Frequent Flyer Program Changes: Enough Is Enough

Filed Under: MileagePlus, Reward Programs

This past week United Airlines revealed some massive changes to their MileagePlus program, where we’re seeing them completely change how qualifying for status works.

Now you can earn status exclusively through spending, with no requirement to fly any distance or number of segments. Ultimately this is just the latest of the seemingly never-ending devaluations we’re seeing from airlines.

But I can’t help but feel like United has taken it one step too far here. I don’t have an issue with the new program as such, but rather I have an issue with the frequency with which these loyalty programs are being completely reworked, which seems entirely counterproductive.

So in this post I wanted to share some overall impressions about the developments we’ve seen to frequent flyer programs.

What Airline Loyalty Programs Should Accomplish

Obviously some will disagree about what an airline loyalty program should accomplish. In my opinion, on the most basic level, an airline loyalty program should:

  • Encourage long term loyalty to the brand
  • Act as a competitive advantage
  • Be relatively easy to understand and transparent
  • Influence customer behavior as much as possible, rather than purely acting as a “discount program” for tickets you’d purchase anyway
  • Given what big business airline loyalty programs are (they’re worth billions of dollars per year to some airlines), they should encourage interaction with the brand beyond just flying; you should be encouraged to use their co-branded credit card, and more

With that in mind, I can’t help but just reflect on the current state of airline frequent flyer programs, especially with the recent changes that United made.

What Happened To Simplicity?

When I look at the recent changes to MileagePlus, I can’t help but just observe how darn complicated the program has become. How do they expect the average consumer to interact with the program when they keep making it more complicated?

  • You earn redeemable miles based on how much you spend
  • You qualify for Million Miler status based on how many miles you fly
  • You earn status based either only on how much you spend, or based on a combination of how much you spend and how many segments you fly
  • If flying parter airlines, you earn elite miles by dividing the number of miles you’d usually earn by five or six, depending on what type of a partner you’re flying with
  • You no longer earn systemwide upgrades, but rather you get “points” you can redeem towards upgrades
  • There are no longer award charts for tracking how many miles are needed for an award ticket

The list goes on and on. It’s one thing if the program was always like this, but the extent to which they change the program year by year is what’s infuriating.

Where’s The Give & Take?

This is true with so many programs nowadays, but why is it that we constantly see programs make it more challenging to earn status and rewards, all while not actually improving anything?

In 2018 Premier 1K status required $12,000 of spending. Then in 2019 that was raised to $15,000. Now in 2020 that’s going to be raised to $18,000, or even $24,000 if you don’t fly at least 54 segments.

We’re not just talking about small increases that keep up with inflation, but we’re talking about 20-60% year-over-year increases, depending on how you look at it.

This all happens at the same time that your miles become less valuable.

Equality & Loyalty

I don’t think there’s a single right or wrong way for a loyalty program to reward members, though I do think constantly redefining who your most loyal customers are is pretty obnoxious.

With regards to these changes, United provided the following justification:

Measuring Premier qualification based on the dollars you spend and number of flights you take rewards customers equally. We’re making these changes to ensure our most loyal members get the best value from their benefits.

So they’re allegedly making these changes so that:

  • They can reward customers equally
  • These changes ensure that their “most loyal members” get “the best value from their benefits”

They’re rewarding customers equally with revenue being the only metric, just as previously they rewarded customers equally based on other metrics. Is this really more “equal?”

They’re also kind of redefining what loyalty means. If someone works for a company with a corporate contract with United and flies two very expensive business class tickets on a route exclusively served by United (and then earns Premier 1K0, are they the most “loyal?”

What Are Loyalty Programs Trying To Accomplish Anymore?

I feel like a lot of loyalty program executives are losing sight of the behavior they should be rewarding. Should the goal of a loyalty program simply be to reward the highest revenue flyers?

I would say not, because generally those booking the most expensive tickets are doing so because they need to be on a particular flight, because they are booking last minute, etc.

Very few people are booking $10,000 business class tickets because they care about a loyalty program. If United disagrees and thinks MileagePlus is causing people to book really expensive tickets with them, then why do they cap mileage earning at 75,000 miles per ticket?

Understandably people point out that someone flying a $10,000+ transpacific business class ticket should be rewarded more than someone booking a $500 transpacific economy ticket. I agree with that… mostly.

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment here (and this isn’t how I feel, but I don’t think the logic is any worse than what United is using) — I think United should stop awarding miles for tickets booked as part of exclusive corporate contracts.

Let’s look at Apple for example, as United has their biggest corporate contract with them, and Apple employees flying between the Bay Area and Asia exclusively fly United.

United wants to reward their “most loyal” customers, but is someone flying United without choosing to do so actually loyal? It’s like suggesting I’m “loyal” to the IRS because I pay my taxes every year — I have no choice!

Again, I’m not suggesting an airline actually do that, but I think the logic is no worse than what United is suggesting.

Bottom Line

I’m frustrated by the lack of creativity among loyalty programs. All I’m asking for is a bit of creativity, a bit of consistency, and encouraging incremental business, rather than just constantly trying to mindlessly redefine what loyalty means.

Is that too much to ask for?

  1. Ben as usual is asking all the right questions.

    “How do they expect the average consumer to interact with the program when they keep making it more complicated?”

    They don’t; they would prefer the average consumer spend more on flying and checking bags and seat assignments. The program will be just window dressing. Sophisticated and well-informed flyers know if they aren’t spending over $15k/year and flying a significant number of long-haul flights it won’t be worth the effort to even pay attention to the rules.

    Flashback to consumer theory by the great guru Dr. Ernest Dichter: “Vance Packard, author of the 1957 best seller, “The Hidden Persuaders,” said that for example, Dr. Dichter had advised the General Foods Corporation that advertisements depicting a variety of complicated molded Jell-O shapes made consumers feel inferior. The company changed its advertising to present Jell-O in simpler forms.”

    The airlines probably won’t revamp their programs again in simpler forms, given that the trend from JetBlue to AA to United has been to unnecessarily overcomplicate the programs in the hope of getting most frequent flyers to give up trying to acquire miles and to shift the cost to the credit cards acquiring new members and shelling out 30K to 75K miles for making the minimum spend. And then after they’ve acquired those tens of thousands of miles make it complicated for them to redeem them on popular routes by abolishing award redemption charts and hopelessly complicating the booking interfaces and not fully integrating partner awards.

    And they’ve done a great job of that as well.

  2. Let’s not forget the basis for which AAdvantage was formed (Robert Crandall at least stated) …. it was to maximize the efficiency of the product…by making a way for loyal customers to use excess capacity (seats, etc.). It was…a win/win.

    Where we are today …is an evolution of changing definitions of loyalty. It is now simply a program bought with money, for which the airline uses a bait and switch tactic to devalue what you thought you bought.

  3. Well United wants to keep Apple’s contract; it’s not really about the individual employees.

    For me trying to keep United status will involve non-United mileage runs.

  4. After 10 years of airlines creating miles like confetti to sell to banks/credit cards, now comes the inevitable inflation, devaluations and restructures. The US economy in microcosm, as the Fed prints money like confetti with the same inevitable consequences coming up.

  5. I agree. And in my case I think I should be the good example of United’s ideal customer. In the past I was Global Services, though after moving to Europe my distribution of flights means I don’t logistically fly United every time (as that would be silly from Europe to Dubai).

    Still, I’ve got 1.8 million miles on United and generally fly them when I go to the US, usually a blend of biz class depending on what’s available. But with these changes, frankly, I just can’t keep up. It’s just way too complicated and ultimately feels like it’s just a random ‘here’s what we want to do this year’ versus some sort of story arc. Of course, this isn’t purely a this year thing. I’ve already slowly started to just pay whatever I want to whatever carrier makes the most sense. Sometimes it’s Lufthansa, sometimes it’s United, sometimes it’s British Airways. Maybe Swiss, but also maybe American. I’ve got status on BA, so it’s fine to mix and match. And if you’re flying biz anyway – shrug?

    And this is what United seems to miss here – I’m just less likely to book them. In general their hard product isn’t as good as others (since my home airport – Amsterdam – doesn’t often get the new Polaris seats), and soft product is a wash depending on the competition. So when these sorts of changes are introduced, I just kinda give up on status altogether and go back to booking whatever flight makes the most sense (again, usually in biz) for that date. And given those parameters, there’s a pretty darn strong chance that United will lose that revenue.

  6. 1 There are too many “frequent fliers” in every US airline. 2 Every airline have monopoly in their hubs (maybe except NY & LA) -> Airlines don’t care about loyalty. So I don’t think an average non-business traveler should not worry about airline loyalty anymore. Just book whatever flight is the best price & schedule wise. If you want a premium experience for free, just rack up transferable points and redeem for intl biz/first. For domestic travels, redeem UR at 1.5 cpp for revenue first class tickets, or just pay cash. Life is good, don’t waste time & money on a single airline.

  7. Ben – many people that are flying on corporate contracts do have a choice of airlines. For example, a consultant who has to fly from JFK to LHR may go into her corporate portal and be able to choose between American (BA), United, Virgin, etc. Most corporate contracts are not exclusive…

    What United is trying to do here is to gain a bigger share of the lucrative corporate travel segment by giving quicker status to more expensive tickets. I think they actually may have done well there – customers with a mix of international and domestic business travel do well under United’s plan.

    As far as innovation in frequent flier programs – let’s see which miler programs are the most popular from a customer standpoint… Southwest is the most popular, and Delta seems to be gaining popularity from the average consumer due to how you can spend SkyMiles on things like upgrades. Do you want that innovation? Alaska had the best chance to lead with product and its frequent flier program, but it destroyed that by torpedoing Virgin America and retreating back to being a regional player….

  8. I see your point. Loyalty means committing to a long-term relationship, even if not always convenient. It works because people see an added value in that relationship.
    Loyalty programs should work by making that added value seem worth the inconvenience and expense, and thereby generating additional revenue/market share.
    Change too often, and people don’t see the value.
    But I can see the temptation of UA: give elite status to the occasional flyers who take the premium cabin. Already things like lounge access and expedited security are covered by the ticket. The frequent flyer on economy tickets, however, will incur such costs far more often.
    So what’s left? The ridiculous theater of reifying the FF pecking order at boarding time in increasingly complicated rituals that only serve as a reminder to the great mass of passengers that they are by far the airline’s least valued customer.

  9. Right now, I think the major thing they need to focus on is simplicity and staying true to what the focus should be. Even if that isn’t their main focus, it shouldn’t be so evident, and the travelers need to feel rewarded. That’s the major peice there missing. With so many complications, there losing their customer base. The programs are no longer what they should be. And if the people running these programs can’t see that right now, then they will learn the hard way once their spreadsheets reflect their declining base. And unfortunately for them, when the spreadsheets show it, it will be to late.

  10. Maybe United wants to somehow help you, Lucky, to try more new Business Classes from other airlines? 😉
    Thanks UA, highly appreciated 🙂

    But like RM says: in the end there will be more customers flying “any” suitable airline on their routes.

    So do I, and I am happy! I’ve never tried so many new nice airlines like this year!

