United removes extra first class award inventory for top elites


The first – and hopefully only – announcement of changes to the 2013 United Airlines MileagePlus program came out late this evening and unfortunately it is a downgrade. The company is shuffling the fare buckets they use for awards in to first class on their 3-cabin planes, making it harder for top elites to get access to rewards in that cabin. The current version of the program has both upgrades and awards for top elites redeeming into the ON fare bucket. Other members redeem into the O bucket for awards and ON for upgrades. Effective February 1, 2013 the ON bucket will be used only for upgrades. From the announcement:

[W]e currently use the same fare class (ON) for both upgrades and Saver travel awards redeemed from MileagePlus Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services accounts. A consequence of this pairing has been fewer seats being available for upgrades.

To remedy this imbalance, we will begin using ON exclusively for upgrades into United Global First and United First on 3-cabin aircraft effective February 1, 2013. Having a dedicated fare class for these upgrades will enable us to offer differentiated availability. To accommodate this change, we will no longer offer a dedicated fare class for Saver travel awards redeemed from MileagePlus Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services accounts. Instead, the inventory once used for ON class will be allocated to O class, which will become the sole booking class used for Saver Awards in United Global First and United First on 3-cabin aircraft.

The spin is decent enough and I understand the direction they’re coming from. At the same time, it is not hard to see that this is a bit of a downgrade for the top elites in that they no longer have access to extra awards. There’s something to be said for the theory that the top elites are the only ones who will have enough miles to redeem for those seats anyways, though CC churners/expense accounts seem to build mileage balances pretty quickly, too. If this is the only downgrade to the program then I’m OK with it, mostly because I cannot see redeeming for UA first class as a matter of habit. But it is definitely a downgrade. Such is life with the loyalty programs…

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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.

14 Comments

  1. Disappointed, only because I fear there could be more downgrades like this to come. For someone who would rather book into SQ, LH or TG first with miles I’m not too worried, but still.. :/

  2. It’s disappointing, but ultimately not something i’m going to get too upset over (especially if this really does represent the only major change to the program for 2013).

  3. Except that SQ F is unbookable from UAMP anyway

    We just hope that OZ and NH doesn’t tighten their F redemptions

  4. So what does this mean? Are there saver awards or not? Not that I would pay first for UA if I co usd get LH or other

  5. If this is moving from ON to O… that’s a big upgrade for the lower teir MP members right?

  6. @Andrew

    From the flyertalk thread[1]:

    “we will begin using ON exclusively for upgrades into United Global First and United First on 3-cabin aircraft effective February 1, 2013.”

    and

    “We’ll also continue to offer better access to Saver Awards in United First (on 2-cabin aircraft), United BusinessFirst and United Business for Premier Platinum members and above, and better access to Saver Awards in United Economy for all Premier members.”

    So the space is still there but just for upgrades.

    1. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/united-mileageplus-consolidated/1418844-changes-o-coming-feb-1-2013-a.html

    1. Yes, JD, it only really is a downgrade for those redeeming for outright awards, not upgrades. But redeeming for upgrades is generally such a horrid value that I don’t really consider that staying the same as of any use. The fare plus co-pay plus miles requirements are just silly to spend for UA’s GlobalFirst product.

  7. Didn’t pre-merger United not have special saver award for elites? I don’t think it makes that much difference, although I’m not sure why they couldn’t just add another fare class for upgrade space.

  8. this is actually horrible news, i actually find the ON space from time to time on my HNL-NRT-BKK flights and it is a bargain at 50k miles one way and so easy to book on the website.

  9. What will be the Fare Classes for
    Standard First Awards,
    First Saver Awards
    Business to First on a three class flight Upgrade
    Coach to Business on a three class flight Upgrade
    Coach to First on a two class flight Upgrade?

    If only O fare class for Saver and Standard awards, how will that work? For xO the first x request no matter if they are Saver or Standard will be fulfilled?

    1. The only thing changing, Michael D, is access to saver awards in 3-cabin F for top elites. Everything else is still the old buckets, including separate inventory for saver and standard award and separate buckets for 2-cabin versus 3-cabin.

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