RUMOR: United to Devalue Lifetime Elite Status Program

United MileagePlus Has the Most Generous Lifetime Status Program

United currently has the most generous lifetime elite program of any major airline:

You can even earn revenue-based Global Services status based on lifetime flight miles. Continental Onepass Infinite Platinums were given lifetime 1K. I know at least one person who is lifetime 1K and lifetime GLobal Services as a result.

United also gives lifetime companion benefits so a lifetime elite member’s spouse or companion receives the same status that they maintain.

US Airways used to offer only lifetime Silver at 1 million miles. American offers lifetime first-tier status at 1 million miles and mid-tier at 2 million miles — although their program used to be the most generous because until December 2011 miles from any source counted towards lifetime status.

Delta has an extensive lifetime program, although doesn’t offer Diamond (or Delta360 revenue-based) status based on lifetime qualifying miles.

United May Be Making the Program Less Generous

There’s a rumor on Flyertalk that United will be changing its million miler program. (HT: Travel Codex)

Recently had a friend book 3 unnecessary transcons for December with overnight returns. When I asked him why, he said that he was ~10k short of 2 million miles and wanted to make it by the end of the year so that he could have Lifetime Plat before they changed the program. Evidently, a friend of his in Willis Tower keyed him into the following changes, and this is what he speculated was going to be happening sometime next year:

  • All Million Miler tiers will move down one “notch.” Example: 1 Million will now be Silver for life, 2 million=Gold, etc.

  • There will no longer be a way to get GS for life. 4 million will be 1k for life, with no 5 million tier. However, certain “high-revenue” flyers will be eligible for lifetime GS by invitation.

  • GPUs and RPUs will no longer be given to Lifetime 1Ks and Plats if they have not met the annual PQM quota for their respective lifetime status level in a given year. Example: Someone who is lifetime 1k will not receive any instruments if they only get 50k PQMs in the year, if they fly 75K PQMs they will receive 2 RPUs, and if they fly 100k+ PQMs only then will they receive 6 GPUs.

  • People who made a certain lifetime status before the effective date of the change will be grandfathered.

  • The companion status benefit will remain the same.
  • The rumor is that existing million miler status will be honored. So these changes would only be for people crossing million mile thresholds in the future. I would feel especially bad for someone very close (who has worked on their million mile status for years) only to have the rug pulled out from under them, or someone who was already a million miler who is awarded with the same lifetime status they’ve already earned upon crossing the next million miler threshold.

    Yesterday early morning I asked United for a comment on this — and though I’ve found their media folks to be incredibly responsive overall, even nights and weekends — they did not respond.

    Update: @ZachHonig says United has confirmed to him they are not changing qualification requirements for million mile status.

    United Has Devalued Before — and Says They Can Do That to Existing Lifetime Members Too

    Grandfathering in existing million milers though is much more generous than United told a court they need to be.

    Despite explicitly promising in late 2011 not to take away benefits or confirmed upgrades from million mile flyers, United did exactly that in early 2012.

    United said in October 2011 “[y]ou will continue to receive your benefits as you always have” and then take away the specific benefit of annual confirmed regional upgrades.

    United was even specifically said that the confirmed domestic upgrades would continue:

    A lawsuit was filed for breach of contract, with one suggesting being that the million miler program was separate and apart from MileagePlus itself and the latter’s claim that members have no rights and United could do whatever it wished wasn’t a get out of jail free card.

    Back in January of last year United used an “our fingers were crossed” defense successfully.

    Under any claim against United, a Court can’t read state contract rules into the dispute (such as a covenant of good faith and fair dealing) under Northwest vs. Ginsberg. United basically says that they can do whatever they wish, ending the lifetime status program whenever they wish. United’s position is that the consumer remedy is to complain to the DOT, which doesn’t regulate frequent flyer programs.

    Lifetime means lifetime ‘unless we change our mind’:

    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.

    Judge Hamilton wrote an opinion summarizing United’s behavior towards million milers:

    United’s defense here is that the airline’s very best customers—its Million Mile Flyers—should have known better than to believe United’s promise of “lifetime” benefits. This defense amounts to a confession of consumer fraud. United could not—honestly and legally—promise “lifetime” benefits while reserving the right to cancel its promise at any time and for any reason.

    Get Your United Million Miler Status.. Quickly

    The best deals, those orders of magnitude better than the competition, don’t last. United’s million miler program is generous, so it’s reasonable to expect it will change.

    If you’re near a million mile threshold, it would be best to accelerate your progress if possible because — if these rumored changes are real — you’ll want to secure status and have it grandfathered before the goal posts move a million miles away from the status level you’d cross next.

    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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    Comments

    1. As someone who currently sits at 960,000 and is unable to do 40,000 miles of flying in the next month this is incredibly concerning. Premier Silver is a joke. I really hope this is not true.

    2. If they actually cared they would grandfather in anybody with significant progress towards 1MM. Class action just for the hell of it anyone? Premier silver is next to useless.

    3. While UA is more generous to MM members, they should be, because unlike AA (who credits all OW flights toward MM status), UA only credits flights on their own metal. This makes it much more difficult to get MM status, and thus it should be more rewarding.

    4. It’s a pretty stupid move. The younger MMs are people who are doing a lot of flying on United: good customers. The older MMs are essentially a dying class: they’ve flown for a long time (still loyal) but don’t fly as much and quickly pass on.

      I am 200K short of 2MM. My goal is lifetime Platinum which still has some value. If this change relegates me to lifetime Gold, United can kiss my business good-bye (I do about 80K paid miles per year).

