Further United MileagePlus Devaluations for 2015

United MileagePlus is one of the loyalty programs which has made the most tweaks over the past couple of years. They are keeping true to that pattern today, with further “enhancements” to the 2015 MileagePlus program that will negatively impact many of their Premier members. These changes are in addition to United announcing that MileagePlus will go revenue based in 2015, literally copying Delta’s every aspect of Delta’s SkyMiles program.

So what further changes have just been announced?

Copa is launching their own loyalty program

UA Insider announced on FlyerTalk this morning that in addition to updates to the 2015 MileagePlus program, Copa Airlines will be launching their own loyalty program in July 2015.

Copa’s current loyalty program is MileagePlus, so all standard Premier benefits are also available when traveling on Copa. Prior to the integration of Continental and United, Copa’s loyalty program was Continental OnePass.

Continental used to own a stake in Copa, but that has all been sold off, so it’s understandable Copa wants more control of their loyalty program at this point.

As of July 1, 2015 for travel on Copa Airlines:

  • Premier members will no longer be eligible for instant upgrades on qualifying full fare economy tickets
  • Premier members will no longer be eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades
  • Miles flown will not count towards earning lifetime MileagePlus Premier status (million miler status)
  • Flights will not count towards the four segment minimum for MileagePlus Premier status

MileagePlus members with Regional Premier Upgrades or Global Premier Upgrades can still use these to upgrade on Copa flights after July 1, 2015.

Copa Airlines is still a member of Star Alliance, so traditional Star Alliance Silver and Gold benefits will apply to Premier members flying on Copa.

It’ll be interesting to see the details around Copa’s new program, and if it will be revenue based like MileagePlus. If it’s anything like LifeMiles, I’m going to be super excited. 😉

Changes to mileage upgrades on p.s.

This is probably the biggest blow to Premier members. While Complimentary Premier Upgrades are not available on United p.s. flights between SFO/LAX and JFK, mileage upgrades are. Premier members are exempt from domestic mileage upgrade co-pays, including the hefty ones on p.s. and Hawaii flights.

United-BusinessFirst

As of February 1, 2015, this exception is ending. From united.com:

Premier members who request a MileagePlus Upgrade Award on or after February 1, 2015, for a p.s. route between New York JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco will no longer be exempt from the co-pay.

MileagePlus Upgrade Award Chart for p.s. Flights as of February 1, 2015

Fare Class Mileage Requirement Co-Pay
Y 7,500 $0
B 10,000 $0
M/E/U 15,000 $75
H/Q 15,000 $125
V 17,500 $175
W 17,500 $225
S/T/K/L/G/N 20,000 $250

United-SFO-JFK-economy-fare

On a $340.20 “K” fare economy ticket between SFO and JFK, you’ll be required to front 40,000 MileagePlus miles and a $500 co-pay to upgrade a roundtrip ticket. 

That’s ridiculous, especially considering that American still allows upgrades to business class on their A321T flights between LAX/SFO and JFK. As an Executive Platinum member, upgrades are complimentary, just as they are on other domestic flights. For Gold or Platinum members, upgrades are in the standard 500-mile sticker format. If using miles to upgrade, it’s 15,000 miles and a $75 co-pay one-way, which is leaps and bounds better than United’s new policy.

Global Entry fee waiver ending

United was fairly innovative when they announced their 2012 MileagePlus program, in that they provided a Global Entry application fee waiver ($100) for Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services members.

Well, looks like that’s gone as of February 1, 2015. From United.com:

As of February 1, 2015, MileagePlus will no longer provide a payment code which can be used as the form of payment for the $100 Global Entry application fee. Eligible members may continue to request a payment code until January 31, 2015.

Global Entry credentials are good for five years, so hopefully all those who want Global Entry can get their waiver in time.

And even if you can’t take advantage of this, it’s still worth the $100.

Baggage reductions for Premier Golds

I’ve always thought United had very generous luggage allowances for their elite members. Currently, Premier Gold members can check up to three bags, 70 pounds each, free of charge in economy. This is insanely generous.