  11. Agreeing with ben here, the programs have become overly complicated across the board.
    I would for one be a fan of airlines removing the credit cards as a way to earn status(miles on spend is fair). This would make a status really about brand recognition. And slim down the non-frequently flyers

    Also i dont think the loyalty is a prime factor for booking a ticket.
    For instance i fly for work a lot, my preferred carrier is KLM cause i am Ams based and they simply do the most direct routes.
    However if a route that i need to fly for my work, for instance ams-lcy and klm outprices itself (which they do regularly) by more then a fair amount (200$+ more expensive then the competition on the same route) then sod the lounge! For that difference i fly BA. (I know of no people that will stick to the kl for that money)

  12. If Airlines could snap their fingers and make FF programs disappear forever, that these programs never existed in the first place – they’d do it in a heartbeat.

  13. It’s clear that United no longer considers Mileage Plus a program for the “average” customer. It has become a corporate loyalty program designed as an incentive for securing high dollar corporate clients and contracts. In the current economy that may make sense; in the next economy, maybe not so much.

  14. The whole direction of this is concerning. Will booking tickets with miles and points be reserved for the upper echelon of society (who arguably don’t care as much)?!

  15. Ben, are you actually surprised? United has had a ghastly corporate culture for well over a decade now (as terrible as alcoholic Doug Parker is, at least he isn’t being investigated for participating in a serious corruption scheme like the one Jeff Smisek was caught on). If you do a search on employment sites like Glassdoor, you can get a pretty good idea about the the type of employees United wants to hire: “yes” men from the same fraternities from third-tier universities like Embry-Riddle. You just can’t expect so many unintelligent and untalented employees to come up with an innovative strategy that can improve both loyalty and bottom line profits. Just remember, it is in United’s DNA and airline code: UA = UnderAchiever.

  16. United has continuously made it’s loyalty program worse. Why is it still called MileagePlus?
    Alaska is the best domestic loyalty program now.

  17. United is driving those of us who live outside the US away. Getting to $24k of spend involves at least 5 business class tickets per year out of Tokyo. Why should we have to pay $6k more to get 1K status. This year will be my final year as 1K. Loyalty over. At least as a million miler I have Gold forever…until that is taken away.

  18. I think the word loyalty needs to be completely removed from conversations centered around airline mileage programs. Airlines have come to the conclusion that most will fly with whatever airline fits their schedule, which ever is cheapest and if they are at an airlines hub airport for example like Philly or Miami-you’ll be mostly flying AA. Airlines don’t need to have loyalty programs, especially in the US. Chances are you’re just gonna fly one of the big 3 anyway. Wouldn’t shock me if airlines in the next 10 years just get rid of mileage programs. Why have them? Maybe airlines should just have status tiers and you’ll get a percentage off of your flight ticket if you’re in a respective tier. All of these mileage charts and multipliers and the ability to redeem on partner flights-airlines are looking at that stuff like why do all of this? If the entire big 3 get rid of miles, what are any of us gonna do about it? Nothing but keep flying. Don’t think it’s not being thrown around in conversation.

  19. All of you saying they’d get rid of frequent flier programs – that’s nuts. They’re too addicted to the bank revenue, to the point United is throwing a tantrum that Chase won’t give them more. American’s entire profit came from selling miles to banks; their entire airline operation results in a loss. Delta just reupped for billions with Amex and squeezed even more. They resent that the FF program has a promise they need to ostensibly fulfill for customers, but I assure you they do not begrudge the very existence of the programs. They’ve been absolute goldmines.

  20. One point of clarification: I work for a company that was in the top 5 of UA’s corporate clients (per the chart you published), fly about 150k BIS a year, and have not stepped on a United aircraft in over 10 years, and only four flights with Star Alliance overall – and I live in a UA hub. I would presume that my company also occupies a similar position on the AA and DL charts, if we were ever to see them. Corporate contracts do not require exclusivity, though I’m sure that they do provide other benefits.

  21. A lot of great points but I think one thing that has gotten lost is the credit card equation. Once the banks got involved with points and and credit cards the entire loyalty program changed. We have become so indoctrinated with getting something for free that we are destined for disappointment. I shop at Publix. A lot. Never once have I expected a free gallon of milk. That’s with the airline industry has become. Give me something for my loyalty. And when they don’t we scream. Not saying it’s good or bad it’s just a function of the model they created. My mindset is no matter what if I am upgraded or can get a free flight using miles I’m happy.
    As far as loyalty there is none. I simply go for the best product at the cheapest price that I can.

  22. When considering how a strong economy drives full aircraft and premium tickets, FF programs can afford to become increasingly exclusive. However, when the economy takes a turn, airlines like United will need to offer plenty of additional incentives to influence behavior. That will be interesting.

  23. Lucky –

    I have to disagree with some of your points.

    The loyalty programs were flawed from the start with the basis of miles flown= loyalty. Certainly miles can sometimes equate to loyalty but it’s really how much money do they spend with the airline?

    Earning miles is now thought of in the exact way as credit card points. The more you spend the more you earn. You wouldn’t argue that accumulation of credit card points should be done on the number of transactions? The airlines are bringing mile accumulation to the level that it’s a % back to the flier for everything they spend. Seems logical and there are plenty other use cases that are already out there that push rewards to the dollar spent.

    Earning status is now being turned into the same thing. In short, bloggers and the point community have sort of kicked off this chain of events because you have taught people how to game the system to get the most reward with the least spend. You and the other BoardingArea bloggers literally hold seminars on how to do this. The airlines have seen the costs go up and the ranks of elites have swelled. To alleviate this, they are now doing the exact same thing and rewarding those who spend more with higher status. I for one applaude this change as I regularly take higher dollar, short flights at the last minute. I barely am able to make Gold medallion on Delta but have $25-30K per year in spend. Is that fair? I fly them every single week when I travel yet some guy who takes a few economy flights to Asia and some credit card spend get Diamond status? Heck no. Frankly, I’d be happy to see the airlines take this a step past revenue and award status on PROFITABILITY to the airline.

    You have been saying for 1-2 years now that you are a free agent. Great. Good for you, and that is your choice. However, you shouldn’t be rewarded with status. You are not loyal with your spend. I’ve read a lot of the travel bloggers complain about this move and it makes sense – it attacks one of your reasons for being: extracting maximum value out of a variable marketplace. The airlines are just taking away the variable nature of the marketplace and making it fixed there by removing any arbitrage opportunities.

    The one area that the airlines need to fix is the mileage conversion compared to cash pricing. This variable area is a detriment to the fixed nature of earning miles. If they are going to tie the earning of miles and status to revenue then they need to tie the spending of miles to a fixed conversion ratio (i.e. like Southwest).

  24. United seems to have lost it again, ultimately the loyalty programs primary goal should be to attract loyalty.. and rewarding it.

    The clients at the lower end of the pecking order will be most price sensitive and could switch to another airline if prices are cheaper, a client on the highest level may not really care at all. As you say, his Exec Assistant must have booked the flight and he is just flying.
    If the program doesn’t cater to the goals it should support, then there is little future. I am hoping others don’t join into this madness.

  25. @ Ben — Thank you! I think these changes by UA pushed things too far. I was initially sorta happy only because we already had some “cheap” long-haul LX F booked for 2020 that we could credit to UA and get close to becoming 1K again. Even with that, it looks like we’re better off crediting to M&M or A3.

    I no longer even understand the value proposition being offered by UA in potentially being 1K again, and I honestly don’t feel like figuring it out. That is a sad statement from someone who considers themselves an expert on frequent flyer programs and who generally enjoys learning about these things. I feel like any great value uncovered will just be taken away, so why bother anymore? At least Delta provides unbelievable service.

  26. Well said Ben. My wife and me are both million milers on UA and usually fly 125000+ miles a year. We aren’t, however, buying many last minute tickets and full fare international biz class tickets. But we always went with United over the years because we truly value the benefits that come along with being a 1k/Star Gold. We routinely jumped over more convenient and cheaper flights on other airlines to fly United. In other words, even though we weren’t the top level spenders, their Mileage Plus program encouraged us to remain loyal to the tune of almost 2.5 million miles between the two of us over the past decade.

    So a couple questions going forward that I’m curious as to what the answers will be:

    1. Has UA underestimated how many medium level spenders/flyers like us will simply stop chasing status and be free agents instead of just dropping down a status level or two? My entire spend next year will be spread over many airlines now instead of just United.
    2. Are the biggest spenders really the ones who appreciate the benefits that come from achieving status? I value same day changes & global upgrades…. but if I were buying all premium fares, none of that matters to me. Maybe (probably) thats by design.
    3. Even if I wanted to shoot for the $18k spend and 1k status going forward, my best option is steer all my international flying dollars to Star Alliance partners anyway. How many other flyers will do the same?

    In the meantime, the next time Ben posts about a hot Qatar QSuites deal…. I won’t pass it up because its “one less chance to squeeze out those 100,000 miles this year”.

    Now that I say that, it feels kind of liberating.

  27. It’s really obnoxious, especially them dropping the Chase waiver. I fly 8-10 transcons a year (~$300-400 apiece) and then 1-2 long vacations, often to APAC (~$600 because I look for deals) and that’s always been enough miles for Platinum (which hasn’t really been worth it after they dropped the no-fee award cancellation policy), and I haven’t had to worry about spend. In future years I’ll nearly certainly be Silver (goodbye E+ at purchase, goodbye free same-day change).

    Even if I start to fly hilariously segmented transcon trips (I literally just tried to put one together – anyone feel like joining an LGA-IAD-CVG-ORD-DEN-SFO day of travel?) there’s no way I’d approach the spend requirement.

  28. I’m extremely unpleased with the new changes. I spend around $12k a year and fly with them usually 20 times internationally mainly for leisure but I would still consider myself above the average flier in terms of my flights per year and money spent. I guess United only wants corporate customers and business exclusive fliers since apparently people like me are no longer considered adequate enough for them.

  29. If I were a current UA 1K member flying my current slate of roughly eight international business class trips and six transcons annually, I’d bail in a New York minute because being penalized $6000 for flying expensive long haul flights as opposed to economy fare more frequent shorter distance flights is, frankly, insulting. Since I don’t fly UA, I care only because their international business class flyers might leave en masse and go with DL or AA, programs I use and maintain status with, decreasing seat availability on flights I normally book and lessening my ability to get upgraded on shorter domestic flights. Even though I have the $24k spend threshold met with my current flight patterns I’d hate to be sweating it out at year end after purchasing UA’s most expensive seats on their longest flights. I can’t imagine the calculus that resulted in this approach. DL and AA must be overjoyed by this major blunder with UA driving their best customers away.

  30. I joined United’s FF program in 1985 for the same reason many others did: the possibility of free (then) and greatly reduced cost (now) flights for me and my growing family. I don’t like devaluations and elimination of award charts any more than everybody else but I think too many of us blog readers have conflated FF miles (points ? whatever) with FF status. I’m a UA Gold and I do appreciate the benefits, but the real value of a FF program for me (and I suspect many others) remains the free flights. OK not biz class, although I have splurged for the occasional first class to Europe and Hawaii. Flying to MCO with my family of four in coach may not be “aspirational” but it did get us to Disney World as the kids were growing up many times. The complicated status requirements have no impact on many of us who are just interested in acquiring and burning miles.

