United Ends Mileage Conversion of Expiring 500-Mile Upgrades

United awards elite flyers (4) 500-mile upgrade certificates for every 10,000 miles flown on United (and United Express and Ted.. rar!.. planes). They also sell ’em. And they can be used to upgrade domestic flights a few days in advance of travel subject to availability, the specific length of time governed by your particular status with United.

Currently, if those upgrade certificates expire unused, they each convert to 500 frequent flyer miles.

June 1 this practice is no more.

I knew about the change back in January when it was posted on Flyertalk and didn’t see it as an especially big deal. It used to be that the old paper 500s converted just to 250 miles, and you had to mail them in to boot. Then when they went electronic it actually improved to the current 500 miles.

Now, with this new policy I really don’t get the logic of taking a paltry number of miles away from your best customers who really can’t use them. Makes no sense.

This is especially strange because the flyers with the most expriing 500 mile upgrades are those 100,000 mile flyers who do mostly international travel, many of whom are based out of the United States. Since the 500-milers can’t upgrade those transatlantic and transpacific flights, they just expire. It’s nice to have them turn into miles, an extra 20% mileage bonus in effect. Makes good sense, since this is in lieu of a benefit they can’t use. And long-haul travelers based outside the United States in particular would seem customers that are hard enough for United to attract and keep. Why take this away?

American used to offer conversion at 2500 miles apiece! Then it was reduced to 500. But conversion is still an option there as far as I know. And American’s 500-milers don’t expire at all, period.

United would allow ‘early conversion’ for years, if you had a stash of 500-milers they’d cancel ’em out and deposit miles in your account in exchange. This was never a ‘formal’ option. So United is certainly within its rights to end it without notice. And that’s just what they’ve done — since Flyertalkers were apparently converting their 500-milers like crazy, United sent out a message to its agents saying ‘no mas!’.

Doing so just seems incredibly… petty.

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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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