United Beats Class Action Over Defunct Lifetime Senior Discount Membership Program

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.

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. Gary,
    Thanks for this update. My mom was part of this silver wings program and was a party to this class action suit.
    Sadly, we lost.
    I think she got extra miles but the miles subsequently got expired without use.

  2. When UA terminated the Silver Wings program, they offered or provided pro rata refunds to annual members. They told lifetime members that they would instead continue to offer us the benefits, which of course they haven’t done.

    I was actually in contact at one time with a then UA vice president, who agreed with me that UA should make things right. I believe he honestly tried to fix things, but it was beyond him, and he left UA after a time.

    Eventually, I was one of two named plaintiffs in an earlier class action against UA. We lost, one of the main grounds being that I couldn’t produce enough documentation of my membership terms from the time I signed up online in the early 2000s.

    If you read that Silver Wings page that UA still maintains for their own reasons, you would think UA is still cheerfully awarding benefits to us “lifetime” members.

    Congratulations to UA, for defeating a bunch of senior citizens again.

  3. Fredd great comment, especially the last line. Gary I’m sad you didn’t headline this “United beats senior citizens again” or similar lol

  4. Sadly, the headline should be ” Airline Frequent Flyer Promises Aren’t Worth The Paper They Are Written On” or something to that effect.

  5. I haven’t flown them since 2002 and kept my word
    Uniteds management has horrible human beings of greed
    Dragging passengers, beating seniors and all else hasn’t helped their cause in winning me back
    or for that matter a lack of award seats
    United/Untied Failing
    Glad I moved onto other carriers

  6. Why don’t the plaintiffs hire Chrissy Teigen?

    She could lie on her bed and pull on a dress that is 4 sizes too small, plaster on 2 inches of makeup, and start some “popular only if you are in prison and need a diversion” tweets and videos to ridicule Oscar Munoz and force him to maintain the Silver Wings program.

    Massages and “happy-ending” included. That’s the Thai way of getting it done.

  7. So, what exactly was the judge’s holding? This article clearly did not describe anything, besides that United can modify the program at their own desire.

  8. Guess what Oscar Munoz and Scott Kirby will eliminate next???
    I can see it coming now, my Lifetime membership in the United Red Carpet Club.
    And you think Glenn Tilton and Jeff Smisek were bad, these two are just getting started.
    Pat Patterson has to be crying in his grave.

  9. All I read in this ruling is to never trust UA on anything they say. Ever. They clearly do not realize that the more they discontinue benefits in the name of ‘we changed our mind’ the more customers will go to another airline. It would seem like a prime time for some other airline to contact these 560k lifetime members and offer them something to join a lifetime club. Something nice and cheap, like 5% discounts. And do it for free for them, or charge them $5/year. Do anything and it’ll just rub this ruling right in UA’s face.

    Taking advantage of anyone is terrible, let alone Seniors…

  10. I agree with Robert….this sounds just like something Southwest Airlines would do as a screw you to UA, lol….particularly since SW services a ton of retirement and snowbird destinations. I stated in the UA card promo post that after seeing this, I thought better of the UA card, seems you can’t trust them…what happens if I get the card and put 100k spending on it only to find out they “changed their mind” and aren’t going to let me use my miles?
    We have a hard enough time finding/using mileage award space that isn’t as expensive to use as buying a ticket!

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