The Million Miler lawsuit against United is going forward.
“It is undeniable that plaintiff claims he has and continues to suffer an injury based upon his lost benefits,” Leinenweber wrote. “At this stage of the litigation, the court finds it plausible that defendants had a contract with Million Miler members which differed from the contract they had with other Mileage Plus members.”
So while United claims they a right to change the terms of conditions of their program, the argument here is that there are additional and separate commitments that were made to million milers. It’s unclear to say the least whether this suit will prevail on the merits, or even ultimately get to trial (now that United has failed to get the whole thing tossed they may just be inclined to settle), but it’s worth reminding what United did.
- 1 Million Mile status earns the equivalent of that earned at 50,000 miles of flying. That was true before, and it is still true. But United has since added a 75,000-mile status level. Which means Million Milers are lower in the status pecking order than before — they’re only one up from the bottom as before, but also further from the top. Further, benefits at the 50,000-mile flying level have been reduced, now earning a 50% bonus on flown miles instead of a 100% bonus.
- No more systemwide upgrades upon first qualification for million miler status, and no annual confirmed regional upgrades.
- United’s 2 million milers used to receive lifetime lounge membership. Those that already crossed that threshold get to keep the benefit, but new 2 million milers won’t receive it.
In fairness, United has added to its million miler program:
- The ability to grant equivalent status to a spouse or partner.
- The ability to achieve higher lifetime status levels than before, culminating in lifetime Global Services at 4 million flown miles.
- Combining lifetime flying from United and Continental, and adjusting upwards the amount of lifetime miles flown by United members to match the more generous historical method of calculation used for Continental members. This recalculation bumped many members closer to or above next tiers of lifetime status without additional flying
Lifetime status is especially cherished and a hot button issue because it’s the most extreme version of Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football possible — it isn’t just saving up miles only to find a more expensive award chart and not being able to claim a mileage award without earning more miles, it’s having given a lifetime of loyalty to an airline and finding the value proposition changed later.
At the same time, it’s entirely logical that a program will change its details, especially after a merger when two airlines had different million mile policies. And some of the changes are positive. Some folks will like the changes, others won’t, and it’s not obvious to me at least that legal damages are appropriate here.
Still, United specifically assured Million Milers at United that their benefits wouldn’t change.
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:
I view United as basically having lied. But I’m not sure that every lie ought to be actionable.