I can’t help but feel like United’s response to the coronavirus situation seems a lot like their initial response to Dr. Dao being kicked off a plane, which United’s CEO described as the passenger being “reaccommodated.”
Earlier I wrote about how United has just changed their policy (even for previously booked tickets) regarding refunds. Previously if the airline changed the schedule on a flight by at least two hours they’d refund you, while now they need to change the schedule on a flight by at least 25 hours before they’ll refund you, which is outrageous.
United’s email to MileagePlus elite members
While not nearly as egregious (I think the above is one of the most despicable airline policy changes we’ve seen in years), there’s something else at United that’s leaving me scratching my head.
United’s VP of Loyalty sent an email to MileagePlus members yesterday. I want to share the note in full, because I find it to be so off base:
As a MileagePlus Premier member, you are one of our most loyal customers, and I wanted to reach out to you personally to share the steps we are taking in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, including how it pertains to your Premier status.
By now, you also should have received an email from our CEO, Oscar Munoz, outlining all the steps we are taking to ensure the safety of our customers and employees when they travel on our aircraft.
We know customers are looking for more flexibility as they make their travel plans right now, and that’s why when you book a flight with us between March 3 and March 31, 2020, you can change it for free over the next 12 months. You can read more details by visiting the United Hub.
We’ve made changes to our international and domestic schedules, and those reductions — combined with your own corporate travel policies and personal travel choices — may impact some of your flying activity in the near-term. And we appreciate that some of our members are concerned about retaining and earning the status levels they anticipated prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
At this time, we are not planning any changes for our 2021 Premier program but we will continue to evaluate our options as we learn more about how the current climate is affecting members’ activity. In the interim though, we do plan to give members who are participating in a MileagePlus 2020 Premier Status Match Challenge promotion an additional 30 days to complete their challenge. This extension will automatically be reflected in member accounts within the next week.
I will stay in touch to keep you aware of any further decisions or adjustments and, as always, want to thank you for your continued relationship, and for your loyalty to United. At times like this, we are especially grateful for the strength of our MileagePlus member community and the strong bonds that we have built together. I look forward to seeing many of you on board throughout the year.
Why this email is off base
To me this email seems kind of tone deaf for three main reasons, which I’ll share below…
“How it pertains to your Premier status”
First of all, the email starts by saying it will share the steps United is taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak, including “how it pertains to your Premier status.”
But then if you keep reading the email, the answer is actually that they aren’t taking any steps specifically for Premier members. They are offering certain waivers for all customers, and they are making exceptions for those on a challenge, but they’re doing nothing for existing Premier members. Nada.
It’s basically like “hey, let me tell you how we’re going to help you… we’re not.”
New customers are more important than existing customers
United is saying that they don’t have immediate plans to do anything for elite members, with the exception of those currently doing a status challenge. To me that sends the wrong message:
- United cares about newly acquired customers, but not existing customers
- Why is United telling existing Premier members that they’re doing something for those on a challenge? Shouldn’t they be sending out separate emails to those two groups?
It seems silly to tell people what they aren’t getting…
Just to give an example, United has a change fee waiver for tickets booked between March 3 and March 31, 2020. To me this is the equivalent of United emailing people who booked tickets in February and telling them what’s being done for people who booked tickets in March.
United will do something, whether they want to or not
Whether United wants to admit it now or not, I would be willing to bet just about anything that they will make significant concessions for elite members in 2020. Not only is it the right thing to do, but demand for travel is way down, and United is going to need people on their planes.
I’ve argued that airlines shouldn’t necessarily be saying what they’ll do now, because we have to see how long this lasts.
With that in mind, it seems silly that the moral of the story seems to be that they don’t plan on doing anything, but “will continue to evaluate options.”
This makes it sound like it’s all about the program rather than about the members.
This isn’t an uplifting message, and it doesn’t make members feel like the airline has their back. Shouldn’t the message be about how they recognize the challenges people are facing, and they don’t know the full impact of the situation yet, but they have their members’ backs and plan to do something in the coming months?
I’m confident that all of the major US carriers will offer opportunities to extend status in the coming year. I’m not necessarily saying they’ll lower the thresholds, but I think they’ll offer promotions, or something material.
As far as I’m concerned, this email from United sends the completely wrong message. In a time like this, a loyalty program should be contacting members and making them feel reassured, rather than telling them to expect nothing, and telling them what is being done for new customers.
What do you make of United’s email to MileagePlus Premier members?