Details of the 2011 United/Continental Elite programs announced


Both Continental and United Airlines announced updates to their loyalty programs today, the first such announcements since the two companies merged earlier this year. As expected the programs are quite closely aligned, with aspects from each being used in the new program. The changes are a bit of a mixed bag, depending on just how much one flies and how much one spends, but overall there is nothing incredibly surprising in the announcements (UA’s; CO’s).

mp_winseat_214x253[1] Perhaps the most important point is that earning on both programs will be combined for qualification into the 2012 program. A customer who credits 10K EQMs to OnePass and 45K EQMs to Mileage Plus has still probably made a mistake but at least the programs will fix it for them when the 2012 program takes effect.

The duration of the program will also be changing. Rather than running through the end of February of the following year the program will now run through the end of January. The main impact of this change will be on folks who make big runs every other year in the first couple months to maintain their status; otherwise it is mostly a non-issue.

One of the most significant changes affecting both programs is the issuance metrics for upgrade instruments. System-wide upgrades (SWUs) and Confirmed Regional upgrades (CR1s) will be changing in both programs. On the SWU side, the United approach to the certificates will be the surviving solution. This means six SWUs will be earnt upon reaching the 100K EQMs/120EQPs tier and two additional SWUs can be earnt for each additional 50K EQMs/60 EQPs. The SWUs will also remain restricted to W fares or higher. For OnePass members this is a change as the Continental SWUs were valid on all fares, though only four were issued annually.

For CR1s the earning rules will be changing rather significantly. OnePass members will have their first opportunity to actually earn CR1s while Mileage Plus members will see their earning ratio decreased. Going forward two CR1s will be earnt at the 75K EQM/90 EQP level and two more for each additional 25K EQMs/30EQPs. For Mileage Plus 1Ks their earning rates will be decreased, while for folks in the 75K range the ability to earn the CR1s is a nice development. It should be noted that the Continental version of the CR1s (and the new SWUs) are going to be issued “mid-year” which could mean anything from April to October based on last year’s performance.

Finally, the two programs have noted that the 75K and 100K levels will have different upgrade priorities in the 2012 program. This is a pretty good indication that there will be four published tiers to the program in 2012, with the qualifications at 25/50/75/100K EQMs or 30/60/90/120 EQPs.

For top spenders the Global Services program will be surviving, replacing Presidential Platinum. This includes the unpublished qualification rules and mostly unpublished benefits. Not too much of a surprise there as the GS program is much more well established.

So who wins and who loses?

  • The United folks who fly 75K-100K are going to benefit from the addition of the 4th tier, improved UDU/EUA priority and the ability to earn CR1s now whereas they previously could not.
  • All Continental elites who fly more than 75K are going to benefit from the CR1s that they will earn.
  • Continental elites who fly a LOT will benefit from getting more SWUs, though the fare restrictions being placed on them are an unfortunate side effect of this change. A net negative for leisure travelers but a positive for folks flying on the company dime.
  • Folks in Mileage Plus who fly 50K-75K will lose in that they’ll now have two tiers ahead of them in the upgrade queue (three if you count GS) rather than being bundled with the 75K-100K folks previously.
  • Mileage Plus members who fly a LOT will lose out on the CR1 earning rates. What used to be accomplished with only 100K in flying will now take 150K or more.
  • Everyone who flies a TON will win with increased CR1 earnings over 150K.

Overall the airlines have been marketing their merger efforts as combining the best of both programs. This initial announcement seems to suggest that they mostly are doing so. Not perfect for everyone, but no major surprises. Yet.

Oh, and they have combined their marketing and PR groups pretty impressively. They’re using the same stock photo images (the woman above) on both announcement web pages.

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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, LinkedIn and .

11 Comments

  1. UA 1K here who renews with around 105k EQM this year. I don’t see anything I gain from these changes. I might switch to major burn mode next year and only aim for 50k EQM for a change, so maybe that’s main benefit.

    My wife is a UA 1P with around 60k EQM this year. I don’t think she’s going to benefit from this change either. I suspect she’ll end up with 2P next year (might have anyway, though, in all fairness).

  2. At 105K EQMs you lose a few CR1s but otherwise it is the same. With the advent of the UDU system unless you’re on a lot of p.s. flights the CR1 issue should be too horrible.

