United Announces Several Elite Status Devaluations for 2015

United has announced several minor program changes for 2015 — none of them are good, none of them are awful, but they combine to take away real value from United’s elite members and add nothing of value in return. That seems to be the overall deal in the current environment and a consistent message coming from the MileagePlus program.

I’ve already written about United elites losing benefits on Copa Airlines. That’s not United’s fault — Copa is launching their own frequent flyer program, which is great. They’ll no longer be a part of MileagePlus, so United’s members will only get the benefits offered to them as Star Alliance elites.

Here’s what else has changed.

United Will Charge a Cash Co-Pay for Elites Using Miles to Upgrade New York JFK – Los Angeles/San Francisco

United has long waived the cash co-pay for redeeming miles to upgrade on domestic for its elite members.

That’s going to change on their premium New York JFK – Los Angeles and New York JFK – San Francisco flights. Those co-pays are going to apply to MileagePlus elite members.

These are flights already that United doesn’t offer complimentary elite upgrades on. Now they want to charge hundreds of dollars for elites to have the privilege to use their miles to upgrade (as they do with other general members of the program).

These cash co-pays range for $75 – $250 each way depending on the fare class (although there is no co-pay on full fare tickets). That’s $500 roundtrip plus miles to upgrade from the lowest fares.

delta stopped offering complimentary upgrades on these routes but even they have found it necessary to bring them back on a space available basis.

Gold Elites Won’t Get 3rd Checked Bag Free

Admittedly this isn’t a huge change, but it is a takeaway — effective February 1 — that will matter a great deal to those that used the benefit.

United Won’t Pay for Your Global Entry Fees Anymore

Three years ago United rolled out a fee reimbursement for Global Entry signup for their Platinum, 1K, and Global Services members.

Effective February 1 United will no longer provide a payment code to cover the $100 fee. So if you’re a Platinum or higher and haven’t used the benefit you have until January 31 to do so.

Elites Won’t Be Able to ‘Gift’ Their Status to Others When Redeeming Award Tickets

An IT limitation that has persisted for years is that when a MileagePlus elite member redeems their miles for someone else, the elite member’s status attaches to that reservation. The traveler gets to be elite for a day. That goes away April 15 (although I could see this as a soft target, depending on system updates).

Effective April 15, 2015, Premier travel benefits for customers traveling on an award ticket for United- and United Express®-operated flights will be determined by the traveler’s own Premier status, even if another member’s miles were used to purchase the award ticket.

That’s never how it was ‘supposed to’ work and United is finally fixing it.

Bottom Line

There’s no deal-breakers here. United has already done plenty of those. But there’s also not a single thing good for the airline’s over-entitled pool of most valuable customers.

That’s not surprising since United seems to want to reduce the number of loyal customers, rather than increasing them.

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. The p.s. changes are ridiculous. I suppose they will soon raise the mileage requirement for p.s. first class awards, too. After all, who would pay 40,000 miles + cash + base fare for upgraded coach versus 50,000 miles for a first class award?

  2. Seems like UA only want kettlers and those who “have no option and hate them” flying on them. What a great company – customer relationship to create. Anyway cancelled my UA biz card. The Chase agent was very efficent. Seems this is a common occurrence these days. We discussed the supperiority of the other Chase cards over UA with the ongoing decline of UA as an airline partner.

  3. @Gene:
    What First Class??? UA (i.e. CO) 86’ed the PS First class cabin when they “re did” the cabin.

  4. Nice summary of the devaluations. For me, they are just petty. The COPA devaluations IMO are far more significant.

    Currently it seems that for UA elites through 1k, positioning to transition to Alaska and American (for me in 2016) gains more merit. Although the SDC and other features of United means that I will probably try to re-qualify only for gold before March.

  5. PS changes are the ones that irk me the most. Sure it’s a nice seat but the soft product blows compared to the competition. VX (unless it is a red eye) is so much more appealing now. AA and B6 right behind with their brand new planes. Can’t wait till Jeff decides to just scrap the 757s on this route and replace them with 737s. That will make about as much sense as their similar moves in Asia which have worked so well #not

  6. like what are they thinking, that people want to fly UA? that its really friendly?
    People hate UA now more than ever with a passion. So they have made money recently, but wait till DL attacks their hubs or finally makes SEA viable, UA will fly in droves to DL. UA stinks in CA. I was just sitting next to two people, both who didn’t know each-other and both writing un-happy emails to UA about CS complaints. Whoa flyers really hate UA

  7. United is lucky that I’m within a couple years of million mile status, and that they’re one of my employer’s preferred airlines. If Delta would transfer my lifetime miles to their program, I would switch.

    Even silver Premier status used to get you some advantages, now the only thing gold status gets you is the ability to pick out an Economy Plus aisle or window seat.

    I can hardly wait until the next travel recession, and they will be begging moderate frequent fliers to come back.

  8. I recently purchased an international ticket and almost 30% of the ticket price was for international surcharges kept mostly by United. To achieve $12,000 you probably have to spend $15,000 or more.
    United is gaming the system with these surcharges that should be counted towards ticket pricing.
    As a 1K the only reason left to fly United are upgrades and they are extremely limited. Smaller planes, fewer upgradeable seats. They are forgetting they need us all not just the full fare first class passenger and the casual budget flyer.

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