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United Tweaks MileagePlus for 2012

United Tweaks MileagePlus for 2012

In the run-up to the final consolidation of the MileagePlus and OnePass programs, there has been much speculation (and considerable worry) that the new program would be fundamentally redesigned along the lines of Southwest’s revamped Rapid Rewards program, to directly link earnings with ticket prices.

United’s announcement earlier this week put such rumors to rest.

While some of the changes, set to take effect in 2012, do move in the direction of rewarding more profitable customers, the overall program remains mileage- rather than revenue-based.

The highlights:

A fourth elite tier—Premier Platinum, earned after 75,000 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) or 90 elite-qualifying segments (EQSs)—will be added to the current three-tiered elite scheme.

Silver Premier is the new name for entry-level elite status, awarded after 25,000 EQMs or 30 EQSs, provided the member flies a minimum of four paid flights on United, Continental or Copa.

That four-flight minimum, which applies to qualification for all elite tiers, is new.

Also new for elites at this level: Complimentary upgrades to Economy Plus will be confirmed at time of check in, rather than at time of booking; and the checked bag fee waiver will apply only to one bag, rather than the two bags currently covered.

Fare-type bonuses will increase. Full-fare coach (Y, B) will earn a 25 percent bonus; discounted business class (Z, P) will earn a 50 percent bonus; full-fare business (J, C, D) and two-cabin first class (F, A) will earn a 75 percent bonus; and three-cabin first class (F, A) will earn a 150 percent bonus.

The new Million Miler program will award lifetime Gold, Platinum, 1K, or Global Services status to members and their spouses after earning 1, 2, 3, or 4 million miles, respectively.

Winners, Losers

For the great majority of MileagePlus members, the changes are of little interest or impact. For United’s most frequent (and most profitable) customers, the easier access to Economy Plus seats and increased bonuses for pricier tickets will be pluses.

If there are any losers, it’s United’s entry-level Silver elites. While they may be the least profitable of the four elite groups, they are the most numerous. And ready access to Economy Plus has been among their most coveted benefits. The new Economy Plus upgrade policy will be a significant downgrade.

Reader Reality Check

How will the new program policies affect you?

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  • JSW

    I feel that is a far too positive summary of the changes. While I understand that 1K’s and GS are happy about this, Silver and Gold elites clearly lose out: the former because they will end up in middle seat Economy Plus, the latter because their mileage bonus is down from 100 to 50 percent (at least 25,000 miles less per year!).

  • JSW

    Oh, and the worst is that United tells us only now. The new United cannot be trusted.

  • mw

    It’s really surprising how little added benefit there is between the new gold level and the new platinum level. Two regional upgrades seem superfluous. I mean, you usually get free upgrades to business anyway on domestic flights at gold level. The other major difference is that you get a 75% mileage bonus on tickets at platinum, versus 50% at gold level. If you have gold status, and fly 75000 miles over the year, you get a 37500 mile bonus. If you have platinum status and fly 75000 over the year, you get a 56250 mile bonus. That’s a difference of only 18750 miles…not even enough for a free domestic round trip. Oh yeah, 8 additional people qualify for upgrades with you on the same itinerary at platinum level, rather than just one at gold level. Remind me of this, please, when we’re planning our next trip to the shriner’s convention. I suppose it’s a good deal for members of two particular religions!

  • tom mccall

    As a 1 MM I had life time executive gold status, just below !-K and Global, this new system put us behind Global, ! K and now the new Platinum Gold, I believe all 1MM should be at Platinum gold,
    This new tier now puts us behind anyone who reaches 75,000. Originally we were just behind I K and Global, that means our ability to get up graded is reduced from 74 hours to 48 hours. I don’t believe this fair, I am disappointed that the original policy was not grand fathered in for those of us who are accustomed to getting our up grade with in 74 hours. I spoke to customer service and they said if enough elite members complain they will change the policy like they did when we complained about loosing the regional up grades

  • Chris

    Tim: you missed the major devaluation for Premier Golds (formerly United Premier Executives and Continental Golds): our elite mileage bonus is being cut in half from 100% to 50%. Premier Golds are “losers” under this new program. Both American and Delta still award their 50,000 mile per year mid-tier frequent fliers a full, 100% mileage bonus. United now only awards its Premier Golds the same 50% mileage bonus as Alaska, for example, awards its Silvers, who fly half as much.