As of February 1, 2015, Premier Gold members traveling in economy on domestic tickets will only be allowed two free checked bags, up to 70 pounds each. From United.com:

For all United Economy® tickets issued or re-issued before February 1, 2015, Premier Gold members are eligible for three complimentary checked bags at 70 pounds (32 kg) each. For United Economy tickets issued or re-issued on or after February 1, 2015, Premier Gold members are eligible for two complimentary checked bags at 70 pounds (32 kg) each for travel between the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For travel to and from select international markets, Premier Gold members are eligible for three complimentary checked bags at 70 pounds (32 kg) each.

Not the worst change, but still another negative one.

Premier status won’t extend to non-status travelers on award tickets

Currently, if you’re a Premier member and you book an award trip for somebody else, they “inherit” your Premier status. This is regardless of whether the award travel includes the Premier member on the same booking. This was a nice unpublished benefit that no other major airline offers.

This “benefit” is no more as of April 15, 2015. From United.com’s checked baggage policy page:

Eligibility for the checked baggage service charge waiver for travelers on award tickets issued or re-issued on or after April 15, 2015, is based on each traveler’s Premier status at check-in, rather than the status of the member whose miles were used to purchase the award ticket.

This was a fantastic benefit for Premier members booking award travel for family or friends. For example, if a Premier 1K booked award travel for his parents in economy, they’d both be treated as Premier 1Ks when traveling. This includes Premier Access check-in, Group 1 boarding, complimentary access to Economy Plus, up to three free checked bags at 70 pounds each, etc.

While gifting somebody an award ticket is still a gift, it’s not as nice when they’ll need to pay to check their luggage, pay for Economy Plus, etc.

On the flip side, I can totally understand how this dilutes the experience for actual Premiers. I can’t even begin to imagine how many award tickets are flown on United each day, let alone those booked by Premier members. It’s hardly surprising given that United will potentially be able to generate more revenue on checked baggage fees, Economy Plus, etc.

Bottom line

I guess we should just be happy that United made changes to MileagePlus that weren’t a direct copy of Delta’s changes to SkyMiles.

However, with United increasing the requirements to quality for status, it seems a little ridiculous that they’d make so many negative changes to the program.

While none of these changes are especially drastic, it’s death by a thousand cuts for United flyers.

Will any of these changes negatively impact you?

Comments

  1. PS change just about is my nail in the coffin on my loyalty to UA. If AA would status match me I would switch in a heartbeat. I can upgrade for less on VX now. Unless I am on a red eye I don’t care about a lie flat and would rather have better service.

  2. This is so depressing! There are very few benefits left with United’s elite plan. I wonder when they will start taking away other lifetime mileage benefits. Thanks for the heads up. I’d rather hear it from you than United (which I will get a note from in 2 days, I’m sure).

  3. Guess I’ll shift my flying to Virgin America. Not worth flying a subpar airline if there are no tangible benefits of doing so. It’s so difficult to upgrade personal travel as it is I don’t know why they’re making it even worse…

  4. Copa change-not an issue

    Upgrade on ps flights-not an issue because I fly into EWR normally due to easy access to downtown and much of my business is done on the NJ side or water taxi gets me to NYC

    Global Entry Fee-I will need to check on when mine expires from original offer. Getting Nexus this week so might not matter.

    Baggage for Golds-not an issue since I am 1K and 2MM

    Premier Status not extended-I will give my MM match to my daughter and let my wife use Chase Explorer for benefits (seems credit cards are more valuable than actual flight miles now)

    Let’s just face it, the consolidation will continue to eat away these programs until the economy bottoms out again and they really need to find passengers.

  5. It’s looking like a race to the bottom between DL and UA. Just wail until AA joins the race in 2016….Hopefully we’ll get a nice recession before then.

  6. This makes me sad, but I’m surprised that they didn’t put any restrictions on using RPUs on the PS flights while making other changes there. I was fully expecting something like having to book at least a W fare.

