United’s 2012 Mileage Plus Changes Announced, Some Bad News But Not as Bad as Expected

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:

    Global Services
    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.

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. This is TERRIBLE. Very disappointing: gold vs. plat. status. Changing 100% bonus to 50% bonus is a DRASTIC cut, which makes a big difference over the months of air travel. Keep in mind that those who earned 1MM status from flying flt.s only on UA, not including any cr. card purchases, etc. (as other programs do).

    Adding that plat. status level really reduces a gold’s chance of upgrading on int’l. flt.s. You won’t be competing with just the 1K’s but ALL those plat. status members. This is VERY DISAPPOINTING.
    We need to give feedback to UA. Don’t you think?

  2. @Gary – I’m just a bit confused about the mechanics of the hierarchy. At the 96 hour mark, do 1K CPUs compete with mileage upgrades? I thought the various clearance windows were for CPUs only, whereas the other hierarchy for full fares and mileage upgrades was for waitlists within 24 hours at the airport?

  3. Thank God I made it to American years ago as I hit 5 million miles with them next year.Thank you United for getting me angry long ago and forcing me to move all my biz to AA
    What a blessing in disguise
    Good luck all

  4. Gary, what is happening with “last seat” Standard Award availability for non-elites? (Earlier word was that it is going away unless you get the new credit card.)

  5. @Carl – other than GS members, ALL 1Ks will have lower priority for CPU than ANY flyer (status or not) using any type of upgrade instrument (miles, RPU, GPU, etc.), along with being lower that lower-status flyers buying YBs.

  6. For the MM’s, there should be some other choice of benefit than the spousal equivalent status. The MM’s without a spouse or who have a spouse with the same MP level or greater are left out.

  7. @Paul it’s called a Marriage of Convenience. Find an Avis Chairmans or Hertz Platinum member to marry and share spousal benefits.

  8. The most important thing is that there is no revenue requirememt to earn elite levels. The potential of UA only counting base fares would give international flyers the shaft. I bought a fall Z fare to Europe for $2300, but the base fare was $1370. YQ was $700 and taxes $200. It is absurd to say the ticket cost $1370. I also like the fact that all the elite levels retain tjeir names. 1K is a much better name than Premier Diamond.

  9. Co Platinum. Soon to be 1K. 4 flights on UA/Col might be a deal breaker. If it is itineraries, this year I will do 6, 2 to Asia, but who knows next year. If it is 4 one ways, then it is irritating, but probably I can live with it. If it is segments, then no problem.

  10. As mostly a full fare flyer I definitely disagree! The changes are great particularly for those of us who pay the highest fares and then get shut out by some 1k flying on a cheapo fare. However I think the angst is a bit misplaced, UGS take most of the upgrades on the popular SFO-IAD routes and I think the current system awards ties to the higher fare. So 1Ks on full fares will still get upgraded, and 1Ks on lower fares will still get E+. Sure there will be a few instances where a 2P jumps a 1K and they run out of seats but in practice I think that will be rare.

    No, the real loss is to everyone who buys cheapo fares well in advance and then expects a free upgrade for their family. Well you will still be able to get it, but it will cost you some miles. Which seems fair.

  11. @Flyer Fun,
    If you are aiming for 1K, how can you not have 4 flights on UA/CO/COPA, and if you don’t, pay a couple hundred dollars for a segment run and get your 4 flights.
    And on another note, what happens if you get a divorce from the person you gave your MM status to? Does their get canceled or are you screwed?

  12. These changes are because of the merger of these massive airlines—whomever thought that “Oh, your status would not be affected” knew that would be a corporate lie. Delta/Northwest did not make changes like these. AA’s move was the butt-in-seat mile change. That’s all.

    In fact, there is another reason. The upcoming global re-recession. How else to induce it, you kick everyone off.

    Now you know why I NEVER fly United or Continental. Their benefits sucked to begin with the way it was, thus it is no different to me.

    One World 4 ever. EXP soon again.