  31. @Lucky the answer is much more simple. These programs generate revenue but not from Loyalty. Loyalty is simply the frosting on the cake. The vast majority of passengers don’t even collect miles. Planes are full so loyal passengers are not so critical.

  32. Vote with your wallet. Dont fly UA if you can, credit *A flights to other *A FFPs if you fly *A.

    Lucky, why dont you look at other *A FFPs that you would switch to, to credit your *A flights?

    Give UA a miss. They will not be missed.

  33. It’s all about load factors
    People are blaming the bloggers erroneously for this

    Years ago planes flew half empty.
    Airlines had to fight to get people on planes in the first place
    The marginal cost to add a flyer was low
    Thus a “free” ticket cost little to the airline

    There were no low cost carriers, and little foreign competition
    Thus: longer flights almost always cost more than shorter ones

    Credit cards were barely a thing

    It was gauche to talk about money
    So why not miles!

    People flew a mile, got a “mile” which they could use to fill one of the 100 empty seats

    Today loads are 90%+
    Popular flights are full.
    Every “free” ticket thus costs hundreds of dollars of lost revenue to the airline

    Low cost and foreign competition broke the relationship between price and miles flown

    And airlines/credit cards are minting trillions of “miles” annually

    Contrary to blogger logic, FF programs stopped rewarding frequent flyers long ago
    They instead rewarded churners and INFREQUENT long haul flyers

    Add it up.
    Few open seats
    Trillions of miles

    Something had to give

    Rewarding high “value” customers makes sense.
    It’s unfair that the rich get everything, but “ca y est”

    Where I think United erred:
    They should have had a flight aspect to this (not segments, but flights) to reward the road warriors

    Have it be $24k OR $18k with 4 flights OR 40 flights per year without dollar spend. (Flights, Not segments)

    This rewards high revenue behavior AND loyalty

    A person flying 20 round trips per year on your airline is as loyal as they come

    Nothing is forever
    We will see these evolve again with the next big recession

    Lastly, others made a great point
    Customers lost a lot of STATUS with this move
    But we still can get free flights

    The other related shoe dropping is redemption opportunities
    (Eg 500k SkyMiles for a one way ticket to Europe)

    United went after Status with this move
    Delta went after redemption

    I think Delta chose wisely (but I hate it)
    People LOVE being Diamond even though it increasingly means nothing these days

  34. This is a good place to re-post what I posted earlier in a dying thread on this topic.

    I have given the whole thing some thought and I can even model much of it based on my pattern of flying and elite qualification over the past decade. My take is that: No one benefits from these changes to MileagePlus.

    The people UA is trying to please with these changes appear to be those who were spending big ***on premium cabins*** and not making 1K because they did not fly “far enough.” So, what will now happen is that those same folks who routinely purchased premium cabin tickets upfront and already flew in premium cabins will be the very same people who will be the only ones that will be able to afford to make 1K or Premier Platinum under the new rules. What that means is that United has effectively eliminated complimentary cabin upgrade as a meaningful elite benefit. The people (i.e., the “new” 1Ks and Plats) who will be getting the new upgrade points are already flying in premium cabins, so they won’t need to use their instruments to upgrade their own tickets. At the same time, in order to requalify for 1K or Platinum those same folks will be forced to keep paying for and flying in premium cabins. They have just hopped on the elite status treadmill, paying big bucks to make 1K or Plat, except that there is no reason for getting either elite status if one is already paying top dollars to fly upfront. It seems like their relatives are the ones that stand to benefit from sponsored upgrades!

    UA no longer has a loyalty program. MileagePlus can no longer be called a “frequent-flyer” or “mileage” program because elite status qualifications have been completely dissociated from distance flown, and cabin upgrades are no longer very meaningful to those who will now be entitled to them.

    I keep searching for the proverbial silver lining, but I cannot find anything that United gives in return for gutting their heretofore relatively decent and rewarding program.

    So, my initial sense that this was when I would finally get off the FF status treadmill was felt at the gut the level. The introduced changes did not feel “right” and a closer look at them simply confirmed and amplified my initial impression…

    Good by MileagePlus, hello KrisFlyer…

  35. This just affirm my intention to not chase any status.

    This year I purchased some outrageously expensive delta ticket to meet my spending for Delta Gold Medallion. I will not be doing this again.

    I know Delta is not United, but reevaluate the value of elite status should be done for any airline, every year.

  36. A lot of this is a symptom of how strong the economy is. As long as almost every single seat is full on almost every flight, fuel prices are low, and fares are low, airlines have little reason to care about loyalty. I know Premier 1K members that rarely get upgrades now on routes they were basically guaranteed an upgrade on 5 years ago. So many first seats are filled with revenue passengers. If we hit a big recession in the next couple of years and more companies tighten corporate travel, everything will have to change!

  37. As someone who has flown extensively since the mid 80s and am lifetime on DL and AA w around 3 million miles on each I have seen massive changes in these programs. However the vast majority of people on here are whining because the changes “harm” you or don’t work for your travel patterns. People these are corporations and they owe you NOTHING!! They make changes in their best interest not yours. If the changes drive away business or otherwise put them at a competitive disadvantage trust me they will make changes. Why do you think Disney can charge over $100 a day for Disney World or Aspen can charge $200 a day to ski – because people keep coming.

    I’m willing to bet UA has researched this and doesn’t expect it to adversely impact their business. All your speculation or commenting on “what should be” means nothing. Maybe they are wrong but maybe not.

    Changes are coming fast to these programs and I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire concept of “elite status”, at least on the major carriers, is all based on spend. You can still earns miles so doesn’t impact that aspect – just status.

    You may not like it but get ready to accept it.

  38. I will have to look at the new program specifications more closely, but I had already started to detach from United in anticipation of a move to Europe next year. I’m never going to get above platinum Status with the spend requirements and no option for CC spend. One thing that’s always bothered me about United spending, (not United credit card spending), is 0 miles or elite miles credit for money spent on United for my partner or a friend to take United flights with me or to see me, and I get no credit towards elite status Or even earn My own miles for that spend.I sign them up for the program so at least they earn miles. Isn’t that loyalty?

    The onlyway I can qualify for elite status is when I buy my own ticket, and I take that flight on United That is too restrictive, and doesn’t take into account a lot of spending I’m doing with United on flights so it’s revenue.I do now buy more business class tickets with cash for my own travel just to get the Premier qualifying miles, and I often take their offers To purchase additional elite miles.

    I would think loyalty is also not just revenue, but the proportion of my total number of flights per year that I take on United. I would venture to say that one must have a certain bare minimum travel episodes on an airline to even be considered a loyal customer, but above five segments or 10 segments if I’m 80% of the time traveling on United, that’s loyalty. If I’m taking United 90% of the time, that’s more loyalty. And To me, that’s loyalty whether or not I spent dollars to get on that flight or miles or whatever. I took United.

    I don’t fly multiple segments but I’m more likely to accrue miles flown because I fly a long distance segments. So I’m never going to meet the criteria that involves segments. someone else might do a lot of shuttles between San Francisco and Los Angeles and they can get the segments but less so the dollars and the miles. I rarely use my miles on for my own flights. I purchase a companion’s flight because I need to spend dollars on my flights. So it’s kind of funny that you end up having a lot of miles that you can’t even use because you’re focused on spending more dollars to get the revenue to get the elite status. And then it’s a new year new start all over again LOL!

    they may be noticing this spending pattern change—;;my booking and traveling with a companion—7realizing that I’m spending more than what they would be giving me credit for, and possibly even taking that into consideration. I do like in some ways the flexibility that comes from this new program. I do agree that corporate FF traveler is GOD in highly traveled commuter segments Lilke Newark to Los Angeles who may travel weekly. They are always going to be selected For free upgrade over someone like me who is a platinum status member but will never be on a flight every week. So I might fly to Europe and Asia several times a year but am I really going to get that 1 availability upgrades to business class on a Newark to Los Angeles flight?

  39. These changes just further cement my decision to get off the status hamster wheel. I think for a lot of people reading this blog, their chase of status is a financially silly one. When I was on the hamster wheel, I found myself making insane rationalizations—sure, why don’t I spend a bit extra to go on United! Hmm, maybe I’ll take this indirect routing instead of the direct flight—just to achieve that status. Is it really worth it, though? I think I’m coming out ahead financially now by just buying the amenities I want outright. Upgrading a flight here and there, using a branded credit card to get free baggage and priority boarding, etc.

    I miss some things about having status, but honestly thinking about it less has been the best blessing of all.

  40. The obvious play here:

    1. Use 1K status etc next year, use up points.
    2. End of next year, status match to another airline.

    I suspect I will be one of many. And to others points, this in no way encourages more usage of UA as those who can pay the $$$ for status don’t need the benefits (once you are in business, there is no upgrade!)

    Question is for the status match flood, what other network will step up?

  41. I literally LOL’d when I saw “enough is enough”.

    Ben, the updates continue to happen precisely because people like you exist. As if that weren’t bad enough, you decided to monetize your points hacking and spread the gospel to an online following.

    You and your brethren did this. The airlines are just catching up and the co-branding card partners will catch up eventually one would hope.

    Frequent flyer programs should reward the most loyal customers, not points hackers. I’m perfectly fine with these changes.

  42. @Paul is the greatest example of why UA is doing what it is doing. UA knows it is competing even with corporate contracts. @Paul have not stepped on a United aircraft in over 10 years, and only four flights with Star Alliance overall – and lives in a UA hub. In short, avoid UA at all cost.

    Employees can and will choose flights that they prefer the most. UA is trying to get employees like @Paul to choose UA over DL or AA. The best way, make everything $$$$$$$ based since employee doesn’t foot the bill but gets all the benefit.

    Contrary to what @Lucky thinks UA should stop awarding miles for tickets booked as part of exclusive corporate contracts, UA should double down and give more bonus miles to corporate flyers (and then water down the redemption value of course).

    @AC is spot on that the vast majority of people on here are whining because the changes “harm” you or don’t work for your travel patterns.

    I doubt it would affect UA at all. There might be some damage done to a small group that UA cares, but most of the current loyal customers are not bringing in enough revenue and doesn’t deserve much attention.

    Many loyalist still has anger enough to rant here again. Good, let it all off your chest.

    And I give AA and DL till Jan 20 to announce something like this otherwise AA DL should be safe till 2021.

  43. Been flying “frequently” for 35+ years Was one of the first Premier 1K’s with UA, one of the first EK Platinums and am a million miler with DL. In fact have been close to being a 2 mio miler with both UA and DL for a long time. However, I gave up on the US Airlines over a decade ago. Gave up on UA because I never knew early on how I could achieve Global Services. So I dropped them and went to Miles and More and became a Hon. I had a goal I could achieve.

    It is the lack of transparency that has ALWAYS been an issue with these programs. Its just that visibility is getting murkier and murkier. Today it is not just about HOW to achieve an Elite status with them but just simply HOW TO EARN n HOW TO SPEND. Nothing is clear, nothing is transparent. One needs a graphing calculator to make computations!

    So what is the best out? Drop them all – buy the best ticket you can afford to buy with the most convenient routing and an Airline you like (say SQ) or one you would like to try (say JAL). Take control of our own choices and the hell with these UN-loyalty programs. Loyalty is not a one-way street and that is how the airlines see it today.