  • Jim

    The reduced bonus for Gold (Premier Executive) is a big screwing by United. Reducing the mileage bonus benefit from 100% to 50% is a major betrayal by United. This is one of the most significant downgrades of benefits ever and already has me looking at shifting to Delta or American. Tim, you are the expert here. What do you say? This is much more that “tweak”.

  • Nutella

    I’ve been topping up my miles at the end of the year to make sure I hit 25,000 for one reason: assigned Economy Plus seats at booking. The 2012 plan means that I will have no idea if I can get Economy Plus seats until long after I pay the non-refundable ticket charge. This makes the plan not worth the aprox $1000 extra I’ve been spending on tickets every year to achieve Premier. In fact, I was just about to book a $1224 ticket for November but now it looks like I’ll cancel it.

  • garycal

    Here is the response I received from United when I raised the issue of there no longer being confirmed at booking economy plus seats for the 25,000 mile level (I’ll be flying more often next year on Virgin America, American and Delta as a result of this change as I have many options from SFO).

    Thank you for contacting United Continental Holdings, Inc.

    We understand that securing Economy Plus seat assignments is an important added bonus for our Premier members.

    We expect that Premier Silver members will still be able to enjoy Economy Plus seating, even though the change in request windows effectively provides greater access to our Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members.

    In the 2012 program, MileagePlus members will have progressively greater
    rewards as they move through the Premier levels.

    Many customers appreciate the convenience of subscribing to United’s Economy Plus Annual Option. For one annual fee, customers are able to enjoy five extra inches of legroom in Economy Plus seating for the entire year. Complete details are available on our website:
    http://www.united.com/economyplus.

    For more merger updates, please visit us online:
    http://www.mileageplusmergerupdates.com.

    We are building an airline that will earn your confidence and approval.
    We appreciate your patience and want you to know your loyalty does not go unnoticed.

    P.S. Your dissatisfaction with the upcoming policy change has been noted and forwarded to the appropriate management.

  • PK

    There are some very positive changes to Million Miler (MM) status. Previously, United only counted actual flight miles on United metal toward MM. Now, United will count all Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) flown through Dec. 31, 2011 (including flights on Lufthansa and other partners; and EQM bonuses (such as 2009′s “double EQM’s” and EQM credit card earnings). This will give many customers a significant boost toward MM status.

  • austinflyguy

    The other change that is not a tweak is that lifetime lounge access at 2MM was eliminated. At the current annual charge of $450, this is a really big downgrade, in exchange for virtually no increased benefit

  • TP

    This is exactly what happens where there is less competition. No one should be surprised. This is nothing other than generating more revenue for the airlines. So much for loyality.

  • Mort

    I TOLD YOU SO!

  • mn

    I fly UA because of the Economy Plus seating. Since I am no longer able to count on this there is no reason for me to choose to fly UA. One question, if I make a reservation for next year and select an economy plus seat, will they take it away next year? Then I bet they would put me in a middle seat in the back of the plane–no thank you!

  • Dave J

    Unless your a 1K flyer, your nothing than a low-life. They want the high-flyers for the revenue it brings, all others cover their surplus costs….

  • PER JENSEN

    While they can legally do it, the huge devaluation(increase needed) of miles required for almost everything borders on the criminal. I feel like a victim of a “bait and switch” con game.
    I spent 15 years as a 1K and am now trying to burn my devalued miles, but cant seem to get saver awards that I used to get all the time, no matter how far in advance I try. New management has really left a bitter taste.

  • Mortimur Shenke

    The ONE reason I switched to United a few years ago was to be able to book their Economy Plus seating as a Silver Member. Now it is gone. I think I’ll switch back to American, or even better–Southwest so I can actually use my reward points I build!