  13. Let’s see what Mileage+ means to me today:
    -Taking the family on vacation is full of compromises(no capacity, 6 AM flights, connections required, or use significantly higher miles…. etc etc) Useless.
    -Can not confirm International upgrades at any fare using miles
    -End of the day, miles are of no use to me personally. Only as a gift, and even then I feel odd about gifting- Don’t like to ask my 85 year old mother to take a 6 AM flight or connect to see her grand kids (BOS to ORD)!

    That being said;
    -Status not useful when flying on a code share as I am typically 25,000 mile level (while I still fly 75,000 + miles per year – just not always to UAL cities especially around the Med) have status on AA.
    -Don’t have status for flights on Code Share carriers
    -Upgrades won’t exist 24 hours out in many cases like ORD-California or ORD-East Coast,
    -Fare base critical means of getting into extra leg room
    -I don’t know about others, but when I book a ticket, I look at a seat map. If I don’t see a decent seat, I look for alternatives. 24 hour window for Premier- forget about it. My less than a week ticket purchases just went out the window on UA/CO unless I require there flight. Not a way to build loyalty.

    I guess that I am expected to be “loyal” so that my company does not pay for baggage check, maybe I get lucky on an upgrade with the right constellation of stars, or to board the plane early or go through a slightly shorter check in or security line.
    No value here for me. I will shift to AA from here on out.

  14. @Kris Ziel. I was talking about 2012 qualification. This year, I will have 6 itineraries on United/Con and each itinerary has 4 or more segments on United/Con. I assume that Gary is right and it is segments and therefore it is no big deal.

  15. This is be a very bad move for United…..

    Many business people are asked to reserve the ‘~lowest fare’ and usually reserve in advance. There is flexibility if fares are within ~25% so many people will choose airlines they have status with (loyalty).

    Now, anyone who needs to resever in the latest few weeks and ends up in a higher fare class with trump the traveler working for a prudent company who asks they try to not spend to much. Here, the traveler doesn’t have much choice. They can choose an airline if its within a reasonable cost of the others but now will not get upgraded because last minute travelers in igher fare classes with trump them.

    So what will happen is they will no longer have a desire to fly with United and will move to other carriers who still value longer term loyalty.

    Travelers booking during peak periods or closer to flight times where only higher fare class is available may book with United. Maybe this is thought out and their plan…. Try to get people working for companies to book at the last minute, get more $$ through it, …

  16. good changes in general.
    i think they should have turned the screw a bit harder on the silvers though

  17. As a sometimes Prem. Exec. but usually Premier I am livid about these changes. Losing 100% bonus at 50K mi. largely erases motivation to strive for it. But losing E+ access until 24 hrs out (which means only middles, if at all!) is a deal-breaker. Bye-bye UA. Am irate becuz am in process of flying 4 totally unnecessary transcons solely to qualify for 2012 Prem. status to RETAIN E+ access.

  18. What percentage of UA’s elite are premier (25K) flyers? I’d like to know how many loyal customers they’ve pissed off. There’s no way I reach 50K w/o international. Thus everyone like me is screwed on economy plus seats. I emailed UA my displeasure in their decision to do this and have been looking at AA as an option.
    Is there a chance that if enough premier’s complain they’re rescind this decision?

  19. I’m an irate 25,000 mile (every year for 10 years) flyer as well. Since we regular 2Ps almost never get “unlimited” free upgrades, E+ was 90% of the attraction of 2P.

    But as you know, if you try to book near the flight, there is nothing but middles left these days. I won’t fly in a middle, not in E+ or in regular. I will take an aisle in regular over a middle in E+. So when they finally let us go into E+ 24 hours before the flight, we won’t see anything but middles I presume, though perhaps a few precious aisles will have appeared due to upgraded people.

    And it’s worse for two flying together. Again, 24 hours before, what’s going to be left in E+? Certainly not the usual things we like, like paired aisles, or an empty triple where you can book window-empty-aisle and move one of you if they sell the middle. The flight will have to be pretty sparse for that to happen — though perhaps with the other 2Ps not in E+ this could be the case.

