Well, United and Continental have announced some changes to their mileage program for next year to further align the programs. Based on this thread on FlyerTalk, you would think the world is coming to an end.
Before I provide my thoughts, check out the changes on the United side here. To summarize:
- Elite qualifying miles from Continental and United will be merged at the end of 2011 to count towards elite status with the combined airline. In other words, if you earn 50,000 elite qualifying miles next year on Continental and 50,000 elite qualifying miles on United, you’ll earn the top tier status.
- In the past, 1Ks earned two confirmed regional upgrades for every quarter in which they fly at least 10,000 miles on United, for a maximum of eight per year. Now members earn two confirmed regional upgrades for passing 75,000 elite qualifying miles, and another two for every 25,000 elite qualifying miles earned beyond that, with no maximum.
- 1K will still require 100,000 elite qualifying miles, though they have upped the segments required from 100 to 120.
- Nothing changes with systemwide upgrades on the United front, though Continental systemwide upgrades now have the same fare class requirement that United has.
- United is creating a quasi-elite tier for those that earn 75,000 elite qualifying miles, giving them upgrade priority over other Premier Executive members.
- Continental’s Presidential Platinum program will be merged into United’s Global Services program.
People seem to be really ticked off by these changes, and to a certain extent I can understand. But there are added benefits with these changes for some. In my case, actually, I’ll be better off with these changes than I was before. There will (theoretically) be fewer 1Ks since United raised the segment required to reach 1K, and as a 1K that logs about 250,000 elite qualifying miles per year, I’ll be earning an extra eight confirmed regional upgrades. So that’s a huge win for me. The only reason I mention this is because some people are saying there’s no upside to this for anyone.
Anyway, let me briefly tackle these issues one by one. United raising the segment qualification requirement for 1K is downright stupid. On a per mile basis, I’d be willing to bet that passengers qualifying for 1K on segments are much more profitable than passengers qualifying on miles. 100 segments is tougher to fly than 100,000 miles, so to raise that requirement doesn’t seem like a smart move. That being said, as a numbers guy I’ve always been annoyed by the fact that it took 30 segments to qualify for Premier, 60 segments to qualify for Premier Executive, and 100 segments to qualify for 1K. Where’s the logic in that? Now, I think it would make more sense to change the requirement to 25, 50, and 100 respectively, but at least they’re consistent now. Still, that’s not a smart move, in my opinion.
On the confirmed regional upgrade front, there’s no doubt it’s a huge loss for most. Someone that earns around 100,000 elite qualifying miles per year is losing four confirmed regional upgrades per year. On the other hand, those Premier Executives flying over 75,000 miles per year are gaining two confirmed regional upgrades. And finally United is offering an incentive for flying over 100,000 miles per year beyond the two systemwide upgrades for every 50,000 miles flown. Ideally it wouldn’t come at the cost of a current benefit, but I can see where they’re coming from. I have a feeling United is very much going to adopt the Continental pricing model of instant upgrades on full fare tickets, and eliminating advance upgrades as much as possible will help them in meeting their goals with that.
I think it’s very smart for United to differentiate Premier Executive members that fly 50,000 miles vs. 90,000 miles, so the quasi-elite tier at 75,000 miles makes a lot of sense to me.
So while I personally benefit from these changes, I’m trying to be objective here — with the exception of raising the segment requirement to 120 in order to achieve 1K, these changes are reasonable. Positive? For the most part, no, but reasonable given the size of the merger. Now, are these the changes in the months ahead that Jeff Smisek thinks we’ll like? I hope not. 😉