  • Roger Mudd

    So, It’s back to AA for me where my permanant Platinum status brings a 100% milage bonus. So long Continental, nee Trans Texas. I cut my teeth in your upolstry. RIP

  • AC

    As a long time silver elite, I expressed my disappointment over the seating issue to Jeff Smisek, CEO (got his email from the Continental website). Here is his reply:

    From: Smisek, Jeff [mailto:Jeff.Smisek@united.com]
    Sent: Friday, September 23, 2011 5:50 PM
    To: Al C……….
    Subject: Re: 2012 MileagePlus Program

    “Al understand and hope not to lose you. As we transition to a program that better differentiates among our frequent travelers, and better rewards those who provide more value to the airline, there will be some adjustments. Just get to Gold and things will be better!

    Best regards,

    Jeff”

    I replied “Your statement “…those who provide more value to the airline” says it all and certainly sets the tone. My takeaway is Bigger is not better.”

    Posted by: AC |

  • Craig

    I moved to Taiwan 6 years ago and have flown UA exclusively, maintaining Premier status, largely for the not-so-torturous Economy Plus. I refuse to call them better, because the just made normal seating worse to make them SEEM better.

    The mileage bonuses were only marginally interesting because miles are so hard to redeem. Booked a coach seat 6 months in advance, low season, waitlisted the upgrade, never happened. Tried in February to get a mileage ticket this October, but first available wasn’t until November.

    Now that they’ve taken away the “benefit” of Economy Plus, I’m gone. Sad thing is that there isn’t much of an alternative. DL is the only airline who serves all the cities I need to go to, and they only provide their Medallion Silver members a discount on Comfort Economy.

  • Bob

    I also am very disappointed in United’s policies. I am a gold medallion member on Delta, as well as United. I will now fly exclusively on delta. Also find that redeeming reward tickets on United is impossible. Never have that problem with Delta. Plus 80% of the time I get upgraded on Delta. Only once did I ever get upgraded on United in 20 years.
    Hello Delta; goodbye United!!

  • BH Cohen

    I am currently a Continental 75K Platinum customer, flying out of Cleveland. Good News: The “new” United did not eliminate the 75K class and I still can burn miles “easily” on seats for my family. The bad news: I am 90% certain of a first class upgrade on 737-800 and -900 aircraft, but with fewer direct flights out of CLE, we have little chance competing with the 1K crowd when routed thru ORD or IAD (or IAH, EWR). It is a brave new world: silver and gold get almost no value for their loyalty and even the 75K Platinum will be devalued. All in all, this is break even for the 1K customers but it is a loss for the others.

  • Clifford Dee

    Perhaps Tim Winship has been taking a little too much COol-aid. Most Mileage Plus elites (anyone below 1K) will be greatly disadvantaged, not least by the reduction in bonus RDM’s. As a 2MM flyer, I was previously Premier Executive for life, which gave me 100% bonus RDM’s when flying economy. Under the new scheme I will become Premier Platinum, but only receive 75% bonus RDM’s. So is that a change we’re going to like? I don’t think I’ll be buying a UA ticket anytime soon.

  • Brad

    As has been said, the devaluation of the elite mileage bonuses is disappointing. Mr. Smisek has said we’re going to like the new changes. Obviously I and a larger number of other formerly-valued elites feel the same way. Southwest and its customer friendly policies are looking better all the time. I used to be able to dismiss that because of the perks loyalty bought. No more unfortunately. I think United has made a BIG mistake as they won’t fill their cabins with all 1K’s and GS as they seem to be banking on.

  • Bret

    This is classic United deceptive practice. They are preparing to screw each and every Million Mile Flyer with this “new United”. If you earned Million mile status you will no longer be Premier Executive for life as contracted, you will be Premier Gold. You go from 100% bonus for all miles flown to 50%! No more Regional Upgrades yearly…zip! Upgrade times reduced from 74 hours in advance to 48 hours. That’s how much they value our “extraordinary loyalty”, as they put it. Call and email them and register your complaint. If they don’t change it there’s always the option of a Class Action Lawsuit.

