United Airlines prevailed in a federal class action case over its decision to eliminate the Silver Wings senior citizen discount program in which they had sold lifetime memberships.
The program was founded in 1986 for customers 55 years and older. In 1996 the program is said to have had 560,000 members. They continued to add lifetime members through 2005, costing at that time ~ $250. The program was terminated (‘closed to new members and renewals’) in 2007.
The airline maintains a web page for the Silver Wings program ostensibly to service lifetime members. Bonus miles thorugh the program were gone, but members are still supposed to have access to ‘zone fares’ — airfares based on where you’re traveling from and to — although I don’t know anyone that has successfully booked a Silver Wings zone fare since United and Continental merged and the airline moved to the Continental booking platform.
Howard Neft of Scottsdale, Arizona accused United of breach of contract in January 2016. He asked for a refund of his $225 membership fee.
Neft said he purchased a lifetime membership in United’s Silver Wings Plus senior discount program in 2000, but United stopped offering the program seven years later.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. granted summary judgment to United.
The programs terms and conditions said “Silver Wings Plus and its partners reserve the right to substitute or withdraw any offers or to limit their availability at any time.” So United wasn’t required to offer zone fares on all days and all routes, and there’s no requirement that these fares continue to be cheaper than what the airline is otherwise offering.
Or as the judge the separate million miler lawsuit against United pointed out,
Judge Hamilton: To understand the difference between lifetime and fingers crossed? That lifetime doesn’t mean lifetime?
United: That lifetime means lifetime unless…
Judge Wood: Unless we change our mind.
Judge Hamilton: Unless we change our mind.
United: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s the case.
This case was Howard S. Neft v. United Continental Holdings Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.