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.
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.
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.
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.
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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