  7. I am entertained by so many of the above comments about United somehow being so mean or disruptive. I am UA Lifetime Gold, as is my husband. Most of the benefits being eliminated have no impact on most travelers, or simply reduce the benefit to what is comparably offered by its peer airlines. I don’t fly p.s. service at all, so I could care less about that change–I don’t assume my status will get me around every fee or give my comp’d upgrades every time I fly. The Copa change makes sense for true Copa frequent flyers so they’re not diluted by the overwhelmingly larger number of UA flyers, and it barely makes any dent for any UA flyer, anyway. The Gold baggage allowance is still more generous than AA or DL and is more generous than international airlines…and I never fly with more than a single checked bag, anyway–usually preferring to carry on if at all possible. I’ll be thrilled to see UA make some money from ridiculous people who have more than 2 checked bags. I already have Global Entry, and most frequent flyers on any airline likely already have it, so this perk is not much to give up for Plats/IKs ($20/yr at most). And the elimination of recognition of non-status travelers is a boon for everyone with status. To me, UA is tightening up its benefits and eliminating ones that needlessly give away revenue. People are welcome to flock to AA for the perceived better benefits now…and then I will laugh when AA switches to match UA and DL in all the same ways, as they inevitably will, in 2015. UA will then have pared itself from the discount/benefit seeking interlopers who don’t make it any money, and I’ll have fewer people competing with me for the benefits I still very much enjoy. UA is behaving like a business, and some people simply cannot accept that a business thrives ONLY by making more money and only benefitting those customers who pay it the most money.

  8. Reading back into the OMAaT archives, I thought I read you used to be a heavy UA traveler.
    Sounds like you knew to get out early. 1/3 of the way to lifetime, and doesn’t seem like not much point even when you get there.

  9. @Bill

    I don’t think you meant this: “…and some people simply cannot accept that a business thrives ONLY by benefitting those customers who pay it the most money.” I edited out the first part for clarity of the statement, but the meaning remains the same.

    Everyone accepts what makes a business thrive: A business thrives by benefiting ALL THE CUSTOMERS WHO PROVIDE IT WITH REVENUE. It’s now benefiting them less. Just because the diminution in perks doesn’t impact YOU directly, it does impact others.

    Also, your condescension and contempt* for the posters on this entry, and really serves as an example to other…people who hate people(?). Or I don’t hold those with differing perspectives in high contempt. Well done!

    Me? I left UA long ago (YES! MORE UPGRADES FOR YOU!) due to their declining/terrible service standards, so I personally don’t care. But I’m certainly disappointed for those who are impacted by the changes, because it’s just more disappointment for them. I empathize, but then some people don’t, and instead hold people in high contempt when their worldview isn’t shared.

    *
    “I am entertained by …”
    “…ridiculous people…”
    “People are welcome to flock to AA for the perceived better benefits now…and then I will laugh when…”
    “…the discount/benefit seeking interlopers” [really?]

  10. All they are doing is “thinning the herd”
    Technically they are still rewarding the FREQUENT High Mileage customers – which in effect is the original basis for Elite status. We’ve just been spoiled.
    As long as they don’t cancel or downgrade the Million Mile Program.

  11. Former 1K, turned Plat and in 2015 a GM/TODER is not surprised by this. Moved to AA 3 years ago and couldn’t be happier, for the time being.

    @Bill, glad these handful of cuts don’t hurt you but Smisek has promised the street more profits via ancillary fees so you will feel it eventually. You’ve been warned and tolerating United’s decisions when they devalue every 6 months will affect all in the long run.

    As Ben states this is consistent with United plans of late, United wants to have a less generous FF program like Delta but cannot match Delta’s operational efficiency or service. Any business that continues to alienate their best customers is bound to run into trouble when industry tailwinds subside or customers wise up.

    Informed customers can be a free agent with a few credit cards or pick a niche program like AS or a presently valuable AA. There will remain strategies to avoid the pitfalls of industry consolidation and an improved economy but FFers need to vote with their $ and maximize their benefits.

  12. @Bill –

    >some people simply cannot accept that a business thrives ONLY by making more money and only benefitting those customers who pay it the most money

    I usually try not to be rude and/or offensive in internet posts, but I’m going to make an exception here.

    This is the most stupid statement I’ve heard from anyone about any subject in a good number of days, and I’ve had a pretty rough week surrounded by fools. Really, you think the only way to make more money is by only benefitting the people who spend the most? From what unaccredited online diploma mill did you get your MBA?

    First, to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski, it’s a “stunningly superficial” analysis of what goes in to consumer marketing.