    It will probably become like Southwest, where you must do your check in and E+ seating 23:59:59 before the flight to get a good seat. Pain in the ass.

    For better or worse, UA is doing too good a job at filling planes these days. Full flights are a pain. No empty middles, people forced to gate-check (at least we still get early boarding I hope) and take-off delays filling the plane. But E+ made it barely worth it, and now it’s mostly gone. Of course, you 50Ks and 1Ks have lost things as well, but I don’t feel too sad.

    On the other hand, I do think it is right that precedence goes to people who actually spend something to get their upgrade, rather than just having it be automatic for people with high status. I liked the old system where they gave people upgrade certs. The 1Ks got tons of them, so they could get the upgrades they wanted, but at least you had people think about it and so people who were willing to spend their certs (some people even bought them) got the upgrade the one time they really needed it. Now it’s just 1Ks and UGS saying, “Of course I got upgraded. I always do.”

  20. I’ll keep it simple. As with some others, I’m a Premiere and an occasional Premiere Exec. For me, the key was always the E+ seat selection at booking. With that essential gone as Brad explained, I’m looking elsewhere as soon as the new program starts.

  21. For what it’s worth, fellow irates, I’m flying other carriers and measuring seat pitch (gets lots of weird glances with that measuring tape until I explain what I’m doing & why). So far, UA’s regular Economy is inferior to Southwest, AA, and JetBlue, at least on short- and medium-haul aircraft. So without access to E+ at time of booking, I’m going elsewhere. Not willing to stress for months over whether I’ll be able to get E+ and then end up only in a middle.

  22. With these changes, United has basically removed any rationale for me to be loyal. I used to go out of my way to buy a United ticket, sometimes spending significant higher $ to do so, but that’s over for sure. We’ll see how fast I can get into AA status. Good timing though – at least we didn’t waste the early months of 2012 buying United before we knew the plans.

    Those who still care – note that United does seem to respond to survey feedback, so if you get the chance, be VERY vocal.

  23. As Silver for 2012 what really makes me mad and I see as unfair is that a non-elite member can pay $425 and be assured an EP+ at booking in 2012 while I who spent thousands of dollars flying United in 2011 will not. Further, as Silver I cannot even purchase the right to have EP+ (talked to United Rep and they confirmed). Who at United thought this made sense as it is so short sited? I am also a AA Gold so next year I might as well spend all my money there and tell everyone at my company to do the same.

  24. It is very sad, it seems now that one of my last reasons to stay loyal to UA is evaporating. I know if I was as frequent as many, then this wouldn’t be a big deal, but all revenue adds up, and as someone who travels once a month to the US on business from London, I will now be tempted to look elsewhere.

  25. It looks like I will be leaving “United” (aka Continental). I live in Hawaii, which means I pretty much don’t get upgrades to-from anymore without a co-pay if I get any upgrade at al, and I can’t get Economy Plus seating until check in, which is when all the seats are taken. Mr. Smisek blew it on this one.

  26. All my promises broken!! My 14+ years of loyalty as a 1K to get the “Promised Lifetime Premier Executive Gold with 100% Bonuses and 72 hour upgrades” Premier Executive Gold always got there flying companions status matched on the same reservation so dont believe that BS from the agents when they explain this added benifit to you.. The only way I would believe anything they say at this point is NOT!!!!!!!!!!!! The changes will always be made to keep you when they are doing bad or screw you when they are doing good. Remember there is now one less major airline so they are all looking to make some more money. I will go to any new smaller company to do my flying..

  27. I have given united a piece of my mind about the reductions. As a premier traveler for years I have paid extra to fly with them due to the benefits. The straw that is breaking the back in my mind is the not giving economy plus seating at booking. this is one of the major reasons that i have stayed with them. I will gladly fly Southwest and Frontier where the employees are happy to have a job and get it.
    Wise up United. people who fly 25K miles give you a lot of money.

