Mileage Plus changes 2009 — the great, the good, the bad, and the really ugly!

Ah, I was hoping it would be just another Monday where I’d have nothing good to write about, but sadly United just couldn’t let it be. Instead we’re seeing “Annual Changes for the 2009 Mileage program.”

To summarize:

  • The 500 mile minimum is returning for elite members, and will be applied retroactively
  • Huge change in mileage requirements
  • Mileage upgrades are seeing quite a few changes, looking more and more like AA’s program, whereby no specific fare class is required, but instead co-pays are required

Blah blah blah….

Let me break this down as I see it, because there’s the great, the good, the bad, and the really ugly.

The great:

  • I hate to actually commend a company for doing this, but for once changes aren’t being labeled as “enhancements.” They’re just calling them “changes,” which I appreciate.
  • Credit is also due to United for the smart way they’re releasing this. There are a few good things (at least for elites), and a few bad things, so it’s not all bad news.
  • The only change here which is truly great, as far as I’m concerned, is that they’re applying the restoration of the 500 milers retroactively. For the life of me I have no clue why they’d do this, but they did. This means that all the segments for elites between July 1 and the end of the year that were under 500 miles will count towards status, upgrades, Elite Choices, and of course lifetime miles. Why the hell would United do this? If a customer has chosen to leave they’ve already done so, but if a passenger is still with UA, they’d be happy about the return of 500 mile minimums and wouldn’t expect it to be retroactive. What is this, a goodwill gesture of sorts?

The good:

  • The real good change is the fact that 500 milers are being returned (as opposed to them being returned retroactively, which is great).
  • United isn’t increasing the mileage required for domestic roundtrips. This is good for most, but really annoys me. I know most other carriers charge 25,000 miles for a domestic saver award, but the cost of domestic air travel has gone up so much that I think they could reasonably raise it to 30,000 miles for a saver award. Oh well.
  • Most will probably say this is bad, but I’ll simply call it logical. United is increasing the mileage required as well as adding a co-pay for Hawaii. I never understood why Hawaii was only 15,000 miles for an upgrade, especially since flights like ORD-HNL are longer than many flights to Europe. This should make it a bit easier to upgrade Hawaii flights, because those once a year fliers that used credit card miles to steal the confirmable upgrade space might think twice. All that being said, the co-ay range listed on the website right now is $250-500, which seems excessive.
  • Overall some of the new international mileage upgrade fees are reasonable, and can turn out to be a much better deal than buying an H-fare and upgrading.
  • The relative value of being an elite, and especially a 1K increases. Systemwide upgrades, confirmed regional upgrades, and 500 mile upgrades don’t require a co-pay. The value of confirmed regional upgrades is definitely on the rise, while I’d say overall the value of systemwide upgrades remains about the same, since H-fares (which were required for longhaul international mileage upgrades) were often more than $1,000 over the lowest available fare.

The bad:

  • Some of the award mileage requirement changes are pretty reasonable, like the increases for premium cabins within North America and Hawaii, and also for coach travel internationally, where we’re seeing changes of 5,000-10,000 miles per award.
  • The domestic co-pay sucks, especially when you’re a once a year flier that wants to upgrade some of the more basic domestic flights.
  • The international co-pays can be a bargain or a rip-off, depending on your travel patterns. Since we don’t know the details yet, I’ll label it as largely bad but won’t analyze it too much.

The really ugly:

  • The really ugly part, as far as I’m concerned, comes with the premium international award changes. We’re not talking changes of 10,000 or so miles, but changes of up to 35,000 miles!!!!! I generally redeem miles for travel to North and South Asia, where business class awards have gone from 90,000 miles to 125,000 miles, while first class awards have gone up by around 25,000 miles! That’s effin crazy! Australia is seeing increases of 20,000-25,000 miles for premium cabins, while Europe and South America are seeing changes of 15,000-30,000 miles! I realize UA was a bargain prior to this, but they’re priced higher than the competition for the most part now. Come on United, this really blows. Increases of 5,000-10,000 miles are reasonable, but changes of 35,000 miles with a single “increase” are ridiculous.

I’m not surprised to see these changes, but every morning I woke up taking it day-by-day, hoping it wouldn’t happen. In fairness to United, awards to Europe and South America in business for 80,000 miles, as well as awards to Asia in business and first for 90,000/120,000 respectively were a bargain. I just wish they wouldn’t have been “un-bargained” by so much.

Now if only United would get rid of Starnet blocking, I could maybe accept this… 🙂

As I always say, burn baby, burn! You have till January 1 before the award increases are active, so it’s time to book!

Filed Under: Advice, Awards


  1. I switch from UA to NW two years ago, and the one thing i really miss is the cheap biz class awards to Asia, 90,000 was a freaking steal, every other major airline ( i may be wrong about this), has biz awards at least double the economy, so i think this was a long time coming, just be thankful it didn’t happen sooner.

    One more thing, i don’t think domestic award costs should go up just because tickets prices has gone up. The way i think of it, the cost of getting miles has gone up because of fare increases so each mile should naturally be worth more, as long as the ratio hold constant, there’s no need for an increase.

    Last thing, Lucky, since you’re a NW Plat Elite now, why don’t you give us your two cents on NW/DL changes when they start comming out.

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