Cashing in those hard earned (or just accrued through credit card sign-up bonuses) miles for upgrades used to be a great deal. One could purchase a relatively inexpensive ticket and still fly up front without too much extra spend. Then the airlines caught on and realized that they were leaking revenue so they tightened up the rules. Flying on a cheap fare upgrading with miles became either impossible (Delta, US Airways) or required a co-pay (Continental, United Airlines, American Airlines, etc.). The co-pay basically covered the difference – and sometimes even more – to get the fare up to a higher level of total revenue for the airline, plus you were still paying the miles. Certainly the cash outlay was less than most paid business class seats but the cost wasn’t nearly as good.
United Airlines has announced that as of yesterday their elite frequent flyer customers will no longer have to pay those fees on a specific subset of routes. The routes exempted include those within the Lower 48, Canada and Alaska. Flights to Hawaii as well as most international routes will still require a co-pay for the upgrades. The co-pay fees were only introduced in January as part of a shift to permit upgrades from all fare classes. It didn’t last long for the elites.
This policy is strikingly similar to that of Continental, United’s new best buddy and hopeful merger partner. The two carriers have been aligning their frequent flyer programs and benefits for the past several months and adding this into that process isn’t all that surprising. Some of the other program alignments are noted in the links below.
This is a small give-back for a small set of customers, but it is certainly nice to se the airlines do something good for customers every now and then.
- Continental announces new top tier and system-wide upgrades
- Continental and United announce reciprocity – aka The other shoe drops
- Details on the new United unlimited upgrades scheme
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