United Makes Changes to 2012 Mileage Plus Program

by on September 21, 2011 · 79 comments

in Continental, United

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United just announced the key changes for their 2012 Mileage Plus program and there’s some good and bad news depending on the type of flyer you are. In general, if you are a 25,000 mile a year flyer who likes the ability to select exit rows and Economy Plus seating, you are going to see less benefits in the new program. Per the website, 25,000 mile a year flyers (newly named Premier Silvers) will only get to select premium seats at check-in. I know that will be far too much of a gamble for many elites to mess with – especially on long flights. Delta and American let all elites select premium seats at booking.

Economy Plus benefits chart

Another devaluation is with respect to elite bonuses. This mostly affects mid tier flyers – 50,000 mile a year flyers (Premier Golds) only get a 50% bonus vs 100% on Delta and American. United is also creating a 75,000 mile a year tier (Premier Platinum) which gets 75% vs 100% that Delta gives their Platinum flyers. At the 100,000 mile a year level, United Premier 1ks get a 100% bonus vs. 100% at American (Delta has a 125,000 mile a year tier that gets 125%).

United Elite bonus miles structure

If you are a premium flyer who purchases business and first class, you’ll see the class of service bonuses increase to 150% for first on 3 cabin airfcraft, 75% for first on two cabin aircraft and business class, 50% for discount business and 25% for full fare economy. American offers a 50% class of service bonus for first and 25% for business. Delta gives 50% for all premium fare economy, domestic first and business class fares.

United class of service bonuses

Upgrade clearing windows will also slightly change, with Premier Silvers clearing on the day of departure vs. at 24 hours for Delta Silvers (American does not offer complimentary upgrades for their Gold flyers).  Another huge change in upgrade strategy is that those using miles will trump those with elite status. So if you elect to use miles to upgrade, you will trump someone who has a higher elite status, but wants to use their status to upgrade.

United upgrade windows

Baggage is also decreasing for Premium Silvers – down to 1 checked bag at 50 lbs vs. two bags of up to 70 lbs each on Delta for all elites and two bags of up to 50 lbs on American for all elites.

The good news is that all lifetime United and Continental miles will combine towards lifetime status, however going forward only flown miles will count (not any elite bonuses or credit card elite miles).

For more information, there’s a post from United’s head of Mileage Plus on Milepoint and an ensuing lively discussion. And as always, I also appreciate Gary’s insightful analysis over at his View from the Wing blog.

As a non-elite member of United, I’m not really impacted by these changes, but I can imagine there will be a decent number of mid-lower tier United elites contemplating status matches to Delta, American and US Airways.

What are your thoughts on the changes?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Dan

    As a Premier Exec with UA (50k) flyer, my bonus miles will be 50% instead of double. That’s a loss of 25,000 miles for me. Enhancement??

  • sokaji

    I am a Continental OnePass flyer between US and India (3 business class flights a year). I loved the online one way award redemption and the availability of such flights. The problem with Delta was miles required for award ticket were too high. Same is the case with award tickets on United.

    These changes are a bummer. Will probably status match to American Airlines. I am currently a Gold Elite @ 55000 miles for this year. Should I buy 20000 elite miles at 1200 USD to become platinum member before I status match?

    Thank your for articulating these changes and the comparison.

  • Zeus_phx

    I only fly 25k miles a year, the rest on award tickets. I’m looking at AA or USAir to see which one offers the most benefits for their lower tier. Any suggestions? I’d like the opportunity (although a low percentage I’m sure) of free upgrades, the ability to select exit row seats at time of booking and to be able to upgrade using miles on cheap fares.

  • Neal

    Not as bad as I expected, hopefully this will prompt Dulta to add some perks

  • Anonymous

    Correct me if I’m wrong but as I understand you earn 50k miles including bonus miles. Since you are used to earning 100% bonus miles, you fly 25k actual miles. So you would get 12.5k bonus miles (50%) and your actual “loss” of bonus miles would be 12.5k, not 25k.

  • Dave

    Will the award mileage chart be Continental’s or United’s come 2012 for both United awards and partner awards?

  • sokaji

    On second look the lifetime Million Miler status level for Gold has decreased from 2 Million to 1 Million. This may be because bonus miles have been reduced. Not sure if bonus miles were counted in the Million Miler status earlier. Less bonus miles also makes me more open to traveling on the other star alliance partners.

  • Dan

    For clarity, I’m a 50,000 mile flyer. UA currently gives me a 100% bonus. That’s an additional 50,000 miles per year added to my account.

    Under the new program, someone who flies 50,000 miles, will only get a 50% bonus. That’s 25,000 miles, or a reduction of 25,000 miles.

