United changing domestic upgrade program

In a move that brings it much, much, much closer to soon-to-be BFF Continental, United Airlines announced today that they are switching to an unlimited domestic upgrade program for their elites. They’re ditching the e-500s and CR-1s and going to a format that will put all elites in the queue for upgrades and dole them out based on status.

The details are coming out tomorrow so we don’t know everything yet, but there are plenty of UA customers who aren’t so happy about the change. And I can’t blame them. With the existing system lower-level elites actually tend to get more upgrades since they’ll put in for the otherwise “worthless” flights, like Chicago to NYC. Why? Because they fly less so they have to use their certificates up at some point. Under the new scheme higher tier elites will get the upgrades every time, without having to spend any currency.

The move will bring UA’s upgrade scheme into alignment with that of Continental. Based on that, and the new partnership that officially starts in 2 weeks, it makes a lot of sense to also expect reciprocal upgrades for elites in the two programs starting in the second half of next year.

The future of e-500 upgrade certs and CR-1s, the lower-level upgrade papers that UA gives out is definitely in question right now. I’m betting that they disappear rather quickly but that the holy grail – the System-Wide Upgrade – remains in play. And maybe Continental will start to issue them as well.

There are going to be lots of changes over the next 12 months thanks to Continental’s move from SkyTeam to Star Alliance. This is but one of many bits that frequent fliers will get to gnash our teeth over.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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