United Downgrades Frequent Flyer Program Just Another Smidge

United tightened the screws on its frequent flyer program another turn, writes Upgrade: Travel Better:

For years, Premier members of the Mileage Plus program have received “500-mile” coupons…that upgraded your North American flights from coach to first class. …If you couldn’t use your 500-milers, they’d expire after one year, but all was not lost: They converted to 500 redeemable frequent flyer miles in your account.

…In another “enhancement” of the Mileage Plus program, 500-milers won’t convert to frequent flyer miles upon expiration anymore. They’ll just expire worthless if you don’t cash them in.

Recently, United has cut the lifespan of frequent flyer miles, halved the online booking bonus, limited Economy plus to United Mileage plus elites, and made other nips and tucks. Maybe if they keep spacing out the downgrades no one will notice. — BEN POPKEN

United Airlines nickel-and-dimes elites, devalues Mileage Plus even further [Upgrade: Travel Better]
(Photo: Maulleigh)


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  1. Lewis says:

    This seems particularly self-destructive, on the heels of Virgin America’s recent DOT approval.

    Look at their aircraft – spectacular. And they’ll be aiming directly at the legacy carriers’ most profitable (still?) routes, the transcon SFO/LAX-JFK, at first.

    Combine that with the new business-only carriers which fly to LON from the east coast – MaxJet, Silverjet and the stunning Eos.

    The only reason most frequent fliers stick with the legacies is because of the loyalty programs. This change at UA isn’t that big of a deal in and of itself (I don’t know any other carrier that converted expired upgrades into miles) but rather is yet another indication of the loyal customer-unfriendly attitude which the legacy carriers seem to have.

    I can’t wait for Virgin America.

  2. Wormfather says:

    Luckily, no one in their right mind flies united.

    …If a tree falls in the woods…

  3. Mark Ashley says:

    @LewisNYC, American Airlines still converts 500-mile upgrades to miles if you want them to. And their upgrade certificates don’t expire, either.

  4. joeblevins says:

    Delta got rid of free Crown Room memberships to Platinum flyers.

  5. United certainly seems devoted to re-entering bankruptcy.

    Who in their right mind would fly this airline? I did flew United for the first time in ten years, and here’s what I got:

    -Late departure.
    -Late arrival in Chicago.
    -Missed connection with flagship service to SFO – a flight that left less than half full.
    -500 foot long lines at Chicago “customer service” counters – which were staffed by one or two agents.
    -Incomprehensible Indian phone agents who wanted to route me from ORD to Burbank, LAX, then SJC!
    -Out of four SFO-bound flights, two cancelled in one day.

    That was just one day in my life as a United flyer.

    Never again!

  6. mzito says:

    United’s separate “Economy Plus” section has been limited to elite flyers for years – its a separate cabin. Non-elites can either purchase a membership for $300 for a year, or request a buy-up at check-in time (a variable cost, typically around $30-50). In exchange for that, you get a couple extra inches of legroom, legroom that anyone over 5’8″ will appreciate.

    However, the 500-miler thing stinks, and is helping to shift my business elsewhere.

  7. cabinaero says:

    The non-conversion of e500s is really tough… I’ve got 23 that I will never ever use because almost all of my flights are long-haul internationals which cannot be upgardes with e500s. Sigh.

    And I see some people are still intent on beating the same dead horse.

  8. cabinaero says:

    @mzito: Ben might have been referring to restriction of E+ to United elites only. I know that Star Gold and full fare Y no longer get E+

  9. cabinaero says:

    Just got off the phone with Mileage Plus — you have until June 1 to convert banked 500 milers into redeemable miles. I just converted my 23 back into 11,500 RDMs.

    I knew about this for awhile, just hadn’t gotten around to actually doing anything about it.

  10. J.T Dabbagian says:

    Depressing, really. As I said in my blog, Virgin America is going to beat in every one of the US airlines if they don’t get their act together. Untied seems to think they’ll keep their people no matter what.

    And oddly enough, when I wrote the blog entry, I specifically fired at United…


  11. chocxtc says:

    All the American carriers are demonstrating questionable customer service practices. Unfortunately, the FAA will not allow more foreign carriers gate openings to increase competition. But we as the consumer must keep the pressure on airlines like United to improve their service and remind them that if customers like some us do not fly them anymore there will be no need for bankruptcy, they will be under water too fast.