Changes announced for the 2012 Mileage Plus program


United Airlines announced a number of details regarding their 2012 Mileage Plus program rules today on both MilePoint and FlyerTalk. The announcement puts to an end much of the speculation about the future of the loyalty program for the world’s largest airline. The news is, unsurprisingly, a mixed bag. There are plenty of winners and losers with the upcoming changes. On the whole the changes appear to be a net positive (they certainly are for me) though there will be plenty of upset customers, too.

Qualification Tiers

The qualification tiers are pretty much staying the same, though some of the names are changing. The "Premier" tag from the legacy United is sticking around as are the metallic tier levels from the legacy Continental. The 1K and Global Services names survive as well. Qualification will be based on Premium Qualifying Miles or Points and the qualification levels are 25/50/75/100K PQMs or 30/60/90/120 PQPs. These numbers are consistent with previous announcements from the company. Global Services remains invite-only for the most part (more on that below).

Also of note is that qualifying for status will now require actually flying on United or Copa metal. Only four segments are required which isn’t particularly burdensome.

The benefits for each tier are changing a bit, especially on the award miles earning front. Most notable are the changes to the bonus miles earnt for being elite. Gold and Platinum elites will now earn 50% and 75% bonus miles respectively, down from the 100% they currently earn. This is a definite downgrade for those customers. At the same time the number of bonus miles accrued for buying a premium fare is going up. At the top end a full F fare on a 3-cabin aircraft will now net a 150% bonus on award miles; that’s way better than the current 50% bonus.

Upgrades

Complimentary upgrades are mostly following the legacy Continental pattern with pretty much every route that is not marketed as a premium product being eligible for free upgrades. Additionally the regional upgrades will be valid on all flights between Hawaii and the Mainland US, making the legacy CO wide-body service eligible while it is not currently. The exclusion of Guam – Honolulu is a surprising one from this list given the aircraft configuration but other than that the list is quite favorable for all customers.

The legacy Continental policy for "instant upgrades" will continue on full-fare economy tickets. Y fares will book into F for all elites with no capacity controls. B fares for all elites will book into a capacity-limited upgrade bucket. M fares for 1Ks will also book into the capacity-limited bucket. I’m a big fan of this policy balancing the value of long-term and immediate value to the company though I know some others disagree.

Companion upgrades will be implemented as a combination of the best of both programs going forward. A companion in the same reservation as an elite customer will be eligible at the same tier level as the elite, akin to the current United policy. The benefit will also apply to the Y/B/M-Up Instant upgrades described above. Finally, a companion that is not in the same reservation as an elite can be added to the upgrade list at the airport, keeping the legacy Continental approach to the benefit live.

Another significant change is in the access to Economy plus seating. The new program will restrict advance access to those seats to Gold elites and higher. A definite loss for the lowest elite tier on this one, though the Silvers will still have access once the flight opens for check-in.

Lifetime Status

Perhaps the most significant changes are coming with the lifetime status recognition program. The policies from Continental and United were quite different historically and aligning them was the subject of much consternation and debate amongst travelers. It looks like the company hit a home run on this one. Going forward the qualification for this status will be based on actual miles flown on United metal. Going into 2012, however, the existing lifetime mileage balances between the two programs will be combined. Even better, legacy United customers will have their existing actual miles balances upgraded to their lifetime EQM balances. That’s a HUGE win for those customers.

The benefit levels will mostly match those of the legacy United program, with Gold at 1MM, Platinum at 2MM, 1K at 3MM and Global Services at 4MM. Yup, Global Services now has a published qualification level. Additionally, the legacy Continental benefit of a spouse/partner getting the same status as the lifetime elite will survive. These changes make the new lifetime status program arguably the most compelling in the industry.

The rest

At the top end the benefits package remains pretty impressive. Platinum and 1K elites will receive a reimbursement for the Global Entry application fee and no charges for award bookings inside 21 days, award changes or award redeposits. Gold elites and higher get free same-day changes to tickets, 3×70# checked baggage and they’re keeping Star Alliance Gold status.

Silver elites are the biggest losers coming out of these changes (they lose a free bag, too) which isn’t all that surprising given the size of that customer pool. A credit card will likely get you the same benefits as Premier Silver status with a lower cash outlay. At the top end the benefits are top notch, particularly in the lifetime status benefits.

I can certainly see where there are winners and losers in the new scheme. I’m mostly just happy I’m in the former category.

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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 .

6 Comments

    1. Not too surprising on DEN-HNL given the aircraft scheduled to fly the route. It is a 76H with the older BF seats in it just like the IAH and EWR routes. The ORD-HNL route is a domestic config 772 and there’s no way they’d get away with charging a premium for that upgrade. The real surprise is that they ARE charging for upgrades on the exact same airplane as it continues on HNL-GUM and vv. I suppose being the only game in town gives them certain pricing and service power on the route where they can dictate terms like that.

  1. I suppose I’m more surprised that they didn’t put the premium aircraft on ORD-HNL, while keeping the domestic product on DEN-HNL. If it was on ORD-HNL, I would think that they could pick up premium pax coming from Europe.

    1. I guess that the cargo and fleet utilization demands dictated this pattern. The aircraft will fly ORD-HNL-GUM, RON, GUM-NRT-GUM-NRT-GUM, RON, GUM-HNL-ORD. That’s a pretty busy schedule and they”d already conceded the EUA issue on GUM-NRT so this way they aren’t really mucking that up either. The 777 has roughly 15 cubic meters more cargo capacity, too, and with the west coast ops seeing more and more smaller planes it isn’t all that surprising that the larger cargo craft will be flying the ORD route.

  2. while not happy with the lower RDM bonus for Golds and Plats, it’s completely understandable. Also, Plats lost the M-up.

    Also on board with the 4 paid flights/year – no different than BA.

    But quite peeved at Silvers getting completely shafted. While I’ve made Gold for next year, I likely will not repeat the following year. I’m a student, and all the travel is on my own dime. I rely on both bags, and that’s a major loss. As for loss of E+ until booking, that is very annoying, because even though other airlines don’t have E+, I can at least choose to sit in the front. Now, I’m stuck in the back of the plane until OLCI, and good chance there will be no E+ on many of my flights by the time OLCI opens. I’d rather get the bag and E+ back, and lose carpet boarding or elite check-in.

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