Much like politicians drop negative or uncomfortable news on a Friday afternoon, hoping that the media has checked out for the weekend, United Airlines decided that the wee hours of the morning of Election Day was the perfect time to announce the latest devaluation to its Mileage Plus program. Classy!

My e-mail inbox lit up with angry customers sending in the messages they received from UA. Special thanks to Patrick, Antonio, , Sean, Dave, and the several anonymous folks who wrote in; it’s clear this set of changes is striking a particularly painful note.

So what’s changing? Miles required for free tickets: going up. Upgrades with miles: now with a co-payment. Elites get thrown a minor bone: 500-mile minimum reinstated for short flights, but only if you’re a Mileage Plus Premier or higher.

To the details:

“Free” tickets: Mileage Devaluation
For those who cash in miles for 25,000 domestic economy class tickets, there’s no meaningful change. But for those who try to get a little better value for their miles (and if you’re gonna play the game, you might as well play it right, if I may paraphrase Kenny Rogers), you’re in for some disappointment.

Except for the domestic economy ticket, it’s all going to cost you more. Most economy tickets to other parts of the world are going up 5000. But it gets really brutal in business and first class: 25,000 more miles to fly business to Europe. 25,000 more to fly business to Australia. 30,000 more to fly business to Japan. 35,000 more for other parts of Asia.

This is huge inflation, and it’s being applied inconsistently: Some routes are getting absolutely smacked, while others (like domestic economy) are either ignored or barely touched.

For the before-and-after, compare the old chart and the new chart.

Upgrades: Now accompanied with cash!
American Airlines got this bad idea rolling, but United is “perfecting” it. Fees of $50 in the Lower 48, but up to $500 ON TOP OF miles for Hawaii or international flights. On the plus side, you can upgrade any ticket starting July 1, 2009, regardless of booking class. (Previously, it was just the highest fares that were eligible for upgrade.) But what’s not clear is why some tickets might cost $250 to upgrade, while others cost $500. (Details are promised as the July 1 implementation date gets closer. I doubt they know, yet, what they’re planning.) Note that these are co-pays each way. And note also that upgrading from paid business to first doesn’t cost you squat. But if you’re moving from economy to business or first, using miles for upgrades is a much harder sale. See the whole list of fees here.

500-mile minimum
If you’re an elite with UA, you get your 500-mile minimum mileage earn on short flights. Nice: they’re reinstating the minimum earning levels retroactively. But… If you’re not an elite, enjoy your piddly accrual, sucka.

We’re pissing on you and calling it rain
Most offensively, here’s how they phrase the changes in their e-mail: “The changes to the Mileage Plus program for 2009 will reward our premium customers with highly competitive benefits, while responding to increased demand for United’s new international first- and business-class cabins.” Yes, we all feel rewarded with benefits, don’t we?

One note: You can avoid these higher rates and new fees by booking before December 31, 2008. Do it. Spend ‘em. Go. Do it now.

See also Gary Leff and lucky for their takes on the changes to UA MP. The reviews are in. It ain’t pretty.

pixel United makes MileagePlus worth less... again

7 Responses to “United makes MileagePlus worth less… again”

  1. John Says:

    Funny…all of the Saver Business class seats to London from Denver are gone. Not a one available. I smell a pretty big rat. So much for saving up my miles for that trip to England next year.

  2. Tino Says:

    I first read the headline wrong. Thought it said miles were “worthless” instead of “worth less.” Scared the crap out of me. Then again, with more changes like this, UA miles really will be worthless soon.

  3. Jesse W. Says:

    worthless airline miles; I would have never guessed! haha!

  4. Brad Says:

    I finally get elite status somewhere (2P in June and 1P in October), and now UA has to go and massively devalue the program. Figures. Did I mention that if you pay $4k or more for a J-class r/t they want you to pop down another $30 to hook up your iPod to the cabin entertainment system?

    This is just like calling the help desk at work — you know, the “infernal support” line where they play the “we’re sorry for the inconvenience” message that really means “we don’t give a flying frak if you ever get your job done, so please go away and leave me alone while I do the sudoku.”

    A pity, really; their TV commercials are the only thing United manages to do well. At least it beats Ryanair — until the next round.

  5. Steve Says:

    The new soon to be instated policy of co-payment for upgrade has indeed rendered mileage plus useless.

    As many business traveler, my employer is not willing to pay for additional upgrade fees separated from the ticket fee. UA is certainly not providing suc stellar business or first services that it woudl be worth spending much of my personal money.

    As a Global Service / 1K customer I have notified UA that the day they put that policy into effect I will not use United Airlines ever again. I encourage all UA customers to send similar notices… May be they’ll reconsider the implications of their miguided plans…

  6. Expense report blues: Which add-on travel fees are being denied? | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] such as American and (soon) United? Even less likely to be reimbursed, as one recent commenter noted. If it’s not part of the ticket, you’ve got a fight on your [...]

  7. Bobbo Says:

    Yes, all frequent flyers, please rally to have this policy curbed before it does irrevocable damage and we all depart from United, possibly to some foreign airline. Here are some things that I sent to 1Kvoice, and did not get a satisfactory answer to.

    A. Stated Justification for Upgrade Fee
    Frankly, I find the explanations for the planned Upgrade Fee to be difficult to believe, especially that of increased demand. It is stated in the 1kVoice responses of Dec 15, 2008 and Nov 6, 2008 (copied below) that the “demand for Business and First Class cabins has increased significantly”, and “The change to the Mileage Upgrade Award structure enables us to respond to the demand”. In international flights that I recently took on United, there were empty seats in business class.

    B. Logistics of Implementation of Upgrade Fee
    I had noted in my (unanswered) note of Nov 12, 2008 that if the policy change is made, “One additional problem for travellers and United alike [will be] the need to arrange the payment at the Gate, since it will not be known in advance who is able to upgrade.” It seems obvious that the implementation of fees will add to the pandomonium at the time of boarding at the gate. Especially for the long-haul flights where fees will be collected for sure in order to upgrade, it seems clear that there will be disruption to the check-in process.

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