Today United Airlines has announced that effective immediately MileagePlus award miles no longer expire. That’s great news… or is it?
How United Explains Mileage Expiration Change
Luc Bondar, United’s Vice President of Loyalty and President of MileagePlus, had the following to say regarding this policy change, saying he wants customers to know that they’re committed to them in the long haul:
“We want to demonstrate to our members that we are committing to them for the long-haul and giving customers a lifetime to use miles is an exceptionally meaningful benefit. Our MileagePlus program provides customers more ways to earn and use miles than any other U.S. airline. More customers used miles to book award trips in 2018 than in any year before, and we expect with today’s announcement that even more will use miles to travel the world in the years to come.”
My Skepticism With Miles Not Expiring
Miles not expiring may sound like a wholly positive change, though there are two sides to everything. Let’s keep in mind that Delta was the first airline to add a policy of not expiring miles a few years back, and Delta isn’t exactly the program most of us look to as being particularly rewarding.
Previously MileagePlus miles expired after 18 months of inactivity. That seems like a pretty fair policy to me. You don’t even need to fly to keep your account active, but rather any activity will qualify, from using one of United’s credit cards, to using the United shopping portal, to a bunch of other activities.
This change is no doubt positive for members who weren’t engaged in the program. Those who fly United every few years and don’t have any other partner activity will continue to be able to rack up miles. I guess that’s good news, and makes them feel rewarded. At the same time, if they don’t fly with United every few years and don’t bother to have any activity otherwise, is United really getting anything in exchange for the miles they’re issuing?
There’s significant liability associated with miles not expiring. There’s a reason airlines expired them in the past, which is that there were billions of dollars worth of unredeemed miles, and realistically a good number of those would have never been redeemed, as there’s always breakage with loyalty programs.
Keep in mind that United announced some massive MileagePlus changes earlier this year, which move them closer to Delta SkyMiles. This includes eliminating award charts and also eliminating close-in ticketing fees, among other things.
While miles not expiring sounds positive — and independently ultimately is — every frequent flyer program has budgets and limited resources. They’re essentially investing in those who can’t be bothered to earn a single mile every 18 months, presumably on some level at the expense of those members who are active.
What do you make of United’s decision to no longer have miles expire?