    Second, it’s empirically untrue. I’m not even going to bother enunciating counterexamples. If you can’t think of them, no point in debating.

    Third, good on ya that the changes don’t affect you. They do affect others. Fortunately, I too am a MM and (at least for now), my wife shares my status, and so I can arrange to have award tickets run through her or me, as I don’t gift my miles.

    These changes are in no way good for anyone, except perhaps for UA’s short term stock appreciation.

    As a MM, you should be very concerned about the continued trajectory of this airline. To inappropriately borrow the famous passage: “then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    Greg

  13. Lucky do you see the new Copa program as a positive as a new way to redeem premium awards for Star partners? Although the details (mileage levels, fuel surcharges, earning structure, etc) remain unknown I think this could be good.

  14. The “thinning the herd” comment is a good one. Everyone should Google Jeff Smisek’s interview on CNBC and watch it. See where he commented on the depth of the “Elite” in the UA program due to the merger with Continental and the number of business markets they serve.

    When 50% of the plane boards in Group 2, it’s time to make the experience feel more exclusive. When anyone with $35 spare change can enter a United Club, it’s time to make things more exclusive. According to many reports the above is the primary reason UA is altering their elite programs to be profitability based (DUH, this is a business after all) and to reward (not award) their best customers.

    I am Gold and I will be “hurt” by many of the changes but what can I expect? Why wouldn’t you reserve your best treatments for the customers who attribute to an outsized proportion of your company’s ability to generate net income? So what if you fly to London for $650. Great job being cheap. Do you think you’re some golden god to the airline? No. You represent low margin. Economic 101. Wouldn’t you want to treat the person buying a $650 ticket to fly 500 miles better? I think so.

    Too many people treat the airline as an industry and not a business. Like banks. Checking accounts aren’t a human right, nor is a 5 hour transcontinental flight. Stop being so entitled and lower your unreasonable expectations.

    Unhappy with only two free checked bags at 70 pounds? Sorry you’re Kim Kardashian. Get over yourselves.

    James

  15. For several years now, my husband’s work has paid for his dozen-ish annual JFKSFO flights in Economy. He upgrades those flights to United P.S. BusinessFirst with miles out of his own account. One of the things he’s really liked about post-merger United is that doing so is easy — no need to call customer service, just tap a few buttons on the website and it all happens automatically.

    But now, his upgrade to BusinessFirst is going to cost him 40,000 of his own miles plus $500 of his own dollars on top of whatever his company paid. While United miles are probably the most valuable of the US carriers, he basically runs a deficit — he spends way more miles upgrading each flight than he earns, so he isn’t accruing ANY miles for personal vacations at a later date. (Right now he’s using a United credit card to keep his balance up). Plus, a trip to Europe in Business Class is now 140,000 miles PER PERSON, so the value went down a whole lot this past year.

    Now we’re pricing out the other options. We hadn’t done that in a while but we’re loving what JetBlue Mint’s entry to the JFK/SFO/LAX lie-flat business class market has done to the base fares for ALL the carriers.

  16. > further “enhancements” to the 2015 MileagePlus program

    I used to work for HP. As the company’s benefits dwindled over the years, the changes were published in the corporate newsletter. You could find the bad news under the “For Your Benefit” banner. This became a joke among my work buddies that we revive to this day: “Hey, you’ve now got a huge health insurance co-pay … FOR YOUR BENEFIT!”

  17. About the PS flights: I usually use regional premier upgrades for those anyway… it was the best use of those upgrades there is (other than flights to Hawaii perhaps) It’s definitely a negative change, perhaps the most negative one since the miles devaluation. but it may make it easier to score an upgrade on those flights for non-elites, silvers and golds.
    The checked bags for gold members? I think they’re still too generous actually. Premier golds should get way fewer benefits in the opinion of this 1k… but I might not feel that way if I was just premier gold.

  18. @Bill – I love how everyone is looking at this through their own lens, but the fact is that these are huge changes for their corporate travelers because of the importance of the JFK-SFO/LAX route. When you change that, you have issues. The reason they’re doing this right now is because they’re very profitable, but they’re not thinking ahead to a time when profit may go down due to the economy, competition, or fuel prices rising astronomically again as they may well do.

