United Promises Not To Follow Delta In Obliterating Elite Program Next Year

During the United Airlines third quarter earnings call the carrier announced that they would not be making changes to their elite program. Normally the lack of changes aren’t noteworthy, but it’s been a big question from members since Delta has announced big changes and even in the face of backlash has merely suggested they rolled changes out too quickly not that the changes themselves were a mistake.

And United didn’t even wait until questions from analysts or journalists to state about MileagePlus, proactively:

We have no material changes planned for 2025 program year.

In other words, status-earning in 2024 (for 2025 benefits) will remain more or less the same as today, where United is a more generous airline for earning status via flying than either American or Delta, but a less generous airline for earning status via non-flying activity than American.

United went on to explain that they’ve “carefully managed our premium population in recent years… we very much believe in never causing a situation where everyone has premier status” so that no one gets benefits, a dig at Delta’s explanation that they have too many elites for the premium products they offer (when in fact their announced changes, expected to be partially rolled back, were driven by a desire to push customers to spend more on their American Express co-brand cards).

In fact, United does have more ‘extra legroom’ coach seats to offer to elites than competitors, though major hub-based elite members face the same challenge with upgrades that elites on other airlines including Delta do.

Alaska Airlines and JetBlue have proactively made offers to disaffected Delta SkyMiles elites, unhappy with planned $35,000 spend requirements for Diamonds status and increased spend levels for lower status, and unhappy with limits on lounge access by premium cardmembers who do not spend at least $75,000 per year on the card. (Of course, JetBlue does not have lounges.)

Neither American nor United had moved to exploit Delta’s most valuable customers looking to leave the SkyMiles program. Numerous readers expressed reticence to make the jump to American and United, not knowing whether they’d just follow Delta with similar changes. That’s been a lost opportunity.

Meanwhile, as Delta drags out what changes will actually go into effect next year, customers have been in limbo but also likely in a wait and see mode. That may be in part because much of the coverage of Delta’s backtrack has suggested that they wouldn’t make announced changes when comments by Ed Bastian suggest the opposite – simply that they learned the need to slow walk the changes, boiling the member more slowly.

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 fog of war is starting to lift a bit and it looks like UA will retain my “loyalty” for another year.

  2. Agreed that if UA and AA continue to do nothing in response to DL’s massive program devaluation, it will be a missed opportunity.

    No doubt they are carefully monitoring all this, and we may yet see some attempt for either of both of them to capitalize.

    (A small nitpick. Yu write ” Numerous readers expressed reticence…” I suspect you mean something like “reluctance”? I don’t recall readers of this blog ever being “reticient” in any of their expression. 🙂 )

  3. Good news to hear as I will be moving all my travel over to UA once I use my remaining Skymiles on Delta in early 2024 and drop the Reserve for the United Infinite card upon renewal.

    Case in point: Yesterday I had a 3 hour layover in IND. Naturally, I went to the Sky Club. But, it’s IND, so at one point there were more staff (7) than customers (6). Am I complaining? No…but when you consider that a visit to the IND SC counts toward the oh-so-generous ten visits I would be bestowed by Delta….makes you realize that you need a card with unlimited visits. Hence, the move toward the UA card.

    The overcrowding issue was/is caused by the non co-branded Amex Plat and even then it still is only really evident in a few key locations (JFK, SLC, LAX, a few in ATL, etc.). I’ve certainly never seen any problems at IND, BNA, EWR, etc.)

  4. I think one of the reasons that UA and AA have not pro-actively courted Delta flyers is because it probably doesn’t matter?

    The reasoning I have is that frequent flyers actually don’t have a choice- they have to pick the dominant airline at their home airport. For me, it’s AA because I live in Philadelphia. There simply isn’t enough flights- on any other airline- to justify me switching.

    Sure, New York, Chicago, LA, etc. does give you 2-3 choices. But the other 90% of airports seem to be dominated by one carrier- at least in my experience.

    Finally, I still don’t understand why people use the lounges. They are definitely too crowded, and for me at least, I prefer whatever the nearest bar/restaurant is next to the gate. I’ll gladly pay the extra $$ for that convenience (and a MUCH better selection of drinks/wine/food/etc,)


  5. Since United just guided to a weak 4th quarter and their stock is down 7% so far, they know they have lived off the unsustainable zeal of post COVID international and are not about to hurt their relatively small domestic network.
    Delta made its Skymiles changes based on sustained levels of premium demand across its network and they are guiding to continued growth of their loyalty program revenue. Like United, Delta knows you have to tell investors the truth.

  6. @ Jon — Exactly, it doesn’t matter. I’m moving my business from DL to someone else regardless. I don’t really care about the nonstop “hub captive” blah, blah, blah. I enjoy traveling and that includes any necessary connections. Delta spoke, and I heard them loud and clear.