    P.S. And yes, one of these days when the economy will turn and planes fly half full again (trust me – its always cyclical!) we will see who begs most earnestly.

  44. Seems to me like these changes are mostly positive. To once again be able to earn status points for flights with UA’s partner airlines is great. And it seems like we’ll be able to continue to get outsized value for both points earning and redemptions as long as one cross-earns/burns to and from UA’s alliance partners.

  45. These programs have lost their objective. Loyalty is 2nd to revenue. Had the nonsense off selling miles to CC companies who then piss them out never started, there would have been no need for frequent changes to control the liability resulting from too many bonus miles issued. Reason I do not use US FF programs is that it is predictable that these programs need frequent amendments to keep them working.

  46. Thanks Ben for focusing the frustration that many United loyalists feel. As a 2 million United miler, loyalty is a 2-way street. I always paid for first and business class and only used the upgrades when booking tickets for family and friends. Since United wants to move the goal posts once again under the guise of making it easier, I’m moving on from their nonsense. It’s a bit too complicated to comprehend what Mileage Plus is evolving into at this point despite their PR and email notices. I will maintain 1K for next year but that is the end of their games for me. After recently flying Singapore Air from EWR to SIN, currently the longest flight in the world, it was such a delight from start to finish that I could not help but compare how outstanding an experience it was compared to United Polaris. I no longer will use United for flights to Asia or Europe but only on their routes that are price competitive and convenient to my needs

  47. Can we all start a petition? I think it would be great if all the boardingarea and flyertalk get together and we signed a petition on or something along the lines. I am super vocal with AA sending emails, tweeting, letters, etc but I never get anywhere cause they just respond the standard “we are sorry….” enough is enough really. I spend $40k a year on AA and each flight is miserable.

  48. “Should the goal of a loyalty program simply be to reward the highest revenue flyers?”

    Yes. It all comes down to the 80/20 rule of business. You make 80% of your money from 20% of your customers. You need to keep that 20% happy. If you don’t, that 20% will move elsewhere. Corporate travelers are NOT a captive audience. They have choices and a surprisingly high amount of flexibility with whom they fly. @Paul is spot on: corporate contracts don’t require exclusivity.

    I work for one of United’s largest customers but avoid them 75% of the time. Why? Because I have the flexibility to do so. For nearly all corporate travel, employers have negotiated fares that employees are supposed to book, unless there are cheaper ($ or time) fares available. Most business travelers book their own airfare and are not “tied” to those corporate contracts. For example: United may be a “Contract Carrier” from point A to B. However, if Delta offers a cheaper ($ or time) fare, I am allowed to book Delta. Alternatively, I may choose to fly out of JFK (Delta) rather than EWR (United).

    I take exception to the notion of corporate travelers being less loyal. The Apple example in the article is an is an extreme (albeit factual) example. I’m doing 75 flights a year. Yes my employer reimburses me for the fare, but I have the flexibility to choose my preferred airline. Should I be “less loyal” because I choose to fly one airline? I would argue I am just as loyal and important as anyone else.

  49. Earning my Platinum-for Life with about 2.5M butt-in-seat miles, I was able to earn points enough to fly 3 of us to Europe every year biz class. Now that the ease of earning and complicated programs have won out, and your credits are[ all based on spend and not miles, I am glad to have retired to Spain. I use my status to assure economy plus exit row seats and free checked luggage. My daughter has my gifted status and’ uses it for the same reasons. But if I fine a premium economy seat for less on other carriers when going back to the states, I jump on it. I don’t even consider United on my long distance flight that aren’t to the states. Bottom line: I got what I needed during my days of heavy travel with upgrades and free tickets. ‘Now I get what I need with no bag fees and exit row seats. I could care less about United and the nasty crew teams. Plug in my Beats and tune it all out.

  50. People shouldn’t confuse price sensitivity with loyalty. Most fliers aren’t loyal, their decision maker is their wallet. And for these people FFPs are — and mostly have been — useless. I do agree, though, that credit card issuers have ruined FFPs, and that there are too many members. After all, most airlines are desperately seeking a way to maximize profits, and cutting FFP-benefits was just a matter of time. Let’s all focus on getting most out of our CC points, and let FFPs die a silent, long overdue death.

  51. My company has corporate contracts but we have them with all the major US carriers. United’s program definitely caused me to book as much as possible with them when I had to fly back and forth to Europe every week for 4 months.

    But in that case it’s because I was trying to get Global Services – I would have switch some of the flying to AA/British once I hit 1K if I didn’t have a shot at making GS. So in that sense they’ve devised the GS structure quite well for high spend folks. A new carrot to dangle and motivate loyalty.

  52. I fly a couple of times a month exclusively, domestically and most oftem up and down the eastern sea board. I’ve had silver status on United for the past several years. I also have a Chase Mileageplus plus card. This status does little for me except allows me to upgrade to an extra space seat. Take that away and I will purchase my tickets exclusively on price and in that race United will lose. How’s that for loyalty…

  53. This is simple. They are NOT loyalty programs. They are revenues programs. Please stop calling them loyalty programs, as it is totally inaccurate, and call them what they are, revenue programs. They have all been for several years now. Once you call them that, everything makes sense. Your readers also become empowered by understanding of title. It’s much like we used to de-brand most car crashes as accidents when there was really no accident involved. Someone did the wrong thing and there was a crash. It wasn’t an accident, it was a crash, quite out of action, not inaction. These programs don’t engender loyalty, they engender revenue. Now it all makes sense.

  54. Airline loyalty programs are a joke. They’re designed for business travelers to leverage (and waste) their company’s largess into some personal status or free flights. I’m not George Washington or Abe Lincoln, but I see myself as a steward of my company’s travel expenses. I Will Not pay +20% more for a ticket with MY loyalty airline just because they promise some upgrades later on.

    I guarantee if you do the math and fly like I do (price compare and use the lowest fare airline for any given route at that time), the money you save the company will be more than enough to give you the alleged benefits you get with a loyalty to a specific airline.

  55. @Alan-I have been in UA MP since 1983. I too watched my companies money and booked United consistently as the fares are never that different for the same route, similar hours. Please don’t think you are the corporate perfect employee. There are hundreds of thousands of us that watched our company expense but took advantage of the available programs. In years past, it was very generous. Now a waste of time unless your company flies you biz or first. People like me that flew the cheapest fare but cross country regularly benefitted due to the miles flown. Once spend came into the equation, it was the first time I wasn’t 1k in 17 years. But by then I had Platinum for life. So drop the self righteous attitude. Your comment is offensive to many. I suppose you tell your tax preparer to not take deductions as you watch out for the country’s economy?

  56. I think you are missing the big point: Frequent flyer programs exist to help the airlines make more money. Any customer loyalty is derivative to that, not an overriding objective. It is clear that how airlines make money (or don’t) is changing as they build fortress hubs and also as they use frequent flyer points to sell tickets via revenue from non-airline sources. So the changes are not surprising if not pleasant for most flyers. As a customer I don’t like the changes and was thinking of shifting flying this year to United to attain 1K again but seeing the upcoming changes decided not to. So the airlines will lose some business but someone at the airlines thinks that this will be more than made up for my those who do shift business, particularly high margin business. Maybe they are wrong, but whinging about lost benefits or threatening to fly less likely won’t change what they do. A drop in high margin revenue might.

  57. Interesting to see the “pro-United” people assuming that UA has accurately gauged the impact of these changes. I absolutely see and understand the concept of “most money = most loyalty”. The problem is gutting the pipeline.

    FF programs, and all incentive/loyalty programs, are designed for 3 things.
    1. Drive customer growth (gain market share)
    2. Retain valuable customers
    3. Drive incremental spend among customers to increase their value

    Lucky covered #1 and #2, I want to mention #3.

    What’s the appeal for mid-level company contract fliers, or self-financed travelers? Or for those who have options in their contract to fly others? So many here seem to think this encourages more UA flying from company fliers; what happens when the accounting department sees employees consistently choosing expensive UA flights to meet a high 1K spend requirement?

    If you were mid-tier on the old rules and fly domestic constantly, supposedly this is good for you. But look at what you get. Fly UA for 24 segments, spend $8,000 and get…free checked bags and priority boarding. Assuming route networks are the same, you can get that from Southwest for a tiny fraction of that cost. (If they aren’t, then the FF status isn’t the driver, is it?) The miles on that spend are being completely devalued both on UA and partners. There will absolutely be economy bargains, but aside from weird sale windows like DL tosses out you’ll never see an international premium cabin with miles. And those sales are calculated to make it nearly impossible to plan ahead and use miles.

    So for mid-level, growing flyers, why spend $8K for what you can get from others already? For the chance to maybe spend $18K later for upgrade points and IRROPS priority? That’s not a lot, IMHO, for $10K in incremental spend (and 15 more round trips on UA). “Who cares if it’s Other People’s Money” you say, but the Other People will catch on. And for fliers, not getting real perks until you blow maybe $10K for flights means months of flying without status. Which agai you can just buy cheaply from SWA or get cheaply from AA/DL (for the time being). But even if/when AA/DL follow suit, UA has already devalued mid-level fliers. If AA/DL take UA refugees and then recreate UA’s program, that’s not incentive for the refugees to return to UA. It just means all 3 aren’t good for them.

    I am not an elite with any US program, so this won’t trickle down to my program for many years for various reasons. And I have huge $$$ spending friends who are GS and will happily take these changes because it’s only positive for them. So I have no personal dog in this fight. But from a business standpoint I think it’s a curiously short-sighted decision. Time will tell.

  58. Pretty sure if Delta made this change, you wouldn’t be bitching like you are right now about United… Suck it Lucky …

  59. @AC and to all the UA apologists posting here about how the rest of us are whining because the new changes don’t align with our flying patterns to our benefit, I wish to remind you that there is, at least as I write, competition out there which still offers some benefits for loyalty. UA is not Disney (a unique experience that one visits rarely, not regularly). Loyalty does drive revenue and if loyalty is essentially useless, then people will move to other programs or become free agents, which, in either case, hurts UA.

  60. I think you’re logic is flawed on the Apple example. Corporate buyers (like the ones that negotiate corporate travel contracts) serve the employees of the company they work for. The employees absolutely value the miles they and earn and I can PROMISE you that employees would RIOT if United stopped giving them miles for their corporate travel, and the corporate buyer would eventually be pressured into finding a new contract or airline for Apple’s travel. My company (100,000+ people) requires that we use certain hotels and car rental companies for travel, and I can assure you that if any of those companies stopped giving us miles, they would be removed from our list of required chains.

  61. I dont know. In the years of corporate travel I have done, the vast majority of folks I know would be MUCH more reluctant to travel if they couldnt get FF miles/hotel points for their efforts. In your Apple example, I suspect if Apple employees were told they could no longer earn United miles, Apple’s travel department would be hearing about it relentlessly.

    For me, the worst thing about FF programs anymore is lack of transparency. The hows and whens and how muches of ability and availability of miles usage – and all the changes happening make those things a moving target. Using an AA example, why is it that I can get from MAN-DOH with miles in business on the AA website, but cannot see DOH-AKL. Yet when I log into BA’s website, availability is there. Call AA in the US and they cant see it. Call AA in Australia, and not only can they see it but can book it. Then there is the ever-popular miles for upgrades, where you get told by one airline you most certainly can upgrade with miles and please contact your mileage holder to book, only to call the mileage holder and be told yes, you can upgrade from prem econ to business, but sorry, no, your fare is in the wrong booking code. I feel like airlines in general (and AA in particular) should be more transparent about which fares are upgradable with miles and which arent.

