Jeff Foland to Run the Combined United-Continental Mileage Plus

Holly Hegeman reports that Graham Atkinson will “not be staying with the “new” United.”

Though United’s Jeff Foland will run the combined loyalty program in his place.

This seems like a strange move to me, they’re cleaning house at the top but leaving a United person in place.

I still expect that program to be called Mileage Plus, it’s the name that the larger pool of members are identified with. And I assume they inherit the Mileage Plus architecture. So at least initially more features of the United program than the Continental one, though I fully expect changes between now and the day the switch is flipped to merge membership lists.

First, I assume that some time after the United-Continental transaction closes, but before the programs themselves combine, that there will be a way to move miles back-and-forth between the two programs. US Airways-America West did this. Delta-Northwest did this. It will be expected.

Second, once that happens members will have a window in which they can take advantage of the best of both programs — United offers one-way awards, Continental more generous routing rules (a stopover and an open jaw rather htan just one or the other on awards between geographic regions). And of course Continental doesn’t ‘block’ award inventory.

Third, Starnet blocking has to go away. During a period where members can move miles back and forth they can use miles without blocking by moving the points to Continental. Putting the Continental folks in charge, given that they haven’t engaged in blocking of partner awards, suggests that they might not with a combined program. And United’s own blocking has been much, much lighter than any time in years since early May. I had never seen United allow booking of Thai premium class seats between Europe and Bangkok, and I can regularly access Lufthansa’s transatlantic award inventory, something that was nearly impossible at end of April.

Fourth, we’ll get to keep United’s one-way awards, but also get United’s expiring miles. We’ll probably get United’s award routing rules, as well. That’s all a trade which is worthwhile if we lose the blocking of award inventory, though I’d love to keep Continental routing rules.

I do worry somewhat about Jeff Foland in particular running the loyalty program. As Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales for United he’s in charge of customer contact centers (so their offshare call center implementation) and eCommerce (united.bomb).

These are certainly “interesting times” that Continental and United loyalty members live in.

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, 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 only thing good about United over the past decade has been the MP program, quality, service, REVENUES, etc. WHY oh WHY would they change the management of it now?

  2. @tivoboy presumably Atkinson — who Starnet blocking aside I have only positive things to say about — got a nice payout. But certainly since end of October Continental miles have been more valuable than United miles. I’d take a bit of sweet sweet Onepass action over at Mileage Plus… unclear whether we’re going to get it, though.

  3. Gary, what’s your thought on what will happen with UA million miler status? I’m about 30k away and am considering doing some mileage runs before the end of the year to lock it in in case they change later. From your pov any chance they would eliminate lifetime 1P status or change the threshold?

  4. Ok, nice speculation, but how about speculating on how they merge top tier elite requirements, eg, CO 75K, UA 100k?

  5. Anyone give thought to the .BOMB site. Keith Halbert, who joined United in 2008, will be chief information officer. The CO site offers much more in my opinion. I would really prefer they use the CO format

  6. Blcking will have to continue as revenue/cost pressures continue to grow with the combined airline. It makes complete financial sense to limit expenses like this.

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