  • sokaji

    Bonus miles didn’t count earlier towards lifetime miles only EQM’s did. So this affects business class and higher travelers who got bonus EQMs. So now only the actual miles flown count towards lifetime miles.

  • Anonymous

    They already brought both award charts in line- basically they took injures levels- for ex continental biz to Europe came down from 105k to 100k and coach increased 55 to 60k

  • David

    You sure your baggage data is correct, TPG?
    “Baggage is also decreasing for Premium Silvers- down to 1 checked bag at 50 lbs vs. two bags of up to 70 lbs each on Delta for all elites and two bags of up to 50 lbs on American for all elites.”
    I just hit bottom level elite on Delta, and I was told 1 free bag, straight from the horses mouth. Not 2 bags up to 70 lbs each.

  • PJ

    do they do away with expiration on points ?

  • PJ

    do they do away with expiration on points ?

  • PJ

    do they do away with expiration on points ?

  • Anonymous

    Nope- United policy of 18 months stays ;-/

  • Anonymous

    i pulled it from though Im not surprised to hear what you are saying… let me update it because i think you are right

  • David

    Yeah maybe the site is out of date. The benefits it gave me were pretty identical to having the Delta Skymiles card, (which I have) of 1 free bag

  • ozzzie19

    25K AA gold flyer and I status matched last week to UA because I love sitting in economy plus…make that loved. UGH.

    I completely understand rewarding the money makers who fly every week (and rewarding them more than everyone else), but there has to be a ton of 25K flyers that they also make money on that are going to leave.

    It would be interesting to know how many flyers fell into old premier vs premier exec vs 1K. I wonder if their premier members in total flew more flights than their 1Ks

  • Andrew

    Where can a 50,000-70,000 mile flyer get 100% bonus on Star Alliance?

  • Jens

    I feel every airline is free to design their frequent flyer program the way they choose to. The only thing that makes me angry about this change is that there does not seem to be a grace period for people who qualified in 2011 under the assumption of obtaining certain benefits in 2012 which now turn out to be significantly devalued.

  • Jason

    I’m a Delta Silver and always get 2 bags at 70 lbs each. Flew about 3 weeks ago.

  • Wilson

    As a non-U.S based CO platinum, who flies quite often to the US bur also other places in the world – UA/CO just became pretty worthless to me.
    There is no excuse in my opinion in cutting the bonus for people who fly 75,000 – 100,000 to 75%. It’s insulting.
    Makes more sense to me i think to move over to Lufthansa. Sure, i fly to the US few times a year, but almost always in coach, so this program has become really devalued for me.

  • john

    @ sokaji- Getting an award flt to India on American is almost impossible in Bus. or 1st and cost more miles than Continental. BA award flts to India cost more miles than Continental plus hefty fuel surcharges but are easier to get than AA awards.

    Continental and United charge the same number of miles for award travel to India (traveling on Lufthansa).

  • Mark

    I disagree. I’ve been able to get award seats many many times with AA miles to India–check Jet Airways and Finnair in addition to BA going via the atlantic, and also consider a oneworld award on CA/JL via the pacific (which often requires less miles than a standard award).

  • john

    @Mark- I specifically stated on AA. That AA flt from ORD is virtually impossible to get in Bus. or 1st in award travel. Also, AA charges a 180,000 miles in 1st from N. America to India. That same flt in Lufthansa using United miles is only 160,000. Lufthansa availability in Bus. or 1st is generally good.

    Regarding Jet Airways and Finnair, they both fly to a much more limited amt of cities in India from Europe. Lufthansa flies to many different cities in India. (Jet is being actively courted by Star Alliance. Jet is actually not a member of One World. It is just a participating airline. Jet is an excellent airline, though.)

    What is CA? Cathay? If you’re flying from most locations in the U.S. (esp the East coast and Midwest) it takes much longer going west bound to India. It is generally shorter going through Europe or the Middle East. Also, your reference that it takes less miles on CX and JL I think that is to Japan or Hong Kong. To go all the way to India would require more miles.

  • John

    Wait… So united miles will now expire after 18 months? Does that include existing CO miles?

  • Anonymous

    Only with no account activity and yes that will include continental miles which become united miles in 2012

  • Pallin

    I m a prem exec on united…liked it mostly due to Eco plus seating. I fly about 55 k miles each year and I use my miles to upgrade full fare Eco seats to bus on united/luftha combo. Seems in the new system I will get less bonus miles and also less total miles for full fare Eco seats, thus earningbless miles in total and making more difficult to use these miles for upgrades…united has got this idea to earn more money by giving less miles so people can use them less frequently for awards or upgrades and rather buy miles from their website.