    To be fair, some airlines DO show you if a fare is upgradable or not. It just seems the US big three dont. (Full disclosure, I fly primarily one world, so if there is a recent change on DL or UA that allow you to see that info, I likely havent seen it since the last time I booked with either of them.)

  62. UA seems to lock in so much Apple business from SFO to Asia because of how little Apple has to pay United for each of those business class seats. In some cases, I see economy class tickets for TPAC travel that cost nearly as much as Apple pays for its employees’ SFO-China business class tickets. This isn’t all that different a dynamic than what I used to see some big banks pay for JFK-UK business class tickets in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

    It’s not loyalty, nor the loyalty program, that has the big MNC employer getting such bang for their buck out of the airlines — it’s the purchasing power of some MNCs being used and used well by the MNC customers of the airlines.

  63. Airlines don’t get rid of their loyalty programs when the airline loyalty program brings in lots of money from the program partners such as banks, hotels, etc. And airlines don’t want to see their big corporate customers’ employees be lost to other airlines offering as much or more in the way of loyalty program benefits. So UA won’t dare to cut back too much on redeemable miles and elite status given to Apple employees flying on very cheap business class tickets from SFO to China (or Ireland) because UA doesn’t want Apple employees to have less personal skin in the game of flying (and flying more) and the UA loyalty program is still a way to incentivize UA’s corporate customers clients’ employees to fly more than they would otherwise do. And as an employer, Apple doesn’t want to see a reduction in non-taxed fringe benefits for its employees — and that’s what the program miles and status really are when earned from work travel — when Apple has a desire to keep its employees and a desire to see its employees not be too resistant to traveling for the company.

  64. Borrowing from @Donna “to all the UA apologists [@AC, @Eskimo] posting here about how the rest of us are whining because the new changes don’t align with our flying patterns to our benefit”, I am yet to see credible evidence in any of the ‘positive’ comments so far that anyone stands to actually benefit from these changes.

    Someone who was already purchasing premium cabin tickets but did not make 1K who would now be making 1K was *already* getting most of the benefits (baggage allowance, lounge access, premium cabin seating) that he or she would stand to get as a newly-minted 1K. It is therefore unclear to me how these changes are going to drive new business for UA out of such people, who will simply keep doing what they have been doing.

    By contrast, a flyer like me, who did not spend big bucks but went out of my way to fly exclusively with UA and spent enough ($15K this year) to make 1K because the benefits actually meant something to me, will no longer bother as the cost of being “loyal” to UA ($24K based of my past travel patterns) would no longer be worth it. It means that UA loses this mid-level, long-haul flyer. Multiply that by many, many folks like me and I must agree with @Vet&Banker that “…from a business standpoint I think it’s a curiously short-sighted decision” on UA’s part.

    @Donna again hit it right on the head when she said: “Loyalty does drive revenue and if loyalty is essentially useless, then people will move to other programs or become free agents, which, in either case, hurts UA.”

    Exactly right. I am now a free agent, so it’s: “Goodbye MileagePlus, hello KrisFlyer!” As a lifetime UA Premier Gold/*G, I will now fly with any *A carrier that gives me ‘best value’ and then I will credit all redeemable and status miles I derive from such flights, including UA flights, to my SQ KrisFlyer account, where I will likely also achieve *G status.

    It’s truly *liberating*, so ‘thank you’, UA!

  65. The next step will be no more general qualification thresholds, but completely individual thresholds for every participant. Think IHG Accelerate Promo style. Just with a much better database and more sophisticated algorithms.

  66. Credit cards, a strong economy, and massive airline consolidation destroyed the primary benefit of frequent flyer programs long ago. There are now a vast number of points chasing very few open seats, and the bloggers like Ben had nothing to do with that change in the market. The changes to United’s program are really about status, and status for the most part is about cabin upgrades, which are becoming hard to get. United is re-sorting the line of people waiting for cabin upgrades to favor the customers who spend the most money on United travel. That seems like a reasonable and simple way to line up the customers.

  67. A thought on one solution — if they gave dynamic PQP and RDM based on city pair, competition, etc. It could probably be done via some kind of bonusing offer depending on the level of competition at the time at booking.

    That would make the program a bit less transparent from one point of view, but it would at least allow UA to genuinely encourage loyalty in highly competitive markets, and customers who actually have a lot of choice would feel rewarded for it. But perhaps as part of this, they can clean up the whole system of RDM based on dollars spent — it is frustrating when compared to other airlines that a $500 ticket with $50 in taxes somehow turns into, e.g., $150 RDM.

    It’s probably not a popular position with hub captives, but as a non-hub-captive I was generally annoyed trying to get an upgrade through Chicago, for example, because the plane is basically full of 1Ks or Plats. I can somehow relate now that my patterns have shifted to fly more premium economy, that I would get annoyed by the program being diluted by 1Ks who earn status on $500 TATL tickets that are priced to compete with Norwegian.

    But this shift away from awarding status and benefits on United, but still keeping it relatively competitive on partner airlines, seems to suggest that they make a large amount of money from UA elites traveling partners and then getting compensated, and they want to encourage (or at least not discourage) that behavior.

  68. I have been faithful to Continental and the new United since 1997; however, it is time to bring that to an end. I have lost around 2000+ dollars in cancellation or change fees over the last several years and yet I continued to fly with them. Many times, I have even lost the value of the ticket because of not booking the remainder within a year. Anyway, I knew their policies and held my nose because I was so invested in the FFB program, no longer. I will no longer book more expensive flight with them just to get the pittance of miles and now no award chart to set as a goal. It has gotten ridiculous.

  69. @John sez: “The changes to United’s program are really about status, and status for the most part is about cabin upgrades, which are becoming hard to get. United is re-sorting the line of people waiting for cabin upgrades to favor the customers who spend the most money on United travel.”

    That is the big fallacy that seems to be eluding everyone. United is not (re)-prioritizing people waiting for cabin upgrades to favor big spenders because those who would become eligible for cabin upgrades under their new scheme are already the same folks who would be more likely to purchase premier cabins tickets outright, since it will be only by spending that kind of money that one would be able to achieve status in the ”new” UA program.

    So, get this: United is doing away with complimentary cabin upgrade as a desirable elite perk, by making it easier for those who would normally afford to purchase premium cabins outright to also be the same ones who would be entitled to upgrades through elite status…

  70. From a business perspective, this makes sense. Focus the shrinking number of upgrades on those paying the most. Assume those who fly infrequently don’t care.

    The interesting thing to me is that this pinches those in the middle. I hit 1K qualification thresholds late November or early December each year. If I know 1K won’t happen, I stop caring as much (all the more so with lifetime Gold status on UA).

    The obvious calculus is that those in my shoes are worth pinching. Maybe I can’t quit United. Maybe habit kicks in. It’d be interesting to see the calculation that compared assumed lost revenue from those in this segment to assumed increase in revenue from the corporate contracts.

    I think the key risk here is what those in this middle segment do with their credit cards. If I’m no longer chasing status, I’m more likely to ditch that United credit card and stick with a transferrable currency. Chase doesn’t care so much. United will.

    Let’s revisit this in a couple years when travel budgets have tightened in the downturn.

  71. Someone who flies UA for 3 or 4 $6-$8k biz class flights a year out of SFO and earns 1K might have a dozen flights on other carriers domestic. Earning 1K quickly incentivizes them to give UA a try on the domestic and increase UA’s share of those flights where there is more choice.

  72. Look on the bright side. The more complicated such programs get, the bigger the chance that there’s some loopholes or backdoors into getting nice things out of it. Though, honestly, I’m still looking for such things here.

    Time will tell how it turns out, also how these changes in program may impact ticket pricing. I have no doubt that a change in loyalty scheme will have impact on how certain status runners will order their tickets, which may give new parameter values to the sales department.

  73. @Jamie — One more time (last time, actually, because I just said it above and it is getting repetitive), “those paying the most” already fly in premium cabins and, even when they before 1K or Prem Plats, would only be getting benefits they already have!!! It is everyone else who won’t be getting any upgrades, which means that UA has essentially done away with complimentary cabin upgrades, as that perk has been understood to be up to now.

    As a business decision, it is questionable because those who supposedly stand to “benefit” under the new elite qualification scheme won’t be getting any benefits (baggage allowance, lounge access, premium cabin seating) that they weren’t already getting without elite status.They’ll be doing whatever it is that are currently doing, so, therefore, they won’t be driving any new business…


  74. @import the vikings sez: “The more complicated such programs get, the bigger the chance that there’s some loopholes or backdoors into getting nice things out of it. Though, honestly, I’m still looking for such things here.”

    A potential loophole could be that because those who are being targeted with these changes would likely continue to purchase premium cabin tickets outright, while also being the ones with elite status that would entitle them to cabin upgrades that they won’t need, there may be more upgrades available for lower elites, like Premier Golds… 🙂

  75. @DCS

    I sense even more anger. I also overestimated your intelligence.

    “I am yet to see credible evidence in any of the ‘positive’ comments so far that anyone stands to actually benefit from these changes.”
    Because those who benefited don’t visit blogs like this. They don’t care maximize credit card bonus or spending. Ever seen people compare how many ft. their toy is around here. Only rares ones come here to mess around with people like you, lol. Just kidding, they love to travel and are here for the trip reports.
    Again UA is still driving loyalty but from a different group. You know there are corporate flyers out there who don’t fly that often to make current 1K but don’t mind spending 10k on transcon just to make 1K on the new program.
    Would you even spend even 5k to fly transcon?
    In contrary to what you think my position is, I think this is a bad move on UA but it does make good business point. Like what I said in the other post, this sounds more like coming from AA not UA, who are more flyer friendly than AA.

    “United is doing away with complimentary cabin upgrade as a desirable elite perk,”
    Don’t you still get upgrades as Silver or Gold? Even if you can’t make 1K anymore but decide to stick around, you still get upgrades. And just like @John say which, made total sense, those spending more jumps the upgrade list. Those who already paid for F did so before the program change and their status should be irrelevant to this. (reason I overestimated you)
    Or to simplify for you, if they made everyone who spend 25k+ GS but you get to keep your old qualification would it make you happier? Doesn’t change the upgrade list.

    “there may be more upgrades available for lower elites, like Premier Golds…”
    Upgrades availability doesn’t change it remains the same. What changes is you become the lower elites.

    @import the vikings
    While you may be right, I do have doubts about loopholes.
    This program isn’t more complicated that it is. It simplifies it to revenue. Before it was PQM/PQS then PQD came into the mix, now PQM goes and PQS/PQD stays. And what bloggers complain about no award chart (and I hate it too), removes transparency but (arguably) improves simplicity, what you see is what you pay just like cash price. Maximizing miles becomes complicated, using it doesn’t.