      And my two United credit cards will be history too.

      Anyone know Alaska Airlines’ phone number?

    5. One way to soften the change for current MM is to add 1M to their lifetime account. So, if you have 1.8M, you would have 2.8M and still 200K short of Plat for life.

    6. @Jamie,

      I’m an almost 2MM flyer that admittedly doesn’t fly much anymore. But I didn’t realize until now that I’m a “dying class” and will “quickly pass on.” I guess this cold that I’m fighting is a bit worse than I had imagined…

    7. @Michael T

      I am also one of the ‘dying’ class. Not sure how quickly I’ll pass on, but what I meant was that the older travelers don’t fly as much so they don’t clog up the upgrade queues and also, as a class, they get smaller over time.

    8. Bring it on! Loyalty cuts both ways.

      I’m a UA Million Miler who books United because the current benefits are one of the last reason to be loyal to this airline. If they devalue Million Miler status it will just mean I’m free to book whatever airline I want.

      A la carte flying options has massively increased flexibility to get the equivalent of frequent flyer benefits as paid options from any airline.

      With all the devaluation, EQM BS, and cutting of loyalty benefits the next time the economy goes south United won’t have any Frequent Flyers to keep them in business. They will be a case book study of not listening to their customer and a loss of goodwill.

    9. MM is a long-term commitment. I have been flying exclusively United for 9 years now, and am 3/4 of the way to MM. It is the only reason I stayed with them the past few years despite the fact that AA had a MUCH better FF program: I valued the rewards that were promised for my long-term loyalty. This would be the biggest slap in the face possible to flyers to have stuck it out despite all of the devaluations the past few years. Most people gaming the system have already left the program, all that are left are the true die-hards that value the promise offered by maintaining their loyalty.

    10. Not sure the real inspiration on this? I the scheme of things how much rev is lost. Or how much rev will be gained by doing this? In the budget and profit loss of billions of dollars of rev from pax. The give aways in upgrades,bags and other misc would be miniscule for mm+ pax. It’s not like if you get mm or 2mm then you get free flts. You still buy a ticket to fly. United and all domestic airs have such a narrow view of how to run a biz. Make me CEO and I will make the company more money than ever and reward the best customers and those best customers would be pleased to even spend more. It’s a simple equation.
      Going to lowest common denominator is the mich more difficult model to maintain

    11. “…although their program used to be the most generous because until December 2011 miles from any source counted towards lifetime status.”

      No. All that meant was the program offered one of the easiest ways to earn lifetime status; it did not make the BENEFITS of the AA lifetime status “the most generous.”

      In any case, I hope the rumor remains a rumor because, with about some 950K BIS miles at the end of the current year, I am on track to making UA 1MM next year (2016)…

    12. An interesting blog. What I mean is that the responses are what make it interesting. About the “dying class”, that is.
      Like many “grandfathers,” I lived through the past, great and not so great of Continental. As I am certain that there are similar stories from UA flyers. Bankruptcy and peanut flights.
      My past started with Eastern, then cheerfully invited over to Continental when Eastern Mech’s choked on their labor issues.
      Come to think about, without us remaining “grandfathers,” there might be no United Airlines today.
      A little late for Thanksgiving, but here goes:
      1. no baggage fees
      2.Use of lounges for International flights
      3. No cancellation fees for award travel cancellation
      4.Upgrade to better economy seats without charge
      5. Recognition by employees(not all) for my brand loyalty(1984)
      6. Free Upgrades domestically(well, until merged with United)(It is interesting to note that LH still upgrade my wife and myself to Business when flying international.

      So, I hope my wife doesn’t find out that I am dying.
      My thoughts to the “young whippersnappers” is very simple. Flying is like fashion. The only constant is change. At one point, deregulation, the airlines thought they needed passengers. And since they weren’t stupid enough to give away their fares, they lured us in with FF programs. And now, we are entering the cycle where the legacy airlines have to compete on price, because that is what the public has said(Southwest, Spirit, Jet Blue, Allegiant).
      If you are young enough, the cycle will change, and the airlines will chase you again.

      In the meantime, I will thank Continental/UA for treating with respect over the years.
      Happy holidays to all!

    13. Wow; this would be a huge mistake — I hope it isn’t true.

      I’m also one of those who has been committed to United for the past ~7 years, and will be past 900k lifetime miles at the end of the year.

      Premier Silver is a joke; it’s worse than useless to me. E+ 24 hours prior? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’d rather fly Spirit.

      I was already annoyed when 1K and GS got kicked out 1MM to make space for Platinum. To make my upcoming Lifetime Gold turn into lead would say to me that I made a mistake being loyal to United, and I should have switched to American years ago.

    14. Kudos to UA for rewarding current “earners” at the expense of lifetime status holders. I’d rather see (rare) upgrades go to current 1Ks rather than some guy who flew millions of miles years ago and is now just taking up space. Lifetime 1P aka Gold is sufficient for most people until they move the goalposts again – lifetime Plat adds the bonus of fee waivers – again until the rules are changed. If you want upgrades you gotta fly or pay more.

    15. I am about 1/2 way to 4MM (lifetime GS) and spend about $100K a year on United. If the lifetime GS goes away, then there is really no incentive for me to continue flying United as a lifetime 1K. the 1K status/benefits have devalued over the years that one has to be GS to get the same 1K benefits introduced in the later half of the last century.

      If lifetime GS goes away before I make it to 4MM, I’d probably just pick the airlines that offer the best offerings and services in the future. As a paid business class flyers, I get the same great custmer services on SQ, CX, OS, etc. whether I have status with any of them or not.

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