United Won’t Reduce Confirmed Domestic Upgrade Certificates for Top Level Elites in 2011 After All

United is backing off of their just-announced changes to Confirmed Regional upgrade earning.

Earlier in the week they said that beginning in 2011, Mileage Plus members who flew 75,000 miles would receive 2 confirmable-at-booking domestic upgrade certificates (valid even on Hawaii and JFK-San Francisco/Los Angeles “p.s.” routes) and an additional 2 confirmable upgrades for each 25,000 miles flown after that.

The upshot was that 1Ks flying just 100,000 miles would earn only (4) confirmed domestic upgrade certificates, instead of the current system where they earn 2 in each quarter that they fly at least 10,000 miles on United for a standard total of (8).

But high-flying Premier Executives who don’t hit 1K would earn a couple, and 1Ks flying 175,000 miles per year would earn (10) so more than current.

There was much backlash on Flyertalk, though frankly I didn’t see the changes as a big deal or at all unexpected since United tried to take away confirmed regional upgrades when they introduced unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades.

Well, One Mile at a Time has the details of their updated changes.

But the upshot is that 2011 will see members earning both 2 confirmed domestic upgrades at 75,000 miles and an additional 2 for each incremental 25,000 miles flown and their normal 2 per quarter that they fly 10,000 miles or more on United. So a 100,000-mile flying 1K would under normal circumstances earn 12 confirmed regionals in 2011 instead of the normal 8.

And the earlier-announced changes would go into exclusive effect for 2012.

Again, not sure it’s a huge deal but I do like this change. Not because I’m agitating for more confirmed domestic upgrades but because I like more advance notice of program changes that take things away from at least a big chunk of eligible members.

United’s 100,000-mile flyers have put in a big investment of time, money, loyalty over the course of the year on the basis of published and promised benefits. It’s never been fair, in my view, to announce significant program changes after members have made that investment.

Terms and conditions of a program notwithstanding, note I am not claiming that a program lacks the legal right to implement a change. I’m just saying it isn’t reasonable to do so. And that it isn’t good for long-term member loyalty, either, because it demonstrates that a program is untrustworthy — Lucy, Linus, the football… work hard all year for a suite of benefits for the coming year, and just as you’re about to take advantage of them next year the football gets pulled and the benefits change. That diminishes trust in a program and breaks the ‘deal’ that programs make with flyers.

So I’m a big advocate that takeaways should be announced at the beginning of the year for the following year, not at the end. So I appreciate United making this gesture.

In practice many members have a hard time using their confirmed regionals since United has a tendency on transcon routes of holding back confirmable upgrade space until within the complimentary upgrade window anyway. But for those p.s. routes where unlimited domestic upgrades don’t apply, this is great for sure. And if you have the flexibility to pick and choose flights, it’s definitely a plus.

So thanks, United! You didn’t have to, but it’s great that you did — helps restore trust by putting off the implementation of this admittedly minor change by a year.

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. If you know anyone who “has a hard time” using the CR-1’s, let me know. I can use them on p.s. flights.

  2. @ptahcha: I try to use a cr-1 every time I fly between PHL an SFO. Never any NF space and my UDU ne’er comes through.

    @Gary: Lucy pulls the football from Charlie Brown, not Linus! 😉

  3. Gary,

    I’m confused by what they were trying to do here. Their initial form letter reply to those that wrote in to 1kvoice seemed to indicate that they were giving everybody (including existing/renewing 1ks) better benefits, but that was not the case. If that’s, in fact, what they were trying to do, why not make it so that existing/renewing 1ks (and CO equivalents) get 2CR1s at each 25k, and non/new 1ks (and CO equivalents) get 2 @ 75k and 2 @ 100k, then they get them each 25k thereafter?

    What are they actually trying to do? Did they blow it and can’t figure out how to say that? Otherwise, what’s the point of making this change?


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