Premier Silver Sues United Over Loss of Economy Plus

A frequent flyer is suing United over their taking away economy plus at booking and two free checked bags from Premier Silver members.

He argues that United published a set of benefits in 2011 which induced members of the program to fly that year in exchange for benefits in 2012. But after members had done most of that flying, United reneged on the deal.

The elimination of economy plus at booking (making it subject to availability at check-in only) for 25,000 mile flyers was announced in September 2011.

I have always said that I believed the right thing to do is to announce substantive changes at the beginning of a year to take place the following year. Anything less is duplicitous.

I am not sure, however, that it is actionable.

Incidentally, the individual seeking to create a class action also sued Southwest when they began enforcing expiration dates on their inflight drink coupons.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. agreed…

    UA could have acted in better faith by giving more time. But I’m sure somewhere it says that benefits are subject to change at any time.

    So is this person a flyers advocate? fame-seeker? other?
    Because he’s the hero flyers deserve, but not the one we need right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.

  2. @Noah Kimmel – That really made me laugh. I don’t know if it’s because I’m up too late or of it’s really funny, but thumbs up anyway!

  3. I love this quote from the article…

    “Mr. Siprut estimates that it costs about $6,800 for a customer to accumulate 25,000 miles.”

    really? very eye boggling since that’s 5 LAX-JFK’s which is nowhere near the price of $1,360 per transcon

  4. There could be a valid detrimental reliance argument to be made, but I’m not sure I’d support it being a class action. Each person would have behaved differently based on the pre-September-2011 information. Many of the people who 25k miles would have flown that anyway because that’s the travel they needed to do regardless of the silver benefits. Some might have flown one extra roundtrip to earn status. Others might have flown a lot of extra legs to get status. But the point is that it’d be almost impossible to support the assertion that everyone who received silver status for 2011-2012 relied to their detriment on the “promises” made by UA.

    And is he really claiming that he’s out $6,800 because he spent that just to get the economy plus seats at the time of booking and a free checked bag?! How many times is he flying in 2012 that that’s worth anywhere near $6,800?! He can get a free checked bag with a credit card that would have cost him less than $100, and he could have paid for quite a few economy plus seats for the other $6,700.

  5. Are there any extra damages he can collect for pain and suffering?
    Destroying Continental as a once reasonable brand
    Eating Uniteds food on board
    Dealing with cranky old FAs
    Having to understand Uniteds complicated stingy tiresome boring lackluster promotions
    Lack of saver award availability
    Damage to United Mileage Plus program overall
    What feels lile Starnet blocking even with it supposedly removed
    Long lines
    Uncomfortable seats

  6. I do not think duplicitous (‘deceptive in words or action’) is the correct word to describe UA’s behaviour in this case Gary.

    I think ‘reprehensible’ fits better.

    Any program (air, hotel, car rental) that changes T’s & C’s without appropriate notice to their loyal elites is just being downright customer unfriendly.

    I am glad that you call them all out when they make changes like this without sufficient notice.

  7. This guy’s just wasting his time & money. Or he’s one of these professional “activists,” if he sued WN because of expiration dates on drink coupons. The T&Cs of FF programs give the airline the right to change the terms, and you accept the T&Cs when you join the program, so while what UA did isn’t very nice, this is just a joke.

  8. Good for the plaintiff. UA advertised benefits, let the flyer buy tickets, and then pulled the advertised benefits. I wish him all the luck!! Thumbs up.

  9. People also aren’t very good at reading. Same issue as the MMer change. Not wise/kind by United (customer unfriendly is the perfect term), but permitted by their rules.

  10. Hm. Yes, they reserve the right to change the T&Cs with no notice. But, IANAL, I’ve never truly understood how those contracts are enforceable.

    A basic tenet of contract law is that there must be a meeting of the minds. When a contract contains the clause “we may change the terms and conditions with or without notice” I don’t understand where the meeting of the minds are. What did I agree to? That you could jerk me around at your whim? Did I agree that the words on the paper are meaningless because you can change them if you want to?

  11. @Dan – When you joined the program, you agreed to everything in the T&Cs, including the part where it says they can change it if they want to. The meeting of the minds came when you joined the program. If you disagree with something in the T&Cs, you can indicate that by not joining the program. When you joined the program, you indicated your agreement with the T&Cs.

  12. I went through to calculate what I actually paid for Silver this year; I requalified on July 8. My flights (7 roundtrips) had CPMs ranging from 5.9¢ (SFO-JFK) to 51.2¢ (SFO-MMH). Total cost was $2929 for 25,104 miles. None of those were mileage runs, and they were booked, on average, 1-2 months before departure.

    So I really don’t have any idea where he got $6800 as being a typical amount.

  13. I am at the gate right now and was just told that silver does not get complimentary economy plus ugrades at all anymore.
    I have trouble squaring the airline advertised claim that it is “available at check in” with the reality that it comes only with a surcharge.

  14. @Aaron – if it was available you should have been given it for free, you should NOT have been charged. If it were me, I would have paid it to have the seat and taken up the case after the fact (rather than arguing with the agent). I’d get the money back and then some from United, and I’d win a credit card dispute if I had to.

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