United’s 2012 Mileage Plus Changes Announced, Some Bad News But Not as Bad as Expected

Scott O’Leary announced details of the new United Mileage Plus program for 2012 this morning on Milepoint.

Here are the key changes, which aren’t as bad as feared but which have a couple of real key negatives from my perspective.

  • United will go to a 4-tier elite program as expected — 25,000 miles, 50,000 miles, 75,000 miles, and 100,000 miles (plus Global Services). They will begin requiring a minimum of 4 United, Continental, or COPA flights to earn status, so both people that are earning United status from Air Canada or bmi flights alone will no longer be able to do so. They are not introducing a minimum revenue component to elite status qualification, as had been speculated.

  • Reduced elite bonuses. Elites flying 50,000 – 99,999 miles per year will receive less than their current 100% mileage bonus. 50k mile flyers will earn a 50% bonus and and 75k mile elite flyers will earn a 75% bonus.

  • Increased class of service bonuses. Full fare coach will earn a 25% bonus, discount business 50%, full business and 2-cabin first will earn 75%, and 3-cabin first will earn 150%.

  • The Continental method for determining what routes get complimentary elite upgrades. If it’s an international flight product, there’s no complimentary upgrade. If it’s a domestic premium product, it’s eligible for complimentary upgrade. So New York JFK – San Francisco/Los Angeles won’t get complimentary upgrades (as it’s been, though I wonder what will happen from Newark to these markets). Newark and Houston to Hawaii aren’t eligible for upgrades but the California and Chicago flights are. Intra-Asia narrowbody flights will become complimentary upgrade eligible.

  • Elites will be eligible for instant upgrade at booking on full (Y and B) fares. 1Ks will be eligible for instant upgrade from M fares as well. Full Y fares will upgrade into revenue buckets, while B and M fares will be moved into upgrade inventory if available, though a new and more generous upgrade inventory than that used for other upgrade instruments or for complimentary upgrades.

  • New upgrade windows. 1Ks will upgrade 96 hours out instead of 100; 50,000-mile flyers will upgrade 48 hours out and Premiers at 24 hours out.

  • New upgrade hierarchy:

    Global Services
    Y/B/M instant upgrades that weren’t confirmed in advance (sorted by fare class then premier tier)
    Paid upgrades (i.e. GPUs, RPUs and mileage upgrades) sorted by status, fare class, and date of waitlist
    All remaining premier customers by status, then fare class

    So full fare trumps status and upgrades paid for with certificates or miles trump status. (Although status matters within each category). This, to me, is the worst change of all — a 100,000 mile flyer is upgraded after a non-status flyer using miles. A 100,000-mile flyer using miles or certificates is upgraded after a B fare 25,000-mile flyer.

  • Premiers will get economy plus seating only 24 hours in advance, no longer at booking.

  • Good news on the lifetime elite program. Miles from Continental and United will be combined, including all elite qualifying miles (not just flown miles) from Continental. Going forward it’s butt-in-seat miles only. And whereas Continental gave lifetime Silver at 1 million miles and United lifetime Premier Executive (mid-tier), they’ve determined that going forward 1 million gets lifetime 50,000-mile status, 2 million gets lifetime 75,000-mile status and 3 million gets lifetime 1K, and 4 million gets lifetime Global Services. And they’re adding a spouse benefit, spouse gets same elite level as the lifetime member. Further, Continental’s lifetime Platinum members from the old Infinite Elite program get lifetime 1K.

These changes will be rolling out over the first quarter of 2012, rather than all at once on February 1. That means they’ll be extending the current elite year slightly, details forthcoming, since the new program won’t be ready to roll out from an IT perspective when the new elite year is supposed to begin.

Bottom-line is a huge reduction in value for mere 25,000-mile flyers in no longer having access to Economy Plus at booking, this was the key differentiator for lower level elites who choose United for economy plus over regular coach on other airlines.

And a huge reduction in value for loyalty across the year rather than profitability on a single given trip by prioritizing full fare over status for upgrades, and prioritizing willingness for a member to spend miles on a single trip over status for upgrades.

