expired United Airlines nickel and dimes elites, devalues Mileage Plus even further

United quietly but firmly kicked its elite frequent flyers in the pants again. It may be a relatively minor change, but it’s yet another devaluation in a program that’s getting less attractive all the time.

For years, Premier members of the Mileage Plus program have received “500-mile” coupons (now electronic) that upgraded your North American flights from coach to first class. (You get four of these coupons every time you reach 10,000 flown miles on the airline. One coupon can upgrade you for 500 miles of distance flown; thus the “500-miler” moniker.) If you couldn’t use your 500-milers, they’d expire after one year, but all was not lost: They converted to 500 redeemable frequent flyer miles in your account.

Not any more.

In another “enhancement” of the Mileage Plus program, 500-milers won’t convert to frequent flyer miles upon expiration anymore. They’ll just expire worthless if you don’t cash them in. (And let me tell you from personal experience, they’ve gotten harder and harder to actually put to use.)

But the real problem isn’t the policy change itself. It’s the fact that they deceptively changed the policy without letting anyone know, hoping that customers wouldn’t find out until it was too late.

If your 500-milers expire on or after June 1, 2007, you won’t be able to convert them to miles. If they expired before that date, and your expired upgrades didn’t convert automatically, call and ask them to properly credit your account. The new rule was quietly inserted into pages like this one.

I found out the hard way, when I called United yesterday to gripe about some missing miles. In the course of the conversation (which is another, unrelated story of frustration, with double-secret rules that aren’t published on any website…) the supervisor (“service director”) I spoke to informed me of the policy change. He was apologetic, and offered this as small consolation: “The marketers at corporate decided this… we just have to enforce these new rules as soon as they come down to us.”

And sure enough, this change was on the books. A quick web search yielded the genealogy of the policy. A FlyerTalk thread from January points to an early version which read: “Complimentary 500-mile E-upgrades expire with no mileage conversion.” That was revised to the current rules, which are slightly tamer: “500-mile E-Upgrades expiring on or after June 1, 2007 will not be converted to miles.”

Grumbling over the policy change is legitimate, but my real beef is the airline’s unethical means of imposing the change. There was no e-mail, no letter, no notification of any kind. Clearly, the airline hoped that people wouldn’t notice that their upgrades weren’t converting. Instead, they buried the change in a rarely-visited page of their website, which, in my book, doesn’t meet their “customer commitment” to disclose changes to their frequent flyer program.

Is this a huge deal, financially? No. But it’s completely disrespectful toward the airline’s most loyal customers. This lousy approach to customer loyalty and retention falls right in line with other recent devaluations, such as the backdated expiration dates on miles in “inactive” accounts, or the loud announcement and subsequent quiet elimination of discounted short-hop awards.

Maybe United should consider the evidence regarding the relationship between good customer service and stock prices. The stocks of companies with high customer service satisfaction ratings increase in value more than their low-class counterparts. United recently came in dead-last in the airline sector in the ACSI survey.

United’s lack of respect for its customers is truly disappointing. And it’s just further proof that their claim to be a “premium” carrier is all talk.

- United cuts the lifespan of frequent flyer miles
- United cuts its online booking bonus in half
- United Airlines’ War on Pretzels
- Reader mail: Why is a $75 airline voucher only worth $30?
- United limits Economy Plus to its own elites
- Making sense of the changes to United Mileage Plus


pixel United Airlines nickel and dimes elites, devalues Mileage Plus even further

10 Responses to “United Airlines nickel-and-dimes elites, devalues Mileage Plus even further”

  1. Diane Says:

    Yet another ding from United. Surely, other airlines will follow suit.

  2. Patrick Says:

    Again, as a UA 1K flyer, can’t wait to switch to Virgin’s Flying Club.

    Why do they want us to leave? Is there some secret bankruptcy exec get-rich scheme? Oh, yeah, there was!!!

  3. Chris Says:


    I was shocked to hear of the Mileage Plus policy change in which the 500 mile e-upgrades will no longer convert to miles. I am so glad that I read this blog because after going to the 1K website to complain about this policy, I saw a program update message that states United will reverse this policy. The terms say that United will again allow Premier Execs, 1Ks and GSMs to convert 500 mile e-upgrades to miles, ONLY IF you register by August 15. Please see information posted below. Hope this will get you all some extra miles!

    Mileage Plus Program Update

    500-mile E-Upgrades expiring on or after
    June 1, 2007, will not be converted to miles.

    However, in response to customer feedback on the change to the 500-Mile Upgrade Program effective June 1, 2007, we are offering our current Global Services and 1K customers a one-time only registration process. This will allow you to continue the conversion of unused 500-mile e-upgrades to miles upon scheduled expiration. You will need to register by August 15, 2007. For more information and to register.

  4. Scott E Says:

    And United keeps making the low cost carriers’ job easier to win over the mainstream customers. United will see itself driven further into the arms of corporate travel office that don’t really care about this kind of policy change, and so this stuff will continue and probably get worse.

  5. John Says:

    United says it wants to give the most loyal customers better access. Well, loyality is a two way street and United stole 45,000 of my points earned before their change of policies and just lost a loyal customer. No more United for me!

  6. Downgraded: How much more can Delta alienate its frequent flyers? » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] Airlines must have been watching the recent downgrades at US Airways and United and thought, “Gee, those airlines are doing such a great job pissing off their passengers! [...]

  7. UALPremierExec Says:

    My biggest beef with United is their latest increase in miles required for award tickets abroad. A saver ticket to Europe used to be 80K and now it’s 105K. They really are alienating their best customers.

  8. UA 1K for Now Says:

    Well my biggest beef is that it’s unpleasant to fly United anymore. The odds that you’ll fly on a small regional jet between any pair of major cities is very high. It means an uncomfortable seat without your carry-on luggage and a 12 year-old pilot. This includes long flights, like ATL-DEN.

  9. UALPremierExec Says:

    Yes the regional jets are on the rise, and very cramped. I am glad that they are at least retiring all the 737′s and converting those awful Ted A320s to 2 cabin planes so there is at least an upgrade option on them. Has anyone flown United overseas Business Class lately? I haven’t for a few years and wonder how it stacks up to other carriers like Us Airways Envoy class?

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