  28. Add me to the list of 25K flyers who are extremely unhappy with the decision to pull E+ at booking. This was the one benefit that set United above the other carriers for me. I’ve sent Mileage Plus a blistering comment; who knows if they’ll get back. At least it’ll save me some money as I will now book for price. It’ll be cold comfort when I’m sitting in the back of the plane, though….

  29. I agree that the lifetime UA Premier Exec should have been grandfathered to not lose earned benefits – decreased benefits will certainly result in decreased loyalty. Paraphrasing Marshall McLuhan: “A happy customer tells two or three people; an unhappy customer tells 15 or 20 people!” Hope the M+ executives know this.

  30. Sent an email to United to voice my utter disappointment on the 2P no longer having booking access to E+. (I alternate 1P/2P year to year). Currently, a 2P until March 2!

    The automated response came from the Gen/2P desk. So that pretty much shows you where the silvers are. Nice! United, I am still 1P!

    Loyal since 1996…

    As they say, United,

  31. Seems that there is no longer much benefit to the 25k mile flyer. Without access to the better seats and early boarding I will no longer automatically fly United.

  32. Yup leaving United here too. Been with them exclusively for the last 4 years…no point now.

  33. it stinks that they took away the Economy Plus benefit for basic Premier members. that was the only reason to fly United, certainly not the surly service, late flights, and already weak frequent flyer program. I’m switching whenver possible.

  34. Have to agree with others. As a basic Premier member (now Premier Silver) I made 3 transatlantic trips last year and my wife made 5. The ONLY bnefit in flying United was the upgrade to E+ seats at time of booking. That benefit has now gone away and so lets just go with which airline has the cheapest fare. No other reason to fly United.

  35. Forgot to add that I have just booked my 1st Transatlantic flight of the year to LHR with Delta (4 seats)

  36. Another comment – My last flight with UA was when I was waitlisted for 1st class from SLC to IAD. Guess what – four staff were upgraded before my wife and I (paying passengers). Go figure the logic of UA’s customer service in doing that.

  37. United’s MilePlus program officially hit completely sucks status.

    Been 1K the last 5 years and over the last 4 months upgrades have been almost non-existent, web page will not let me change seats within same status and on my most recent International trip, I was not even allowed to request use of my large bank of upgrades that just rot away. I am not even sure why United provides me with those upgrades as I recall only ever having 1 get honored and the rest expire. Thanks United for being as “dedicated” to me as a very frequent flyer as I have been dedicated to you.

    United, I am now going to show you equal dedication by flying other carriers that appreciate how much time I spend in the air with them.

  38. I am primier member over 8 years but this change will force to change other airline.. too bad

  39. I’m very disappointed with the changes to the 25K program. I have been loyal to United for the last 12 years, flying an average 40k miles per year. I have a lot of choices but the primary reason for choosing United was the Economy Plus seating. Now that I am unable to reserve a seat at booking, I no longer have any motivation to fly with United.

  40. So my partner and I work all year to achieve Premier status and once we do, they take away the prime motivation for having done so – no E+ seats when booking. Firstly its really nasty to pull the rug on loyal customers AFTER they have made an effort to fly United to achieve the status. Secondly, if you are going to go ‘cattle call’ why not go with another airline that offers you more for your money? I just flew Virgin. I had a leather seat, my own TV, legroom, and WIFI!!! There’s Jet Blue, SW…..I can fly any airline now as there is no advantage to flying United. I don’t take kindly to getting screwed.

  41. Feels like a betrayal. I have been booking United all year and sometimes for higher fares just to qualify for Premier status and now any actual good benefits (economy plus seat at booking) are gone. They should have at least waited until next year to make the change to give people notice!

  42. Add my voice to those who are extremely frustrated with the
    demotion as a Premiere at United. For 18 of pat 21 years I have flown 25-35K per year w United. Now I certainly feel my loyalty is certainly not appreciated. I am 6’5″ so the E+ is extremely important to me. For past few years, E+ has reduced much of the stress of flying, but now it is all coming back. Plus, for those time I did need to check 2 bags, now the second will cost me $35! How can we have our voice heard!

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