I think these two changes are a mistake for United, certainly full fare occasional passengers will disagree. The rest of the changes, roughly speaking, make sense to me.

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. I am extremely frustrated with this new program. I liked Continental OnePass the way it was and now it makes no sense to me. Due to budget cutback at my company, I fly about 50,000 miles a year now instead of 90,000. It was bad enough when I had to go to Gold Elite…this past year I have 49,201 miles and they bumped me down to silver and did not even give me the option to buy back my status! I can either fly out of Philly or Newark…I am considering moving to US Air..I don’t like them but at least United will not get my money! I have been trying for a week to get through to the elite line..sorry premier line to get this straightened out and each day have been on hold more than an hour so I still have not spoken to a live person. Tomorrow I am traveling out of Newark and plan to talk to someone at the airport who can help me…this is not how you treat loyal customers.

  2. Can’t use my miles for free trip, mp member since 1985, no E+ anymore and they got me because my often traveled route SF to Merida Mx is the one time a day flight out of Houston(which now is routed from SF through far flung locations and multiple legs). This sucks and I will be looking for just as inconvenient but less expensive more rewarding options.

  3. I just talked to a United rep about the spouse benefit. Apparently it’s not full status for the spouse, but that a spouse traveling with the million mile member gets conferred status for that flight. So if the spouse flies on their own, they revert back to the spouse’s true status, rather than an upgraded one. So really not a benefit at all.

    Anyone else hear the same or conflicting information?

  4. @CW that’s incorrect, they get the actual status, it’s a new benefit and perhaps the rep was uninformed (as they described the ‘old way’)

  5. Bill is right – defintely done with United. Amazing that they could do this to Premieres and Premier execs. I hope they fall so flat on their faces. Every flight I took (and there were a LOT of them) I heard the Captain say – “we know you have lots of choices with airlines and we appreciate you chosing United”. Not so much anymore I guess.

  6. I have flown with United for 15 years, have put up with what must be the worst food served in the air. I had hoped we would get something better from the merger, however it is downhill, I hope the wake up and smell the coffee, as loyalty is was kept the flying after 2001. Not happy of England.

  7. I am a 25k elite and when I book economy online I automatically get access to economy plus seating. I do not have to wait until 24 hours before flight. Maybe this is a glitch in the system, or maybe this is because I book international. For me the worst change is the loss of 2nd checked bag free on international flights. That has been reduced to only the first bag being free. But the first bag has always been free on international flights on all airlines. So as it stands the only benefit I get with my elite status is preferential checkin and boarding. Not sure if that makes it worth staying with united.

  8. This merger is idiotic, and as a Silver card holder I now get the honor of being crapped all over by Jeff Smisek. My wife can’t even get her card printed, since they (according to customer service) “don’t send out cards to non-elite members anymore” and the option to print one on-line (seriously?!! you have to be joking) doesn’t work while the “upgrade their system”. So, yes, I do have other travel options, and, yes, I will use them. Go get stuffed United…. I’m now shopping on price.

  9. Just received the 2012 program. I was a Premier exec for a few years. Now just Silver. Let’s see with the merger I now get:

    1. To pay for economy plus
    2. Only one checked bag.
    3. When I call a recording that says, “your wait time will be longer than 30 minutes”.

    United and Continental. Two lousy companies, now one big crappy company. I am using up my miles and then all my domestic business goes to Southwest. All international to foreign carriers.

  10. Since there is no horse so dead it can’t be beat again… I have been a loyal UAL customer for several years, flying 25-50+ miles per year. At 6’3″, E+ was the main reason I stuck with United. I’ve sent my objections and responded to surveys with my dissatisfaction over losing E+ until check-in. They have never responded. United – Listen very carefully: We have way too many other airline options to be loyal to a company that does not value our business. The 25K flyer may not spend as much time on your planes as the 100K flyer, but there are more of us and, apparently, many of us will be flying in the back of other airlines.

