Christmas gifts have arrived early from United Airlines and like last year, we’ve all received lumps of coal. As United continues to dismantle what was once the world’s best airline loyalty program, several more changes have been announced, all of which negatively affect both frequent and casual flyers of United (even the “valuable” big spenders!).
Here’s a summary of the changes and I will discuss each one in detail below:
- Copa announces its own loyalty program, ending complimentary upgrades for UA flyers
- Premier status won’t extend to non-status travelers on award tickets
- No more fee waiver for Global Entry
- No more elite co-pay waivers on United p.s. flights
- Baggage reductions for Premier Golds
Copa announces its own loyalty program, ending complimentary upgrades for UA flyers
Continental Airlines sold off its stake in Panamanian flag carrier Copa in 2008 but the carrier remained closely aligned with CO and later post-merger United, sharing a loyalty program and extending many benefits to United flyers including complimentary space-available upgrades and instant upgrades on full-fare tickets. With a route map deep into South America, this was a handy way to enjoy free upgrades to Central and South America, which were (and remain) very easy to come by especially on non-US routes.
With United’s aggressive MileagePlus cutbacks and stiff competition from Star Alliance partner Avianca/TACA, it is understandable that Copa wants to create its own loyalty program. Perhaps Copa even wants out of Star Alliance – with a strong Skyteam presence at PTY, there would be a lot of upside to Copa rejoining SkyTeam.
With that new loyalty program will come the following cutbacks after 01 July 2015:
- Premier members will no longer be eligible for instant upgrades on full-fare economy tickets
- Premier members will no longer be eligible for complimentary upgrades
- Miles flown will no longer count towards earning lifetime MileagePlus Premier status (MillionMiler status)
- Flights will not count towards the four segment minimum to attain MileagePlus Premier status
- MileagePlus elite members will no longer enjoy complimentary confirmed same-day flight changes.
But, MileagePlus members will still be able to use Regional Premier upgrades (RPUs) and Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs) on COPA flights and interestingly, MileagePlus members will still have access to both Saver and Standard COPA award flights.
More details here.
Premier status won’t extend to non-status travelers on award tickets
An oft-overlooked value to redeeming miles out of a Premier account was that the traveler – no matter their status or lack thereof – enjoyed your status. So say you are a busy Premier Gold traveler and booked your parents, who hold no status, on a domestic award ticket. Currently, they would travel as Star Golds under your status, meaning priority check-in, free confirmed day changes, free checked bags, Economy Plus, and priority boarding.That perk will be eliminated as of 15 April 2015:
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.
Of all the changes announced, this one I understand – I would have never granted it in the first place. Still, it was a nice benefit that will be missed and removes something that distinguished United from the pack.
More details here.
No more fee waiver for Global Entry
The $100 fee waiver for Global Entry applications, currently offered to Platinum, 1K, and Global Services members, ends on 31 January 2015.
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.
I took advantage of this to get my Global Entry fee waived and I appreciated that this perk, unique to United among airline loyalty programs, showed a commitment to making travel easier for frequent United flyers and offered something genuinely of value – while my AMEX Plat card would have also covered the $100, I certainly would have been willing to pay. In other words, this was a beneficial and useful perk.
Take advantage of it before 31 January 2015 if you are a Platinum, 1K, or Global Services member.
More details here.
No more elite co-pay waivers on United p.s. flights
United operates p.s. (premium service) flights between JFK and LAX/SFO, offering lie-flat beds, AVOD, and an enhanced menu in business class. Using miles to upgrade a p.s. flight was never a good idea even with the fees waived, but now it is just crazy if you want to upgrade on this flight (unless you use a RPU or GPU).
Currently Premier member are exempt from the co-pay (which ranges from $75-250 each way, depending on fare class purchased) but that exemption ends on 01 February 2015:
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.
20,000 miles plus $250 co-pay will now be required each way on a p.s. flight booked in the cheapest (S/L/T/K/G/N) economy fare class!
p.s. business class is nice – a really great product for a domestic flight, but it is not $500 and 40,000 nice. Heck, you can book a saver award (and there is often space if you are flexible or wait till the last minute) for 50,000 miles r/t and your out-of-pocket fees will be under $12 – dont’ give United $300+ for a ticket, plus another $500 for an upgrade and then 40,000 miles on top of it!
The fact that even Global Services members are not exempt from this policy change demonstrates United’s faith in its p.s. product, but also a complete disincentivization to use miles. It certainly does not reward the top-spenders United claims to be looking out for who may be traveling on a leisure trip.
More details here.
Baggage reductions for Premier Golds
Premier Golds (50K flyers) currently can check three bags of up to 70lbs each at no charge. For tickets issued after 01 February 2015, this will drop to two bags at 70lbs each.
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.
I’ve moved around the world not once, not twice, but 11 times (back and forth to Washington twice, back and forth to Philadelphia twice, to Germany twice and back once) and have used United for all of those trips but one – each time I have used my third checked bag allotment. Hopefully my move from Germany back to California will happen before February and will be my last move for quite some time, but this will be a missed benefit and let’s face it, also one that was probably rarely utilized and thus costed UA very little.
The changes are all bad, MileagePlus is getting worse, and the only solace may be that even worse changes have not come yet. I’ll address tomorrow my predictions for the next round of MileagePlus devaluations – the end of stopovers on award trips and reduced EQM earning on cheaper fare buckets.