Scott O’Leary announced details of the new United Mileage Plus program for 2012 this morning on Milepoint.
Here are the key changes, which aren’t as bad as feared but which have a couple of real key negatives from my perspective.
- United will go to a 4-tier elite program as expected — 25,000 miles, 50,000 miles, 75,000 miles, and 100,000 miles (plus Global Services). They will begin requiring a minimum of 4 United, Continental, or COPA flights to earn status, so both people that are earning United status from Air Canada or bmi flights alone will no longer be able to do so. They are not introducing a minimum revenue component to elite status qualification, as had been speculated.
- Reduced elite bonuses. Elites flying 50,000 – 99,999 miles per year will receive less than their current 100% mileage bonus. 50k mile flyers will earn a 50% bonus and and 75k mile elite flyers will earn a 75% bonus.
- Increased class of service bonuses. Full fare coach will earn a 25% bonus, discount business 50%, full business and 2-cabin first will earn 75%, and 3-cabin first will earn 150%.
- The Continental method for determining what routes get complimentary elite upgrades. If it’s an international flight product, there’s no complimentary upgrade. If it’s a domestic premium product, it’s eligible for complimentary upgrade. So New York JFK – San Francisco/Los Angeles won’t get complimentary upgrades (as it’s been, though I wonder what will happen from Newark to these markets). Newark and Houston to Hawaii aren’t eligible for upgrades but the California and Chicago flights are. Intra-Asia narrowbody flights will become complimentary upgrade eligible.
- Elites will be eligible for instant upgrade at booking on full (Y and B) fares. 1Ks will be eligible for instant upgrade from M fares as well. Full Y fares will upgrade into revenue buckets, while B and M fares will be moved into upgrade inventory if available, though a new and more generous upgrade inventory than that used for other upgrade instruments or for complimentary upgrades.
- New upgrade windows. 1Ks will upgrade 96 hours out instead of 100; 50,000-mile flyers will upgrade 48 hours out and Premiers at 24 hours out.
- New upgrade hierarchy:
Y/B/M instant upgrades that weren’t confirmed in advance (sorted by fare class then premier tier)
Paid upgrades (i.e. GPUs, RPUs and mileage upgrades) sorted by status, fare class, and date of waitlist
All remaining premier customers by status, then fare class
So full fare trumps status and upgrades paid for with certificates or miles trump status. (Although status matters within each category). This, to me, is the worst change of all — a 100,000 mile flyer is upgraded after a non-status flyer using miles. A 100,000-mile flyer using miles or certificates is upgraded after a B fare 25,000-mile flyer.
- Premiers will get economy plus seating only 24 hours in advance, no longer at booking.
- Good news on the lifetime elite program. Miles from Continental and United will be combined, including all elite qualifying miles (not just flown miles) from Continental. Going forward it’s butt-in-seat miles only. And whereas Continental gave lifetime Silver at 1 million miles and United lifetime Premier Executive (mid-tier), they’ve determined that going forward 1 million gets lifetime 50,000-mile status, 2 million gets lifetime 75,000-mile status and 3 million gets lifetime 1K, and 4 million gets lifetime Global Services. And they’re adding a spouse benefit, spouse gets same elite level as the lifetime member. Further, Continental’s lifetime Platinum members from the old Infinite Elite program get lifetime 1K.
These changes will be rolling out over the first quarter of 2012, rather than all at once on February 1. That means they’ll be extending the current elite year slightly, details forthcoming, since the new program won’t be ready to roll out from an IT perspective when the new elite year is supposed to begin.
Bottom-line is a huge reduction in value for mere 25,000-mile flyers in no longer having access to Economy Plus at booking, this was the key differentiator for lower level elites who choose United for economy plus over regular coach on other airlines.
And a huge reduction in value for loyalty across the year rather than profitability on a single given trip by prioritizing full fare over status for upgrades, and prioritizing willingness for a member to spend miles on a single trip over status for upgrades.
I think these two changes are a mistake for United, certainly full fare occasional passengers will disagree. The rest of the changes, roughly speaking, make sense to me.