  • DC

    As a premier executive, I am also very disappointed about new 2012 mileage plus program because a premier executive member will receive only 50% redeemable bonus miles, instead of 100% currently. I think this is a down grade program for the majority of Mileage Plus members and customers.

  • Carl Weinberg

    More and more US busines no longer rewards loyalty, United is only one example. Even buying american goods does you no good. Screw the customer seems to be the slogan

  • Andre

    I’ve been Premier Exec the last three years. I will hit 80,000 miles this calendar year. All in international business class.

    I am disappointed with United’s announcement. I lose 50% of my RDMs as a result of their new policy.

    My company (I am CEO) will be changing our travel partner as a result.

  • Janice

    Ditto all comments above. As a 10 year Premier member and loyal United customer I will be moving to South West and Delta. No middle crowded seats for me. Good bye and good luck United!

  • Marty

    I would like to see an organized protest from subscribers of Frequent Flyer Lifetime Elite members – would FF assist in organizing it?

  • Frank

    I have flown 1.8 MM on UAL and 2.24 MM on AA It looks like AA will see a lot more of me again UA thanks for nothing

  • Mortimur Shenke

    I think it is time (AGAIN!) to buy stock in Southwest Airlines. They are the only airline to DO what they say, and actually offer you real rewards you can use. I think it is time to give up my Gold status with United and just fly Southwest, as I think many others are doing. Then I can actually change my flight if necessary without pay ridiculous fees! Adios United!!!!!

  • pc

    A big boo on these changes, I have been Premier Exec for some time and this is a significant devaluation for me. I hope the other airlines dont follow UAL’s race to the bottom because thats where I will channel my future business.

  • Nancy Engelsberg

    I have registered a complaint with UA and urge anyone who feels as I do to do the same. It is unacceptable that they, alone among the major airlines, reduce the bonus miles given to customers who fly 50000 miles yearly with them from 100% to 50%. I left Delta because, again alone among the major alliances, they abolished the international First Class award ticket. I was enjoying flying with UA, but if they maintain these changes, I will switch to AA.

  • tom mccall

    As a MM I had life time executive gold status, just below !-K and Global, this new system put us behind Global, ! K and now the new Platinum Gold, I believe all 1MM should be at Platinum gold,
    This new tier now puts us behind anyone who reaches 75,000. Originally we were just behind I K and Global, that means our ability to get up graded is reduced from 74 hours to 48 hours. I don’t believe this fair, the original policy should be grand fathered in for those of us who are accustomed to getting our up grade with in 74 hours.
    United did change their position when we voiced our opposition to the removal of regional upgrades, If they hear from us again they might again listen and change this.

  • Dee

    I just spent the entire year making sure that all of my business trips were on UAL so I could keep my Premier status, to take advantage of the Economy Plus tix. Now it appears this was a waste of time. I’m moving back to AA.

  • Unhappy

    Maybe the stock holders would like to re-consider Jeff Smisek as the United CEO. Maybe they like the money the new United is making but this could disappear quickly as “loyalty to frequent flyers” is replaced by greed and indifference. Penny wise and pound foolish.

  • Barbara Stanculescu

    I have been a Premier member for at least 10 years flying back and forth between my family in Europe and the US. The last 2-3 years I was under the impression, that UA finally understood what good customer service means. I greatly enjoyed the Economy Plus seats and especially, that I did not have to pay for a second checked bag.
    Too bad, but there are other airlines out there.

  • Judith

    Did anyone notice that the systemwide upgrades no longer can be applied to the least expensive ticket? As a 100K flyer, my FF status has been devalued as well as everyone else’s.

  • Steve

    Well, I guess the good news is that we lowly Premier traveling trash still get priority check-in/security. How many people go out of their way to avoid a middle seat? I’ll fly longer/spend more time traveling so I can take advantage of Economy Plus – where I know right then and there at booking time I have the seats I want. Why would I want to fly coast to coast with the crap shoot of being stuck in a middle seat? Not likely, and certainly not on United anymore.