    Also these changes simply kill the spirit of silver member as similar benefits are offered by their new credit card. Seems it’s time to switch the ship.

  • Steve

    I’m a Premier at UA now and and will no longer get Economy Plus at booking nor a 25% bonus on non-full fare discount tickets per the email I just read from them. This is a significant devaluation for me having made Premier in 2011. Not happy.

  • Cami
  • Moshe

    I am a premier exec for many years. United decided to reward me for my loyalty with this significant worsening of the benefits. This tells me, simply, to look for a different program.

  • Jeremy Rankin

    Wow. I status matched as a DL Diamond to CO Platinum at the end of last year… took a few CO/UA flights January and then thought better of it… Thank God.

  • Dominic J Koh

    We started a Facebook fanpage for UA Elite members that are frustrated with the changes. Please stop by and like our page.

  • Kelsall

    Not being able to reserve economy plus at booking is a major loss for me. The major reason I fly United enough to keep Premier status

  • Lushienting

    good idea, already emailed them, hope it works!

  • Sharon

    I agree. I have either been Premier Exec or 1 K for the past ten years. This normally requires a mileage run at the end of the year — but given all the changes — I am finished as a United FF. Since I live in Seattle then Alaska Airlines with their AA/Delta/Lan/Air France/KLM alliances allow me to travel the world and collect miles on any of them. Also, United has increased the number of miles needed for long haul to 60,000 miles. The others are between 40,000 and 60,000. I’ll miss United but it no longer makes sense to continue with them.

  • Eventshi

    After 25+ years of loyalty… and Premier status…. I’m sorry to say that I’ve had it with United and will take my business elsewhere. This was also the consensus at a dinner I attended recently with many UAL elite members. What a shame…

  • Wendy

    As a silver status member for the last 3 years, and again for 2012..I am disappointed in the decreasing of the number of bags to be checked…even though I usually travel with carry on only, when I need to check bags, it is usually 2…I will miss the “5 inches more of leg room” in premium seating in economy…and the change to the upgrade clearing window doesn’t matter to me…in 3 years of silver status, only had 1 upgrade….

  • Tgrizz99

    United has done it again. Going from 1k to premier exec or whatever they want to call it now is an insult. Only 50% bonus miles to deal with their bullsh*t. Maybe it is time to rethink my choices.

  • PaulieV

    I moved to the US in January 2011 from London. Decided to sign up to United as it has a hub in SFO. I am still reeling from just how awful the airline is.

    I made Premier this year and my wife has made Premier Exec. The one advantage to putting up with the appalling all round service from UA has been the free Economy Plus upgrades, especially for flights back to LHR. I’m not even going into my opinion on Economy Plus being sold as a perk when really it just provides a near humane level of comfort.

    Now this one novelty for Premier is being taken away there’s no reason to choose UA. How they have the nerve to compete against BA and Virgin for the SFO-LHR routes when both the UK carriers have pleasant staff, edible food, bigger seats and guarantee PTVs on all flights simply galls me. If UA charged less that would be one thing but they don’t.

    Awful, awful airline in every respect. I shall be voting with my feet and taking my business elsewhere in 2012. Not that anyone in UA will give a damn.

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  • hc

    That’s pretty much the only reason I fly united. Economy plus is a big plus on long haul flight. Not any more…

  • Jeffereson1801

    Used to be a loyal Continental flyer and have been silver elite for several years. The upgrades on Continental were often and great. United has changed all of that. I ‘ve only been upgraded to first class once this year and it was on the shortest flight I took all year (LAS > DEN). Such a shame to see the changes. It’s positioned as a merger between CO and UA, but I think it feels more UA taking over CO than a merger.

  • abnerg

    I’ve been mostly a premier exec on United for the last 10 years, with two years as a 1k and a few more in the 90s as a premier. This past year, due to some job changes I only flew 38k on United. While losing the security line is a big hit that loss along with turning economy plus into a Southwest booking race is probably enough to take my loyalty down a few more notches. All of that said, I have had a few situations in the last few months where I was booking a fairly last minute ticket and no econ+ seats were availible. Perhaps the ability to book econ+ seats at booking should be based on class of service instead of the blunt stick of status. United seems desperate to attract and keep full fare flyers, but this move simply levels my choices. Hello Virgin and Delta with your wifi and in-seat power.

  • Dave

    I plan on taking my business elsewhere. Thanks for the 10 years of loyalty United!! NOT!

  • PaulieV

    I have a question, I’ve not been able to work out so far. I’m United Premier, the wife is Premier Exec.

