlines reserve the right to devalue your miles and awards at any time, for any reason?
Should such an all-encompassing escape clause be legal?
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