    Ticket pricing is based mostly on demand and competition not how many status runners out there. I understand RM does acknowledge mileage runs but never track it as a matrix, so nothing new here. Besides, I don’t think airline will come out with cheaper fares just to attract mileage runs. They find good deals at good price. It used to be worth it back when miles was earned by distance (+double elite bonus) and spent according to award charts. Now when reward is tied to $ it becomes less beneficial.

    The only loophole I can think is more Plat and 1K will defect and the Gold and Silver who stayed on has a better upgrade chance. Not because there are more upgrades available, but you have less competition for upgrade. So bad news for DL AA elites?

  76. At this point, I am just going to switch my “loyalty” to AMEX and CHASE. My Delta platinum card will stay or go depending on how my travel schedule looks next year. I’ll have status at least through 2020 so I don’t need to worry about checked bag fees.

    Given how little Airlines are doing to make the FF programs valuable to actual frequent fliers, I choose to let the market decide where my loyalty should be at any given time.

    Delta/AA/United, I see your dynamic award model and present you with my dynamic loyalty model.

  77. After this latest release, I’m seriously considering cancelling both of my United CC’s. Flying out of DEN, I’m flying on WN more than anyone these days. I’ve still got 400K United miles and I’m at the half million mile mark, but seriously, what is the point? Seems there can be better value to be had from using Chase/Amex points than trying to go after UA Points. I have a legacy UA card I’ve had for years, and the companion ticket I get is basically worthless. When I CAN find a flight it’s usually just slightly less expensive than the going rate on two cheap tickets. I haven’t used it in years. And as far as the explorer card goes, the perk of more award availability I’m not even sure applies anymore, and I’ve actually forgotten about my UA club passes and let them expire since I don’t fly UA anymore.

  78. Looks like MilagePlus needs to name change. When Frequent Flyer or Mileage programs no longer care how frequent you fly or how many miles you fly; they should call it like it is…

    I’m happy my company has a corporate agreement to status match for a year, Delta accepted the status match after this roll-out was announced and I will be moving away from United flights all together. Hub convenience made UA the easy choice, now having moved away from the hub, status was the only thing that kept me flying UA. Hopefully Delta doesn’t follow suit.

    Many years ago the hotel industry took a big hit by the Online Travel Agencies capturing direct bookings to the point that OTAs took 30% of the revenues from the hotels. Since hotels have been playing catch-up through loyalty programs and then OTA’s countered with points programs of their own. I would love to see OTA’s getting caught up in the airline space for loyalty programs.

  79. @Eskimo: “I sense even more anger. I also overestimated your intelligence.”

    Please get lost. I do not wish to waste time addressing someone who is so obtuse. I’ve already indicated this: Your “sensing [my] anger” is totally irrelevant to any intelligent discourse on the UA FF program change, which is impossible to have with you.

    You are joining those on my “ignore” list. The line about your sensing even more anger is as far as I got, so you wasted all that time composing what you thought would be the century’s most incisive argument. What a pity.


  80. If you have a United credit card the best thing you can do is cancel that card or product change. For everyone else stop booking United for a while. If you are 1K be sure to email them (I will) and let them know how much of your business you are taking elsewhere.

    There are so many options where you can credit your flights in particular read up on foreign carriers in Star, One World and Sky Team.

  81. This is UA’s attempt in culling the herd of elite flyers. It’s inevitable. Pre-Sept11 levels, we had about a dozen healthy airline brands. WIth all the mergers, we now have the big 3 network and 3 non-allied carriers. The programs were barely designed with population growth, but with the mergers, they were not able to address the doubling of their elite population.

    Thank goodness I have options using LGA and JFK instead of just being held captive at EWR.

  82. The perfect promotion is one that gets you to pay money and the company need do nothing in return. They have a tidy little racket set up. Credit card companies and airlines get us to “earn” miles with our over inflated credit card charges at retailers and restaurants while the airlines periodically move the goalposts so that the rank and file never get too much in return.

  83. honestly, nowadays I just book with whatever airline has the best price/product and route I want to fly on to where I need to be. Loyalty/elite status/etc are a thing of the past.

  84. @DCS – I need to clarify that I understand the upgrade line isn’t made up of “all elites”. I agree that very high spending customers may not be in the line at all because they bought a premium cabin seat to start with. The upgrade line is all elites who want to move up a cabin, and United wants to sort that line by customer spend. I’m sure there will be situations where the front of the line customers won’t have the highest spend because the highest spend customers bought a seat in the premium cabin.

  85. DCS, if the people who are already buying front-cabin seats are the ones who will now have highest status? That just means they will be skipped over on the upgrade list (b/c they’re already there) and the upgrade will go to the next person. UA isn’t just going to say, “we’ll, the person who would have gotten it doesn’t need it, so we’ll fly with an empty seat up front.”

    So I don’t know why you are saying that this change amounts to the elimination of the upgrade benefit.

  86. Nice venting session, both in the article and the comments.
    Bottomline is, they’ve got you by your metaphorical balls and they’re squeezing it because they can.

    No amount of hand wringing and yelling on the interwebs is going to change that.

    Walking away from United is the only way fliers can influence the statistical models which dictate these changes.

    That is NOT going to happen because –

    1. Delta, Southwest and American will follow within a few weeks.months with similar or worse “improvements.” Since there is no real choice anymore, fliers are stuck.

    2. For all the hand-wringing, fliers will STILL choose UA, AA or DL because they’re marginally better than WN, B9 or the ULCCs.

    We have seen this EXACT movie in the back of the bus. We already know the ending.

    The po’folk got squeezed before. Now it’s time for ‘rich folks who fly first class’ to face the music.

  87. I’ve been a consistent Gold level on United for the past few years, and under the new structure, I “might” be able to reach Silver. It’s unfortunate really, as I do/did consider myself a loyal United member. It is what it is, and at least now it will force me to test the waters with other airlines where I hadn’t in the past.
    Many in this forum have argued for/against the changes and debated loyalty vs. revenue grabbing and the like. Though to me the biggest change in my minds is the loss/lack of benefit from the United CC’s now. I think it’s the “average” or leisure flyer who gained the most benefit from the CC’s by helping to achieve status. Now with all of these benefits basically stripped away, I wonder how many people will simply switch to another CC that offers a bit more value. I can only imagine the revenue lost to UA when this mass exodus occurs. I know I’ll be one of them!

  88. @DCS please read my post for its nuance. I said the same thing you did, just slyly, to echo what UA is doing here. in practice, the few upgrades that get doled out will be concentrated within a narrower set of elites. The result is that those who just make it over the line into 1K won’t be over the line moving forward, so they’re not getting upgrades at all (as opposed to just rarely).

    By definition someone already sitting in the forward cabin by virtue of having paid the fare is not and cannot be upgraded. This is about structuring the program to mirror the *actual* supply of available upgrade seats.

    Those at the edge of qualification are going to be less loyal in their flying. Whether they mirror that in their credit card choice is the optionality of the decision that strikes me as worth watching.

  89. For me and my family we have been very religious about United/United Mileage Plus, 15yrs of being 1k . This year I am bubbling 2million lifetime miles. I’m crazy about spending on my United Explorer Card.(Between 50k-75k a year). Plus I have always been a big promoter of United Plus to those who are not members.

    I called the United Mileage Plus 1k Desk and had a conversation. The Rep pretty much said after reviewing my history that I would have no shot at 1k status again without – spending a lot more $. She said it was someone in the marketing departments decision but she said she personally felt it was a major mistake on United part especially after the amount of negative feedback that she has received.

    I Strait Up Feel Betrayed!

    Its like I am developing a hate for United now and I’m becoming the complete opposite of what I was before. Why would I ever spend another dollar with them? I will go out of my way to not fly with a company that turns on their very loyal customers. As for my family and me I plan to spending my $ else were.

    Good Bye United – Have a nice life.

  90. @shza — I had long-haul international flights in mind and not complimentary domestic upgrades, about which I said this up-thread:

    “A potential loophole could be that because those who are being targeted with these changes would likely continue to purchase premium cabin tickets outright, while also being the ones with elite status that would entitle them to cabin upgrades that they won’t need, there may be more upgrades available for lower elites, like Premier Golds…”

    So, I do essentially agree with you about the possibility that lower elites may get more domestic upgrades, if high spenders continue to purchase premium tickets outright. The situation would likely be different for int’l flights when upgrade instruments need to be used to request upgrades.

  91. I would love to see AA lead the competitive charge by reverting to the same exact rules and standards that were in place when AAdvantage was launched. Alas, that will never happen unless and until there is far more competitive tension among US carriers.

  92. @shza — I had long-haul international flights in mind and not complimentary domestic upgrades, about which I said this up-thread:

    “A potential loophole could be that because those who are being targeted with these changes would likely continue to purchase premium cabin tickets outright, while also being the ones with elite status that would entitle them to cabin upgrades that they won’t need, there may be more upgrades available for lower elites, like Premier Golds…”

    So, I do essentially agree with you about the possibility that lower elites may get more domestic upgrades, if high spenders continue to purchase premium tickets outright. The situation would likely be different for int’l flights for which upgrade instruments need to be used to request upgrades.

  93. @Jamie – Point taken…

    @John — See my previous comment (accidentally duplicated). We essentially agree.

  94. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

    In the beginning, fly one mile and earn one mile (or 1.25 for first class). Then hotels, car rentals, flowers, credit cards, etc. Bloggers then gave us strategies to maximize mileage. A group of x credit cards will get you x thousands of miles. So, the original RT first class ticket for 75 k is no longer viable. We complain about availability and the amount of miles that a ticket cost but forget that before, flying 75000 miles (butt in seat) was loyalty. Good, bad, or indifferent it is offer and demand. The airlines keep making miles available through various means; therefore, they need to devaluate. There are two many miles out so they instituted expiration. I remember when you could use the 500 miles upgrades (AA); now I have a truckload sitting there.

    Just my two cents.

  95. I haven’t read all of the comments, but I do not think looking at the customer purchasing the $10,000 transpacific Business class flight is the correct lens through which to view these changes. In the program as previously conceived, flyers who took a lot of expensive but shorter-haul flights were generally lower-tier elites because the segment requirements were high and they didnt accrue enough miles to crack the upper tiers of the qualification metrics. For example, I traveled almost exclusively between the Bay Area and Southern California on economy tickets generally purchased a couple of days before the flight. I directed about $18,000 worth of travel to United on an annual basis yet usually wound up as a silver because my leisure travel generally did not cover the gap between the ~36,000 miles worth of work flights and the 50,000 gold qualification requirement (and generally didnt get there on segments).

    So, I think in areas where there is competition on routes and where those routes are shorter-haul yet business heavy (such as intra-California or Northeast Corridor travel, for example), I think United is doing itself a favor by rewarding those who direct more money to the company. If a customer uses a product a lot but that customer’s use is not profitable (such as a frequent buyer of highly discounted, long haul economy flights), then rewarding that behavior is not good business.

  96. Frequent flier programs will go away within the next five years. With near monopolies, that these airline networks have become, there is no need for frequent flier programs. Passengers need them more than airlines needing the passengers. My guess is that they will ultimately have a program where you get 1% cash back on all purchases. or not even that. So let us say there is no frequent flier program with any airline, are you going to stop flying. Does the customer even have a choice. It might happen sooner than five years.

  97. I can barely understand the changes but am so disappointed and disgusted. Almost all of my travel I’m the last 2 years is non business. I have made 1K often paying more and choosing longer or less convenient flights. I have been loyal to United 100% and stupidly I guess.

