Others already blogged the details while I was in meetings today (e.g. here and here) but still worth noting that United and Continental have announced changes for 2011, mostly aligning their upgrade programs.
The two programs operate separately in 2011. And just as United moved to and end of January the following year for status expiration, Continental will follow suit. Then they’ll merge the programs for 2012.
When they do there will be clear differentiation between 25,000, 50,000, 75,000, and 100,000 mile flyers.
Put a different way, United’s top tier is 1K at 100,000 miles flown. Continental’s top tier is Platinum at 75,000 miles flown. Clearly a combined entity wasn’t going to have a 75,000 mile top tier, just too easy to reach that and would mean too many top level elites (who were thus frequently unsatisfied with consistent delivery of upgrades).
So the question was, were they going to have 4 tiers (which was US Airways’ solution to a similar problem when it was acquired by America West) or were they going to go with United’s levels?
Thus far we only know that there will be four mileage levels for determining upgrade status. Whether the 75,000 mile level will be a separate tier between Premier Executive and 1K is unclear, versus just being a ‘plus’ on top of regular Premier Executive. Ultimately whether or not they call it this I’m expecting that in practice this will amount to being a four-tier program.
Oddly, they’re increasing the number of segments required for top tier from 100 to 120. That’s a lot of enplanements, I’d prefer to qualifying flying premium cabin long-haul thanks! Those segment qualifiers have it rough and now even rougher.
Continental will be adopting United-style systemwide upgrades — 6 earned at the 100,000-mile flyer level with the same fare restrictions (valid on W or higher). Global Services stays at the revenue-based true top level. And miles credited to Onepass and to Mileage Plus in 2011 will be combined to determine 2012 status.
And the biggie — a change to Confirmed Regional upgrades. Currently United 1Ks earn 2 domestic upgrades confirmable at booking from any fare (subject to upgrade availability) for each quarter in which they fly 10,000 miles or more, up to 8 confirmed regional upgrades per year.
Going forward, United and Continental elites will earn 2 Confirmed Regionals at the 75,000 mile level and an additional 2 for each 25,000 miles flown thereafter.
This is an upgrade for Premier Executives who fly 75,000 miles, they’ll get confirmed regionals for the first time.
This is a downgrade for those just squeaking into 1K status, they’ll get 4 Confirmed Regionals in a year instead of 8.
United tried to get rid of the Confirmed Regionals when they introduced their ‘Unlimited Domestic Upgrade’ system, and there was a backlash. They’ve been looking to restrict these and they’ve found a way. It’s not crazy, not all that surprising, even somewhat reasonable. But it is a takeback from most current 1Ks, though high-mileage 1Ks can earn even more of them than before (e.g. fly 175,000 miles and earn 10 instead of the previous 8).
Most of the above is pretty much as-expected, and several positive elements have come about lately especially the introduction of one-way awards on partners on United while retaining roundtrip awards with stopovers, and the ability to make changes to an award after departure of first flight (a la Continental). United hasn’t done much Starnet blocking in the past six months, I’ve really only seen it as an issue for about 10 days during this period. So I certainly hope it stays that way.
Continental’s award routing rules are still more generous than United’s (Continental allows a stopover and an open jaw on roundtrip awards, not just one or the other, and they don’t enforce ‘maximum permitted mileage’ restrictions on routings). My personal bet is that United’s more restrictive approach applies. But then Continental didn’t have one-way awards, and as long as they don’t have Starnet blocking (preventing members from booking award seats being offered by partner airlines) it’ll be a reasonable tradeoff.
Now we just have to find out what the combined airline is going to do about Economy Plus — which really is the biggest elite benefit for low tier elites who regularly fly in coach — and that’ll answer much of whether the combination is on net positive or negative. Personally I’m betting they keep it, it’ll be tough to get rid of and unpopular. But the Continental bean counters may be a tough sell on that one. And I’m also hopeful that at least on ultra-long haul and high-end premium routes that they keep international first class, something Continental hasn’t offered.