Here’s a thread on Milepoint running to hundreds of comments on changes to the MileagePlus lifetime status program, which has plenty of detail.
United’s Million Milers have been an unhappy bunch for some reasons that I find persuasive and others that I do not.
In general, the complaints are:
- 1 Million Mile status earns the equivalent of that earned at 50,000 miles of flying. That was true before, and it is still true. But United has since added a 75,000-mile status level. Which means Million Milers are lower in the status pecking order than before — they’re only one up from the bottom as before, but also further from the top. Further, benefits at the 50,000-mile flying level have been reduced, now earning a 50% bonus on flown miles instead of a 100% bonus.
- No more systemwide upgrades upon first qualification for million miler status, and no annual confirmed regional upgrades.
- Not mentioned in the lawsuit, United’s 2 million milers used to receive lifetime lounge membership. Those that already crossed that threshold get to keep the benefit, but new 2 million milers won’t receive it.
At the same time, United has added to its million miler program:
- The ability to grant equivalent status to a spouse or partner. That’s a big new benefit, actually.
- The ability to achieve higher lifetime status levels than before, culminating in lifetime Global Services at 4 million flown miles.
- Combining lifetime flying from United and Continental, and adjusting upwards the amount of lifetime miles flown by United members to match the more generous historical method of calculation used for Continental members. This recalculation bumped many members closer to or above next tiers of lifetime status without additional flying
On the whole, I actually considered the initially announced changes to be positive.
United has always said it could change the program under its terms and conditions. But lifetime status is especially cherished and a hot button issue because it’s the most extreme version of Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football possible — it isn’t just saving up miles only to find a more expensive award chart and not being able to claim a mileage award without earning more miles, it’s having given a lifetime of loyalty to an airline and after having flown with no opportunity to go back and make a different choice, finding the value proposition changed later. It’s hardtop imagine a bigger punch to the guts of a frequent flyer than saying “If you fly a million miles on our airline we will give you certain things,” you literally fly those million miles, and then when you get there you’re told “just kidding.”
At the same time, it’s entirely logical that a program will change its details, especially after a merger when two airlines had different million mile policies. And some of the changes are positive even. Some folks will like the changes, others won’t, and it’s not obvious that legal damages are appropriate here.
Still, United specifically assured Million Milers at United that their benefits wouldn’t change.
They got Premier Executive before, they get Premier Executive now. United never promised not to devalue the Premier Executive level that I’m aware, that’s something programs do, it’s unfortunate but I don’t really see a case based on changes to the elite level itself. Some will disagree, but I draw a distinction here between devaluing the million mile program and devaluing the elite program. Million Milers still get the same elite level as before, it’s that elite level whose benefits are different.
It’s offensive and degrading of trust to say in October 2011 “[y]ou will continue to receive your benefits as you always have” and then take away the specific benefit of annual confirmed regional upgrades.
In fact, United was even specific in October to say that the confirmed domestic upgrades would continue:
I view United as basically having lied. But for statements made recently, customers didn’t fly for years on the basis of the statements, so damages from that statement are hard to see. Other than of course damage to United’s credibility. And not every lie ought to be actionable.
American recently offered straight up status matches to United elites, up to their top tier Executive Platinum level. (And at American, flying 100,000 miles earns true top tier status, whereas at United 1Ks are below ‘Global Services’ in the pecking order). So other airlines are taking advantage of the situation.
That doesn’t help United’s million milers who feel disadvantaged by the changes. Which just underscores the point I’ve been making for years that frequent flyer programs change, that they tend to get less generous, enjoy them now rather than savoring them for some glorious future filled with benefits.
Miles from Blighty sums up some recent complaints about United.
Some folks actually benefit from these changes, and from others in the program. It’s worth remembering that before the United-Continental merger announcement, United used to ‘block’ partner award availability when the airline didn’t want to pay for the seats — a partner would offer award seats, United wouldn’t let its members book the seats, and frequently even lie to their members saying either at the seats were unavailable or even that the flights didn’t exist. That changed, and ‘Starnet blocking’ or ‘throttling’ is no longer in place. Furthermore, Continental’s more generous award routing rules make it easier to put together an award with available seats. United used to enforce a maximum number of miles flown on any given award (based on origin and destination cities0, you might find available flights that exceed the mileage cap and couldn’t book the award, the new merged airline doesn’t take that same approach.
There are upsides and downsides to the changes. I consider changes to the mileage redemption program to be positive, and changes to the elite program to be negative, my personal opinion. We all make our flying and earning decisions on the basis of our personal value proposition. I have sympathy with folks who have given a lifetime of loyalty on the basis of promises made by the airline only to find what’s being offered changed. But that’s how things work, and I don’t think I’m sympathetic to a lawsuit over it.