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, Zé, 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.
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.
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.