  11. Is it true the extra PQM booking biz or first does not go towards your Lifetime credit. I was told BIS only for the actual miles. Any other options like cc promotions ect ?

  12. As a silver elite if I pay extra for an exit row seat, and than change to E+. when available, can I get the exit row premium charge refunded?

  13. United will lose several thousand dollars a year in fares from me. E+ has become the only significant value they offered for loyalty without being a weekly flier. This, despite nearly 20 years as a Premier.

    It’s a massive mistake. But I doubt their bureaucratic structure will allow them to see it and correct it. Too many people will have careers to protect for that decision. Sad to see.

  14. As a former Gold who dropped to Silver this year (missed by 5,000 EQM), I am livid by the loss of E+ seating at booking. I will be looking at another airline with better premium seating policy. UAL has been dead last in the service for years and the only reason to stick with it was E+. Now that reason has evaporated, so I will be looking at other options. Having the call center being essentially useless is another nail in the coffin. Friendly skies my a$$…

  15. Well, Been flying UA, since ’75. Oh buy the way, out of my own pocked, not some corporate account. I’m done, just booked a flight for 2 on Frontier, enough hoops!! not jumping anymore.

  16. I too will be looking for alternatives. My Life-time Premier Exec status for reaching 1 million miles 2 years ago is now “Gold” which means I have gone from life-time 100% mileage bonus to 50%, while loosing many other privileges now that there is a “Platinum” status, which is really the old Gold status renamed. My last 2 trips to Europe have been on British Airways, and I will continue to look for alternate choices to fly.

  17. I am a Premier Silver member and have in the past tried to always book on United instead of other carriers because of the Economy Plus seating. Since that is now gone I no longer feel like I should try and book United and that I should look into some other mileage programs. Sorry United, but that was a deal breaker for me.

  18. Not sure any of this is worth keeping track of for most people, but the only reason I ever flew UA was EC+ booking. Can’t do that so now they are just like the rest of them. Sure it makes sense to UA.

  19. I fly, er flew, about 40K per year on UA for the past 13 years. Because UA took away my Economy Plus seating perk, my 2012 flights have been on Virgin America and AA. I hope to never have to fly UA again — after 13 years of 100% loyalty. They bait and switched me: I would have stopped being loyal in early 2011 if they had told me they were taking this perk away. Bottom line, they lied to us Premiers. I am surprised there is not a law suit. Good Bye United. Hello Virgin (which so far is wonderful)!

  20. Oh – and the “new” United Web site? Hello United, 1999 called and they want their web site back. So, so bad – the multiple stock photography ads, cheap font, over-crowded text and left-algned resolution…among MANY other issues create such a poor user experience! What are they thinking?

  21. Add me to the list of Silver status fliers who will never fly United again, unless they are the cheapest alternative. Thank god I found this out now, just booked a mileage run this afternoon to get me to Silver for 2013, at least they still honor the 24 hour full refund cancellation!

    AA here I come.

  22. I’m tired of all the changes since the merger in March 2012 – the very FEW times I’ve been in business (4 this year) the food SUCKS compared to what it was before the merger. The beef tenderloin used to be something to look forward to – now it’s a piece of overcooked beef. As for being able to get an upgrade not worth the effort as I will be 1K this year and I’ve tried on four different occasions to get a regional upgrade and to date have NEVER been able to redeem one in the past 4 years I’ve been paying attention…. AA seats suck worse though so they aren’t an option….

  23. Well, if you are a premire silver, you might as well bail now and forget any benefits to this program, unless you only enjoy being placed into group 2 boarding. With select seating only available 24 hours prior to flight, essentially no upgrades to any class, baggage fees for two bags, and a boarding that puts you back with the folks in economy, it is time to dump this puppy.

    Didn’t make it to gold status this year and now see how this program has quickly become one for only the constant flyer. As UA ignores the loyal flyer of 30K a year, let’s just hope that the merger between US Air and AA works out better. That may be where I, and about 30 other of my co-workers head. It may not be such a bad thing. After all, I have put up with their dirty interiors and old equipment long enough.

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