    At 60K you lose a little in 2012 because of the new 75K level that will put you another tier down in the UDU queue.

    That said, if you’re paying too much extra to get to the 2P level I’d reconsider. Buy cheaper and splurge in cash when you need it. Unless your UDu rate is great as a 2P you’re probably wasting money acquiring and maintaining that level.

  3. Seth, we’re based at SFO, so we’d have to go out of our way to avoid UA on many trips, so reaching 1P or 2P won’t be difficult (gotta do something with the SWUs I earned this year). And the changes so far aren’t horrible enough to make me want to punish UA for it. It’s just not an encouragement to fly more revenue, and I still have tons of miles in various programs that I need to use for something, so taking a break from the top status chase game seems like a good thing.

    I am much more concerned about E+.

  4. As a United 1K flyer, I have to say that I am disappointed in today’s announcement, and in particular that they are really maintaining two separate programs with two separate sets of elite priority for all of 2011.

    In particular, I feel like if I fly on CO-operated flights in 2011, I will be treated as a second class citizen, and I suspect that CO elites will feel like second class citizens on UA-operated flights.

    I know that integrating the programs will create some winners and losers and that it happened late in the year, but a main purpose of merging the airlines is to create a more powerful route system – and as such, I hoped to be able to access all UA & CO flights on an equal basis. The impact of what they announced is that I should try to continue to book UA-operated flights whenever I can. I think this is hugely suboptimal and that they should worked toward merging the programs much more quickly – even if it meant giving CO elites some favor, for example by making Platinum (75,000 miles) CO flyers equal to 1Ks. And then invite us all to fly both airlines as if they were one.

  5. I can see it going both ways, Carl. It would be nearly impossible to have the programs merged by January 1, 2011. So the choice is to either align slowly throughout the year and truly merge at a defined point in time – 1/1/12 – or to try to do the merge mid-year. I can completely understand why they’ve chosen the latter.

    It does suck that the upgrade priorities are different on the different metal but it is just as bad for CO folks as it is for UA folks. I got my 100K EQMs on CO this year and I’m prioritized after folks who have 50,001 EQMs on UA. At least the UA 1Ks are only after CO Platinums.

    Other reciprocity benefits like SWU and CR1 validity across both carriers will be coming mid year of 2011 so there are plenty of improvements that will come along throughout the time leading up to the true merger of the programs.

    But trying to get that merger done in 3 months would have been a nightmare and a recipe for failure. I’m quite glad they didn’t choose to go that route.

  6. I agree it would have been difficult to have 1 program by Jan 1 2011 (or Feb 1, really) but it would have been possible to perform the calculation of adding up EQMs from both sides and then have a single set of elite priority across both metal. I know you can never please everyone, but you can make it so that all the flyers can fly either metal and be treated equivalently (other than GS).

    I did make the point that CO elites will feel like second class on UA metal – that’s not good either. It should have been possible to create it, if not for Feb 1, then for maybe Spring, and given that there should be less elites due to lack of DEQM and TEQM in 2010, it should create a decent program for elites across both Metal.

    I understand it’s not happening, but a year is a long time to have such dramatically different treatment on what’s supposed to be a merged airline. My CO plane last night was painted with the United name. I was in coach with no chance of an upgrade. And I don’t feel good if CO Plats are slotted behind Premier Execs either.

    I think there’s a middle ground between saying that couldn’t get it done for the start of the year, and punting all the way to 2012.

    Delta/NW integrated much, much faster. They gave fliers 1000 bonus miles to link their accounts, and it really was a pretty smooth process. There were unhappy NW elites who felt they were worse off, but putting it off wouldn’t have made them any happier when it did happen.

  7. Carl, I think that your memory of the NW/DL integration timing is a bit off. Their merger closed in October ’08 and it was only in early 2009 that accounts could be linked and points moved between them. They chose to fully transition everything to SkyMiles in September 2009 and issue new credentials to everyone in January 2010.

    They did have the advantage of qualification levels being the same rather than different rules at the top end but even still there were issues with reciprocity on each other’s metal for a bit of time while they worked everything out.

    The UA/CO merger timeline certainly isn’t perfect but I do not think it is really all that much different than the DL/NW one at this point.

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