  98. I think it makes a lot of sense for UA to reward clients who pay the most. As a small business owner, I know which clients are most valuable (ie spend most money on my product) and I will always bend forward and backward to accommodate these clients. UA should do the same. With today’s technology, they can easily pull up people’s yearly spend and rank them for the upgrade list within seconds. They really should just do away with all these different levels of status. If you spend big bucks with UA, then you should be rewarded in kind. Nothing wrong with that.

    UA is trying to put a veil on top of “we really just want people who spends big bucks with us” by dangling all these PQFs and PQPs hoping still keep people stick around with UA because if they try hard enough, they may make the elite level by flying enough segments with decent amount of spend. People need to wake up and smell the coffee. The die hard game player are saying I’m out, at least according to comments on this blog. But typically these game players are not the most profitable ones anyway. UA is hoping to fool the none game players.

    I’m not loyal to any program and I just buy the most comfortable and cheapest J fare transcon. Sometimes it is JetBlue mint which I love. More often than not it is Alaska J which isn’t as comfortable but it’ll do. Good luck to those who’s still trying to game the UA program.

  99. I could not agree more with what Ben said, United really really screwed up this time. Loyalty comes after trust, once United takes away the trust of all their frequent flyers that the loyalty program has consistency and longevity, people will leave and become “free agent”.

  100. Agree on the captive market forced to fly a carrier (corp agreement or nonstop preference) isn’t loyalty. I have many friends who are SFO based who will NEVER fly anyone other than UA. Some similar in Houston – they are GS’s and 1K’s that would fly them NO MATTER WHAT. Now contrast that to someone who is LAX, JFK, RDU, IND who will have a choice – some locations it’s a nonstop scattered across different carriers or a connection, but you have a choice. Shouldn’t carriers be doing what they can to capture them – the ones with a choice to fly them? Boggles the mind how execs think of loyalty.

    I switched from UA to AA and even with their issues I find them OK, I could just as easily switch to DL and be happy with where I am. Give and take on some routes but not hosed in any direction. 70% Of my domestic tickets are First, 25% of Intl is Biz with balance as Premium Economy (proper paid Premium not elite free seats). I could make high tier on any carrier (published tiers) and not worry about it. Why is there a war on passengers like me – I should just screw all the loyalty and just fly the cheapest nonstop first flight and do the same on PY and Biz International. It’s all turning to rubbish and I could care less on the miles I can rarely use now. Why?

  101. I sense depression and anger overcoming acceptance. @DCS

    @The Betrayed
    I do have to remind you and all the lifetime members out there. If you stop flying UA then your lifetime status is worthless. If a ticket cost the same would you still avoid UA and fly AA/DL? Due to hate would you forfeit same day change, some upgrade chance, preferred seats? Do you think UA will care if they lost revenues from low spenders? I hate seeing people throw benefits away.

  102. @Eskimo I’ll still fly UA if I can find a deep discounted long haul business class flight or an a good direct flight as a 1K MM but they will only get 1-5% of my spend next year so have very little use for the lifetime program perks. Don’t need Economy Plus, etc if I’m flying British Airways business class …

    My last two years of 1K have been underwhelming and never found a good fare to use my GPUs.

    I’m not going to invest the time in UA’s mileage plus program anymore. On long haul there are so many better airlines out there and on short haul I’ve found even Spirit to be acceptable.

    Suspect United is high on AA’s frequent flyer defections to anything that is better. These most recent changes will cost United in the long run.

  103. @EndlosLuft – All excellent points. In addition to flying UA when it offers value, there are several benefits to being a lifetime Gold even without flying UA: *G benefits, which include
    — Priority Check-in
    — Priority Boarding
    — *G Lounge Access worldwide
    — Extra Baggage Allowance
    — Priority Airport Standby
    — Priority Baggage Handling
    — Priority Reservations Waitlist

    Because of those *G benefits, I will fly mostly with *A carriers, including UA when the price is right…

  104. Ben, I’ve been waiting for an article like this. But first I had to wait but not wonder if UA would continue tip the scales in their direction that would warrant such words in print. Considering their track record I knew I would not need to wait long. It’s well written and asks the right questions. The answers, however, will need to come from consumers. I’ve been irritated at UA for some time now. But find myself even more irritated by loyalist who seem to just rolled over as UA pushes. Your article is push in the right direction for consumers. Not saying we need to form some sort of protest, but maybe we need to say we don’t need your FF program.

  105. I’ve read every single comment here. Seems like quite a few misconceptions, at least those comments directed at high-spending corporate travelers. You guys are not understanding the value prop correctly here.

    I have already spent $50k this year with United, probably more, and I still have a few more big business trips to take before the year is over. As has been stated above, within my company’s travel policy, I have quite a few choices; UA/Star Alliance is only one of those choices. I can direct that $50k+ each year at UA and Star Alliance, or AA and One World, or DL and Sky Team. Or divide it up. We have negotiated rates with all, and I’m not breaking any policies by choosing amongst them. And of course I have choices for my leisure travel, as do we all.

    So how does UA entice a flier like me? Make sure that when I travel for leisure, I am pretty much guaranteed upgrades from higher-fare economy tickets.

    UA gets $50k+ in revenue from my business travel, and decent (economy) revenue from my personal trips, and I get to save a few dollars to travel in Biz for personal trips. It’s a win for UA and a win for me. Same with hotel programs — easy for me to make Ambassador with Marriott through biz trips, then get nice upgrades to suites when paying Regular rates for rooms for personal travel. They still make money off me even in personal travel, but I get a lot more bang for my buck.

    So, I totally get that there are losers and winners from UA’s latest changes. It’s not at all great for everyone. The winners are those who are already spending plenty through corporate travel to easily make 1K or GS, but may now find less competition for upgrades on personal travel, since there will now be fewer top elites.

    THAT’S the calculus that you guys commenting here are missing. THAT’S the value proposition for these changes — the latest changes benefit high-revenue frequent fliers who have options besides UA.

    I do agree however that the United credit card will now be useless. The FF miles that spending earned was dwarfed by the miles I gained just through regular business travel. I just used it to get my husband easy access to Platinum after only $25k spend. UA was smart to get rid of that (as far as their interests go, it made elite status way too cheap and easy) but it now has zero value for me. I’ll just go back to a cash-back card.

  106. Good article. I resent United’s un-loyal move. My practical response and suggestion to other frequent flyers is to divide their loyalty between two airlines. That will maximize your value and provide a little revenge since United will lose $. For example, if you spend about $7000 per year on air fare, stop flying United after you spend $5000 because you won’t get more than a silver status. Spend the remaining $2000 with another airline that rewards status based on distance. Depending on where you fly, you could establish a second Silver status with another airline.

  107. @DCS I’ll fly other Star Alliance carriers too if the price is right but I may no longer credit the miles to United since the program has become so worthless and soon unpredictable. Turkish, Avianca, etc are not that hard to qualify for in Star and both have card relationships with Citi and/or Chase.

    The real winner with all these program changes is Chase.

  108. Do we know yet how UA will prioritize upgrades within an elite tier? Currently, UA and DL rack and stack on the paid fare class. AA prioritizes on elite qualifying dollar spend for the year, which seems close to what UA may be doing here. Assuming UA goes to annual PQP total to prioritize, there won’t be that much difference between this system and AA’s. On AA, of course, it would still be possible for someone with higher annual spend to get a lower priority because he didn’t have the elite miles to clear the next tier. That wouldn’t be possible in the new UA program.

  109. EndlosLuft: “I’ll fly other Star Alliance carriers too if the price is right but I may no longer credit the miles to United since the program has become so worthless and soon unpredictable.”

    Amen to that. For me, I will credit both redeemable and status miles to SQ because of my pattern of traveling extensively in Asia, especially N and SE. Domestically, I will keep flying UA because ‘differentiation’ is not that important, and I would still use my Premier Gold status to get E+ seating when I do not purchase J tickets. Credit will still go to SQ, however.

  110. The time for generous loyalty programs is over. I moved from Air France Platinum to AA Executuve Platinum and eventually Diamond from Avianca. Years after years i have realized that it’s better to get a good fare in business whatever the airline and take advantage of some amenities offered. It’s more flexible than buying a ticket with a specific airline.

  111. @Rich — Without the much-maligned coach flyers, airlines would not be able to get their planes off the ground at all because operating costs would be prohibitive, or your company would be paying not $50K+/year to get you around, but maybe twice as much to make it worthwhile for airlines. REALLY.

    Everyone is a valuable flyer to airlines, which are getting too arrogant and forgetting it because their planes are, at least for now, taking off full.

  112. @DCS … fair point. To be clear, I’m not maligning coach fliers. I’m explaining (my view of) United’s calculus here.

    They may be wrong. It may backfire. But I’m pretty sure they have done the math here.

  113. The airlines are thinning the herds, and they all have different ideas about how to do it…

    I’m not a corporate traveler, FF member, million miler, so my feelings are pretty different. But to me it seems in today’s environment the way to go is pretty simple.

    1) I don’t see a reason to chase status since upgrades are non-existent.

    2) Miles mean nothing, and can be devalued any day. Just get transferable currencies and burn immediately, or UR at 1.5 cpp and have a stress free day.

    3) A $95 af credit card gives you free bags, priority boarding, and companion certificates, essentially giving you what the first tier of status would.

    I’m just flying whoever has a decent price and the best product/value, this means WN, B6, DL, miles and points at this point are just extra goodies you get.

  114. I abandoned any kind of loyalty to specific airlines a while back as I would almost never accumulate enough to make it worth it with a single brand. My whole focus has shifted to credit card rewards, which has allowed me to fly every vacation for free for the past few years. I love my Sapphire and Amex cards. If I happen to accumulate enough on an airline, I now just use it for upgrades, but I don’t care about status. The major airlines are pretty terrible, and my feeling is they get more rewarded for my loyalty than I do, so screw them.

  115. It’s kind of a bummer.
    I don’t travel for work very much but I fly 60,000 miles in personal travel a year, almost 100% on United. I think that’s some amount of loyalty given that it’s entirely my choice when, and where I want to fly. On the other hand, I’m still peanuts in spend compared to my friends who travels to Asia regularly for Apple. He’s 1K. I get that I’m not particularly “valuable” to United.

    But I like to think that my lifetime value is actually greater than him. He doesn’t even like flying. He will stop as soon as he stops doing this particular job. I like to think that customers like are me are still somewhat important in an airline’s long term strategy. For one, I naturally prefer to fly on days that business travelers don’t want to fly. Also when I fly, I usually have a companion so I’m often influencing someone else to buy a United ticket. I don’t expect a tremendous amount of perks, but I would appreciate something.

  116. @Rich
    This is exactly what I said earlier using @Paul as an example. You are living proof number 2 and counting. Flyers like you will pay 10k to any airline, UA is making sure it goes to them.

    The reason most view this as negative is because most people are earning miles and status by spending the least. It used to be those who fly SFO-LAX or NYC-BOS/DCA spending $500+ every week complain about never making 1K but people flying $1000 long haul few times a year made 1K easily. This was exactly the issue few years back when they put dollar requirements. Before then it was easy to reach top status on all legacy 3. Many many people made top tier with at least 2 airlines.