  7. If DL manages to gets its way by trickle downing the customer-unfriendly changed to the frequent flyer program, the chances skyrocket that UA will follow course and maybe do more and just as bad but in one fell swoop. But UA’s program is better than DL’s for now, so take advantage of the relative opportunity while it still exists.

  8. Good thing United is a trustworthy operation, right? But sarcasm aside, considering they made no play for Delta’s dissatisfied customers, they’re being stupid. They’ll renege on this promise.

  9. Delta stock down over 4% today they are the poster child of revenge travel beneficiary now down over 30% from July.

    UNITED has diligently matched its total premium product supply to demand and in fact is adding to it more than any other carrier, seeing in advance the shift toward premium upsell.

  10. Delta is firing their underprofitable customers in favor of their most profitable ones. There’s no money in someone holding a lounge access card that they don’t do any spend on. United isn’t making a play for Delta’s customers because they don’t want the ones leaving Delta.

    For whatever reason, United also doesn’t value non-flying spend the same way AA and DL seem to… maybe their deal with Chase is fundamentally different than the deals AA/DL have with Citi/Amex?

  11. UAL is down 8% today and 18% for the month. Wall Street understands that United’s strategies are riskier.
    Christopher gets it. Delta can replace its less valuable high value customers with more loyal customers which is something United cannot do.

  12. Gary I’m hoping you will call Tim Dunn out as some of your compatriots do……he scampers away when that happens.

  13. “No material changes” hmm. I guess that’s the minimum consumers can hope for. We should actually have improvements to frequent flyer programs.

  14. @Tim Dunn “UAL is down 8% today and 18% for the month. Wall Street understands that United’s strategies are riskier.”

    United’s stock is down because they lowered their fourth quarter (and therefore full year) earnings guidance.

  15. and Delta’s stock fell on the day it reported based on weaker yields than analysts expected.

    Still, UAL is down more in the past month than DAL.

    UAL’s strategies are weaker and some can argue otherwise but Wall Street understands.

    Seeking silence,
    you and others can’t stand to admit that Delta is the best run airline on the planet -which is why they have the highest market cap (most valuable to stockholders), highest revenue, and most profitable.
    Seeking Alpha is run by professionals, not the kindergarteners at the kiddie table. You desperately once to silence truth. We get it and so does anyone with half a brain.

  16. Actually UA should follow Delta’s approach because United’s has way too many 1K’s. Used to be only the most frequent flyers achieved this status however now half the plane at times are 1K’s mad the vast majority of time cannot use earned upgrades.

    United cannot deliver on the benefits to their top flyers with so many casual flyers achieving 1K status

  17. Of course it’s not all about profit, Gene. That is why United, in its earnings release, ADJUSTED OUT profit sharing for its employees in order to produce an ADJUSTED margin that was higher than Delta’s. It’s really about Scott Kirby’s ego, employees be damned.
    And do you realize that United credit just 75% of the profit sharing that Delta credit for its employees, a difference of $100 million.

    Tell me again about integrity after you take a look at Delta and United’s earnings reports.

    And then take a look at ANY NUMBER OF qualitative and quantitative rankings of the airline industry from the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report to Fortune’s best places to work etc etc etc.
    Delta is ranked above United and most of the rest of the industry in most of those reports.

    Delta just runs a better business. Period.

    It knew what it was doing when it “fired” its least loyal elites (using words from another poster above) and not only wasn’t harmed, as much as some including Gary hoped, and is on track to continue growing its loyalty program revenue by another $2.5 billion/year, as much as UAL gets in entirely in a whole year.

    United doesn’t have the loyalty revenue or the size of loyal customer base that Delta has and that just drives some people crazy

  18. @J Leutb – dead on. I’m flying international today, last leg is SFO to another east coast hub. 1K on a full Y ticket and I barely crack the top 10 on the upgrade list.

  19. @Tim: I think you’re selectively picking from what I’m saying. I think the summary is AA and DL don’t seem to think they can make money flying people around and UA still thinks they can, for whatever reason, at least by their relative behavior of AA and DL fleeing to pushing CC spend while United still wants you to buy airfare and barely nods at what you spend on their credit card.

    Bad for me because I have a lot of CC spend, but I’m still UA for a combination of 1) Generous same day change policy at Gold, geography,, and alliance.

    I also think the writing is on the wall for Delta: Their program is just not competitive. Assuming loyalty programs actually work (they still do on me apparently) , anyone who is actually choosing an airline based on them isn’t choosing Delta. And if they’re hub captive and do it not being informed of the differences, it’s only takes one attempt to redeem SkyPesos to move your spend off the Delta card.

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