  • Bill Kirk

    I have had a life affair with UA, and flown almost all my revenue miles with them since 1987. Have made Premier every year and Prem. Exec. many years. But am livid at their late-in-the-year sudden takeback of Economy Plus access from Premiers. Within 24 hrs. means all-middles, if at all. Am not willing to spend weeks or months worrying about the seat I’ll end up in (most of my travel is now leisure, so booked well ahead) — i.e. cramped pitch or cramped middle.

    Please note: Southwest’s useable seat pitch (i.e. leg/knee room) is 2″ greater THROUGHOUT THEIR FLEET than UA normal Economy (757). Plus: no Change Fees, free Checked Baggage, Leather seats, excellent on-time performance, same meals (i.e. none).

    Very sad to leave this lifelong relationship, but have not even had the respect of a reply to two thoughtfully-composed letters expressing my concern. So I’m turning to AA, and evaluating others’ seat pitches too. UA and smiley but back-stabbing Smisek have disearned my loyalty. Would like to join any group seeking to organize a collective 2012 market response built around how anyone below Prem. Exec. must feel right now. Only market reaction will get UA’s attention it seems. Please advise if you know of such, or share that interest.

  • Lynda Moreau

    I guess I rank totally at the bottom of the pile on the “new United.” As a lowly 25K flyer who pays for all of her own flights, I made sure to book all my trips (at least 3/year to Europe) on United for the Economy Plus seating and 2nd free bag, even if the fare was a little higher. Those days are over – now I’ll just go with the cheapest. If I have to sit in the middle seat anyway, I might as well get it $200/cheaper. Our numbers count. If enough of us say adios to United, they’ll see who “brings the most value” to their airline!

  • ChuckT

    The lifetime UA Premier Exec should have been grandfathered to not lose earned benefits – decreased benefits will certainly result in decreased loyalty. Paraphrasing Marshall McLuhan: “A happy customer tells two or three people; an unhappy customer tells 15 or 20 people!” Hope the M+ executives know this.

  • jim fugere

    I thought Id be one of a few complaining letters to UA. We have always made a point of flying United, in order to keep our PREMIER staus.We still have it the SILVER which gives us absolutely nothing. I am 6,5″ and can not fit the tiny seats in the back of your over crowded planes. Plus seating was the reason for flying United. Now we will be flying anything we can get but not United.
    the friendly skies?????
    Jim

  • Harriet Sepinwall

    United’s respect for Continental Elite members seemz to be zero. Continental answered its telephones; since the merger, I have waited in vain for more than 2 hours to reach someone from United! With a Chase Continental credit card agreement that had the benefit of one free checked bag, and with Silver Elite Status that also had this benefit, I had a second free checked bag. Now, I’m told that I can only have one free checked bag. But, I’ve been unable to reach anyone at United (by phone or email) to speak to about this. Does anyone have a phone number for United’s Premier that is answered? How can an airline (or any business) be successful without any way of reaching the business by telephone? Did they fire all their customer service personnel? I “trusted” Jeff Smisek as he did a good job at Continental, but can’t understand how they don’t even have telephone customer service, or customer service representatives who respond to emails beyond sending a case number.

  • Henry Townsend

    I have been a Premier member for many years. I have gone well out of my way, both in terms of cost and choice of airlines, to keep this status. But now, what with the reduction in privileges, what is the point in making Premier? Upgrades are nonexistent, and I’ll have to buy Economy Plus seating when I book, so why not just buy the cheapest non-stop with good seating, and forget about “loyalty”?

  • john

    i have always been premier executive, but now with only 50% more miles I don’t really care anymore about reaching that level. I will start flying other airlines than double the miles for those flying 50K a year. It seems they really put customers first with their changes! well, they will lose in the long term. You cannot take from your customers once you already given to them.

  • Chris

    No longer trapped by the Economy Plus seating benefit, which I’ve enjoyed as a Premier member since the program first started! Virgin America has beautiful new planes, super-friendly staff, cool in-flight gizmos, and cheap fares! The seating is tight, but it’s the same as United. I can even give up my United VISA card now! Thanks, United!