  117. Million miler, but I quit United when I watched half the plane load ahead of my 1k status as global services, and then sat next to a secretary from a large corporation on her first international trip – with an automatic upgrade to business explaining why I was no longer able to get upgrades.

    I fly to China a half dozen times a year. Now on Hainan Airlines, vastly better.

  118. If getting people to make more flights on UA is one of the goals . They could use a sliding scale of number of flights and points for 1k to increase that metric e.g.:
    $24,000 PQP &. 0 PQF
    $18,000 PQP & 54 PQF
    $15,000 PQP & 90 PQF
    $12,000 PQP & 108 PQF

    THat would be a fairer distribution and achieve the same goal

  119. I’ve been a 150k average flyer for 20 years On DL with a few trips a year on others.
    The FF programs have routinely devalued the miles in the seat Traveller.
    I’ll drop from Diamond level next year with no plans to chase it

    The fix for FF value would be for the IRS to require airlines to annually fix the value of miles awarded that year and take it as an outstanding liability going forward.

    Would go a long way toward making the value stable. Likely result in some major program changes too.

    The only real benefits left are early boarding, more flexibility allowed before hitting with “no” or $$. Most choice benefits have very little benefit.

    Any status below the absolute top level relegates you to just another number.

    Best value ticket wins from now on.

  120. United just made it easy for me. I’ll use all my mile and then when I fly I’ll look for the cheapest airline fare. All those year I may have paid more to fly United so I could make Premier are over. I know I will not make it so why spend more. I can check for the cheapest fare and in the end I’ll get to where I’m flying and save money.
    Whoever came up with this should be fired since it is only going to hurt United’s bottom line.

  121. I’ve been a member of a wide spectrum of frequent flyer programs since their inception in 1981, when I was still early in my career. While I was not always a “top revenue” flyer, these programs did influence my consistency in choice in airline – first, with Eastern in the 1980’s, and then, starting in 1990, with American, with whom I was a top tier flyer from that point for 27 consecutive years.

    During that time, each flight I took didn’t necessarily result in maximum revenue for the airline, but my consistency and loyalty, over what turned out to be decades, definitely had material value for my airline(s) of choice. It was easy for me to decide whom to fly with. My airline(s) of choice had a predictably loyal traveler, and even though these airlines didn’t maximize their return on every flight that I took, their rewards was with the frequency of my travels. Short flights … longer flights … expensive flights … cheap flights … almost all of that business, over the course of decades, was channeled to the airline which kept things simple, had predictable benefits, and offered a reasonable product.

    Does that kind of loyalty not matter any more?

    Today, being retired, my travel patterns have changed, and while I do still travel frequently, the economics are quite different. At this point in my life I’ll never be a top revenue generator for any airline, and the only thing that influences me to fly United or American today is lifetime Gold status on UA, based on my history with Eastern, and lifetime Platinum on AA – although, in hindsight, that’s a bit bittersweet when every other major program offers lifetime status up through its tiers, whereas AA caps lifetime status at Platinum, even though I’m an 8+ million miler with them.

    But thank God today for Alaska Airlines, which has bucked the trend and which seems to remain committed to the old fashioned way of doing things … a mile flown is a mile earned, with no spend requirement for achieving elite status, and with achievable reward levels that even casual flyers can aspire to. Their formula may not align with some of the complex strategies that the bigger boys seem to be employing in an attempt to overly fine tune their goal of maximizing revenue, but their formula does tend attract the vast numbers of folks who can conveniently fly Alaska and, collectively, bring value to that airline en masse. For someone like me, who still flies a lot, but on a discretionary basis and not at top-dollar fares, their program is ideal – and, consequently, they have earned some consistent business these last few years, admittedly top dollar, but business that they otherwise would have not had.

    I still fly United on occasion when Alaska doesn’t fit, as the benefits of being lifetime Gold (E+ seating, occasional upgrade) are fair … rarely fly American any more, because even at Platinum, the benefits are virtually non existent … even after 27+ years of consistent loyalty to them.

    Bottom line is that each flyer, in light of these recent changes – and continuing changes – is going to decide for themselves, to the degree that they can, what works best for them. But I can’t help but think that when programs become as complex as they are today, and the direct benefits to many flyers appear to be vanishing unless they are in the top 5% or so, that loyalty among the masses, which, collectively, brings value to any vendor, will increasingly become a thing of the past.

  122. Totally agree. I’m only at 3 million and that doesn’t get me anything. Alaska isn’t in my market, but Emirates is and more and more of my retired travel takes advantage of the free stopovers to break up the trips.

    Other than Iceland Air, the airlines are missing out on this loyalty driver.

    Emirates actually awarded my wife and I Silver status a couple months early in advance of the trip that made us Silver. I’ve never had a US airline offer that. I have had them decline a friends status based on a 1000 mile shortfall at the end of the year.

    Devaluing the 20 year loyalty for the practice of “what have you done for me today” will ultimately come back to bite them as the younger flyers realize there is no long term loyalty to them by the carrier.

  123. As I said once and again. It is not only the programs, it is the whole policy of the vast majority of all these USA Airlines, cheating more and more and the Government allowing them to do whatever they want. It should be a stop to all this abuse.

  124. @Doug Lynch

    Don’t get IRS involved. By then (the never ending debate) you will be taxed for miles earned.
    You sound like you live in the Northeast, a major market gap of AS.

    USA Airlines, cheating more and more. I’m not sure what are you using as a basis for this.

    I never felt cheated, I do often feel betrayed and undervalued but never cheated. They never charge me more than what they say they will. But yes sometimes they do charge astronomically high price and love customers who give them more money but never once was I short changed, even from greedy LCC. Learn the rules, play by the rules or take the Greyhound.

  125. Do your math my dear Eskimo, do not let the cold of the igloo freeze your brains. IE: Except in very special cases, normally I never use miles/points to buy a ticket. It runs from 30% to 80% more expensive than buying it cash when you consider 1 mile = 2 cts more or less. But of course they will not tell you this. If I would have the time, I will (and almost sure many other people in this blog) send you long lists of examples. But before I go, just one more (of many dozens): AA sells more flights than they can (more seats that their whole aircrafts capacity). They now become to a point that is very usual that they change you flight and time -and even the date- of your original reservation. And they compensate you with a very nice apologies basically sending you to hell. Aaahhhh, but try you to change a date or a flight: $ 150.00 allowance, plus any difference against the original value of the ticket. So: ME, THE AIRLINE I DO WHATEVER I WANT, BUT IF YOU DO IT, YOU PAY. To be read: I cheat on everybody any time I want. And by the way, I don’t know going from Miami to Alaska, but certainly in not so long trips, about 30% to 50% of the times you will arrive before in a Greyhound than in one of these crap airlines.

  126. @PAX

    First, I don’t understand your math. If you exclusively buy miles with cash to redeem for flights, you are doing it wrong. I get miles as a bonus from paying cash. I save enough bonus, I get a free ticket (take more and more bonus these days).
    No matter what angle, it’s a bonus you get from paying cash.
    No matter what angle, you don’t get any deal buying miles to redeem.
    If you are saying AA is cheating for selling expensive miles, then Apple is cheating for selling expensive phones. You are the consumer, vote with your wallet. But that is not cheating. You know the rules. Airlines properly disclose they overbook, they charge fees to do every single thing because they can. I you don’t like it, don’t fly.

    But before I go, Let me give you some analogy.
    IRS charges me a good chunk of my hard earn income to a point, all my income outside USA gets charged. IRS compensate me with some deductions basically sending you to hell.
    Aaahhhh, but if I made a mistake and underpay: $ 200.00 allowance, plus 25% interest of original value of the ticket.
    To be read: I cheat on everybody any time I want.
    Bonus: if you overpay, IRS owes you no penalty, no interests, nothing.

    So IRS is cheating us all?

    And by the way, Miami to Alaska takes at least 80 hours of driving.
    Do not let the heat of Miami melt your brains. You need to learn the word cheat again.

  127. Agreed totally, this is not awarding loyalty anymore.

    I fly 2-4 short segments WEEKLY on United, and now I’ll be lucky to get Premier Platinum for 2021.

    That is way more loyal than a quarterly $5k business class ticket traveler will ever be who will still earn 1K.

    Hello Delta status match!

  128. I’m sorry I let you down. Too much depression and anger for folks around here to accept the truth.
    On the bright side, what you lacks in intelligence you make up for in ignorance.


  129. Eskimo:
    I do agree with Pax. Also with Jeff, who he stated:
    Jeff Shilling says:
    October 13, 2019 at 4:32 pm
    Let’s not forget the basis for which AAdvantage was formed (Robert Crandall at least stated) …. it was to maximize the efficiency of the product…by making a way for loyal customers to use excess capacity (seats, etc.). It was…a win/win.

    Where we are today …is an evolution of changing definitions of loyalty. It is now simply a program bought with money, for which the airline uses a bait and switch tactic to devalue what you thought you bought.
    So to be read: Cheating the customers.
    Clearly Pax doesn’t care much about your opinion. I do believe that both should be more careful about your writing in blogs which are public spaces.

  130. Ugh! I am AA ExPlat but if AA copies this one I am phasing them out. Things were great until US Airways took them over, then sliding downwards year by year. And nearly always copying each move by United. I disagree with one who posted above about Alaska, the airline I will move to, and agree instead with another who said “Alaska is the best domestic loyalty program now.” Still rational, clear, miles based, and makes me want to fly them more and more. If they grow their network, and I suspect they will–and don’t follow this downward loyalty spiral–and the other airlines all play this inhuman devaluation game, 30% of my flying with Alaska will be 100%.

  131. I have over 1 million miles in the bank with United currently that I’ve accumulated over the years. I spend the miles when it makes the most sense value wise and when I need the extra flexibility. I also am mindful of the fact that I accrue towards status only if I pay. So of all the times I chose to pay instead of using my miles which helps United’s bottom line, now they devalue my mileage? I’m sure in the fine print of the program it says they are allowed to do this, but there are limits. How is this not seen as fraudulent or false advertising at the very least. I mean changing the way you earn or even how you spend those future miles can be annoying but it’s fair for them to do because there is an understanding when you spend your money. I feel like I was just swindled. It’s like I traded USD for “United Dollars” and then all of a sudden United decides that for their own benefit my “United Dollars” are worth half. I hope there is a class action lawsuit for this change.

  132. Yes we’re sick of these changes. Alaska needs to win more market share so we can reward them for their great FF program.

  133. And why does seniority not somehow factor in to their new equation? Is 10+ consecutive years of Premier Gold Status and loyalty really worth nothing??
    It’s a slap in the face. “Thanks for all your loyalty over the years, now welcome to the Jelly of The Month Club.”

  134. United definitely has gone way to far here. I am a million miler and have been 1k for five years. Bad enough they increased the spend so substantially every year but this new program “designed to simplify how status is earned” is a blatant ploy to screw over their most loyal fliers. All marketing spin aside, this is an incredibly complicated system that is going to drive people like me to other airlines and programs. I called United and asked them to explain how this was a simpler and better system and the agent could only regurgitate marketing spin. This is a serious blow to my loyalty to United and a very very poor business decision. Hopefully someone there bothers to read this.

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