There’s a theme developing at United: all your money belongs to us. Customers exist to serve the airline, the airline doesn’t exist to serve customers. From refusing refunds to customers even when flights don’t operate the same day, to telling customers they’ll still have to spend as much money on the airline this year if they want elite benefits next year the message is clear: loyalty is one way.
No Refunds For You
When airlines aren’t able to keep the schedules they sell you, they refund tickets.
They’re required to do this in the event of a cancelled flight. However when they change the schedule materially they refund tickets, too. United’s policy was a schedule change of two hours or more warrants a refund.
Now with the airline cancelling more flights due to decreased demand they have
a new policy: no refunds unless the schedule change is 25 hours or more. United is saying,
They don’t have to give you your money back even if the flight you buy doesn’t operate the same day. That’s a good reason not to risk buying tickets on United. United must figre that right now nobody is buying tickets anyway, they’re better off keeping the money of customers who bought tickets and won’t fly than actually selling new tickets. Right now you should buy any tickets on airlines that aren’t United. The risk of a schedule change is heightened at the exact same time they’re pushing that risk more onto customers.
Keep Flying Through Fear Or No More Benefits
Business travelers have been grounded by their companies, and leisure travelers aren’t booking discretionary trips. The best customers of an airline aren’t flying. However this is temporary and people will fly again. When they do, an airline’s best customers will once again drive a disproportionate amount of revenue. No one wants to lose their best customers or have them get off the elite treadmill. Once they do they may start from zero – with someone else.
Airlines don’t want to extend elite status too early in the year or else customers will find it easier to fly other airlines with their benefits secure. They’d rather offer incentives to keep status like double elite qualifying miles, once customers are willing to fly again.
That makes business says. What doesn’t make sense is United telling customers to be uneasy about their status and to plan to have to fly through fear if they want to keep their benefits.
United says they aren’t making changes yet to elite qualification but they are giving customers who are doing an elite status challenge an extra 30 days to complete the challenge.
Here’s the relevant text of an email under the signature of United’s Vice President of Loyalty,
At this time, we are not planning any changes for our 2021 Premier program but we will continue to evaluate our options as we learn more about how the current climate is affecting members’ activity. In the interim though, we do plan to give members who are participating in a MileagePlus 2020 Premier Status Match Challenge promotion an additional 30 days to complete their challenge. This extension will automatically be reflected in member accounts within the next week.
Say we are not planning any changes including to qualification rules is the wrong message to send. United needs to tell their customers ‘we’re in this together’ and ‘we’ll accommodate the unique needs our customers have’. Instead they’re only accommodating those whose new elite business they’re trying to win.
Current customers are receiving a message that they need to spend as much with United as before if they want their elite benefits next year. Of course there’s a hedge here (‘at this time’) because we know it’s highly likely this will have to change.
The message should have been,
Right now our primary focus is on providing the safest transportation possible for our team members and our customers. As we see how travel patterns develop over the coming months, we will look at the best way to take care of our loyal Mileage Plus members who are so important to sustaining our business through the current uncertainty.
There’s no elite status extension now because safety first. That makes sense to people.
Instead United’s message is: you’d better fly, loyalty is one way. That’s what we learned from the airline’s new straight pay-to-play elite status program that began this year already.