  19. I’m always humored by those who come to the defense of poor old United and Delta whenever they continue their plummet in search of short-term profitability wins.

    If a Loyalty program is designed to benefit those who are already loyal to you, then United is doing an OK job, even with these cuts. But if a Loyalty program is designed to *create* new loyal passengers, then it’s downward trajectory makes me wonder if United is looking beyond the next couple quarters…

    As a younger business traveler, I’m only now building my loyalty with various programs. However, in the past couple years, my travel continues to increase in frequency, allowing me to gain higher status than the year prior (SPG Plat, AA Plat now, etc). So here’s the thing, as UA and DL devalue their own programs, sure they’re driving the existing “low-value” elites to AA, but they’re also driving FUTURE REVENUE to AA as well. Why deal with poor service and bad lower elite levels (and no upgrades) on UA’s lower tiers (as I’m building my way up), when I can get somewhat-less-poor service and a moderate number of upgrades (ie stickers) on AA before I get to top-tier? And once I get to AA’s top tier, things look much better – at least for now.

    And now that Airlines are increasing the difficulty of status-matches, guess what? I’m more likely to stick with AA, even when they make their own changes in 2016. Especially considering their “negative” changes for 2015 were minimal at best compared to the slaughter enacted upon UA and DL’s awards programs over the past 2 years.

  20. United is basically betting their future revenues on the trusted axiom that people don’t use excel for their decisions especially relatively long term ones with a “lot” of data and that require a certain dose of discipline……because this is what will come out if people did or start to do it.
    Put all the costs of the tickets and additional fees in one column, let’s call it UA total price, another column called total miles accrued.
    then do the same for the competition without the miles.
    if there is a difference in money at the end of the quarter or six months or a year you will see if it was worth it or not……I suspect not……especially if you make a lot of flights and go out of your way (which means paying more) to go with united, you’ll find out that there could be thousands of dollars of difference, with those you can buy other tickets, upgrades, etc.
    I suspect they are banking on the fact those are calculations very few of us do…..

  21. Indeed… it is death by 1000 cuts. I don’t mind most of the changes, but I generally gift reward tickets to family, and the “inherited” Premier benefits have long been appreciated. I probably won’t book as many reward tickets on United for family. As a 1MMer (currently Platinum), the dilution of Premier Gold benefits is most annoying. First, the usability of Regional Premier Upgrades, along with reduced CPUs, was scaled back with nothing more than a footnote in February 2014. Then, reward charts were readjusted with reduced availability for business and first seats. Now, further cuts. These days, I just buy a front-of-plane seat on whichever airline offers the best deal for longer flights. United to SYD? No way… I’m now Gold on Qantas with just a couple of flights on a much better airline. United on my short hops? No way… Alaska is much more reliable and “flyer friendly” to its Gold tier members.

  22. The United mileage Plus program used to be generous, it’s no longer the case. I dumped the program last year and I have not found one that suits my likes…I live in Europe and European Airlines still offer some perks for travelling with them..checked bags are still free regardless of status and food and beverages are still part of the tickett price. There is no advanatge flying United anymore from Europe to the USA, other major Airlines offer a much better service: Qatar and Emirates, Malaysia and Etihad to Asia and Australia and even Singapore from Frankfurt to JFk and Turkish. Air France is pretty good and so is Swiss/ Lufthanas. The only reason why I would fly United is when in north America choice is limited….but why pay for thousands of dollars for a hit or miss service on United ? Let’s be honest, if mileage is based on revenue that means that if you are not a Elite Platinum member a RT business class ticket to the US will cost you some $ 20,000 ?? 5 miles to a $ spent = $20,000 for logging in 100.000 miles???? Forget it!

  23. I am late to the party on each status level, joining just as benefits are cut. Now 1k ua, this is my last chase of benefits. I am heading back to JetBlue, virgin and anywhere but United. I have already made that switch on overseas flights and am happier for it.

  24. I am about 50,000 miles from becoming a milionmiler flyer on UA i dont think i will hit this mark i have not flew them in over a year i dont think its wise for me to invest anymore with a company which keeps devalue the program i fly emirates now and jetblue service so much better why fly on ual anymore when i will not get anything in return in flight services are horrible in UA comparied to emirates

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