    When the new changes come into effect to Mileage Plus, my “free” checked baggage allowance will go down to 1 x 50lb bag for a flight. Is this the same for International flights e.g. SFO-LHR? If it is then does this mean that someone with no status at all will have to pay to check a bag on a long haul?

  • Arvin

    This is terrible, how can they only give 50% match at the Premiere Exec tier. No other airline does this and on the basis of this change I plan to switch as well…

  • Mark from Chicago

    I am a million mile flier on United and am very disappointed at the devaluation of the MM program that has taken place in 2012. MM fliers have been devalued from Premier Exec status to this new lower gold status. I predict that the benefits for gold status will erode over the next few years.
    What United should include in their MM program is a different starting point for achieving upward elite status. For example, a one million flier should start at a base of 50K elite miles, which means that they only need 50K to hit 1K status. This gives incentive for MM fliers to continue flying with United and gives United the opportunity to actually reward their most loyal customers.

  • Skatz S

    It’s one thing if they say next year they are taking away benefits. By flying 25k miles I was told I earned benefits for the next year (2012). They made a contract with me now they are reneging. Anyone for a class action suit? Small claims court?

  • Tddegl

    The United milage plus program has turned into a scam whereby the airline reaps the benefit but provides nothing in return. Every change is to the detriment of the consumer. No seats are available either on United or their so-called partners no matter how flexible one’s plans are.

  • Theend

    I will fight this as long as it takes to change it and so will many others. I did the dirty and thankless horrible work of flying at least enough miles on UAl to qualify for Premier status. All I want is to get through the premier security line and get an economy plus seat when I book. I sit in virtually the same seats on every flight I take to various seats, depending on type of aircraft. Now I just happened to find out when they send me an email to upgrad to Gold for some ridiculous amount of $2500 that all those hellacious miles flown that were said to have earned me the above benefits have now been YANKED. hmmm anyone hear of bait-and-switch? No one decided to take it upon themselves to say : Hey, all you Premier members, now you no longer can book economy plus seats and at some airports you do not get to go through the premier security line. I had to find out by waiting in line in the premier line, only to find now it is only for Premier Execs. Are you kidding??? What’s the point? Believe me there is NO loyalty here going forward. It will be Southwest or Frontier for sure. When I called the “service” (loosely used here) person gave the scripted response and kept saying I could get econ plus seating – it just happens to be only at 24 hours before flying. Do you think we are idiots? There is a snowball’s chance that there would be an econ plus seat 24 hours before take off. Why even call it a benefit? You are SO transparent. It is completely laughable that you call that a benefit. It’s actually very insulting that you try to pass it off as something remotely attainable. There aren’t econ plus seats 7 days out much less 24 hours out.

  • So long United Mileage Plus

    I don’t know how I missed this until now, but wow. I took two trips late last year intentionally to get Premier status for 2012 so that I could access the free Economy Plus seating for another year. If I had known that they were going to take it away, I wouldn’t have bothered. The routes I fly are easily serviced by Southwest, Virgin, and Jet Blue. I’ll gladly take my business elsewhere and save the money.

  • Jim

    How could you fly a million miles with United? I flew over a million miles with Continental and now they are one airline called United. I am in the process of trying to have the million miler identification removed from my frequent flyer card. I do not want anyone to think I was stupid enough to fly a million miles with such a crummy airline. Continental was the best American Airline and United was ranked the last. Since the merger, things have steadly become worse.

  • Disapointed and done

    I just booked what may be my last flight on United. I just realized they just got me for $70 in baggage fees which would have been included last year. Thanks for the notice. Economy Plus is now at booking? Sorry, I counted on the leg room. Now I have to throw the dice to see if I get it? I thought this would now be my primary airline. Not as of tonight. With Southwest headed to Atlanta, Reagan and Hawaii, I’ll go for consistnacy. Sorry United, I’m done.

  • Ryan Kohler

    Absolutely! Have you looked into that possibility? Most of the time when a corporation make a huge change to member benefits like that, there is a timeline associated with those changes. This literally happened overnight. One week I’m booking a flight and choosing E+ and the next I see that they want $49 for an exit row – ridiculous! United is losing a lot of loyal customers over this and I am happy to stick it to them and instead fly any other non-Star Alliance company.

  • Forget United!

    Disgusted! Just made to pay for a second bag. $70! Been on continentals silver elite for years. I’m bailing for sure from United.

  • kieranrox16

    ya’ll are funny. everyone come here to bitch. i’ve been prem exec forever. just hit platinum last month and will make 1k by the fall. all the airlines suck. if you take your biz elsewhere you will see and bitch about the same things. united is a huge airline now and there are a ton of 1k’s and gold members. 10′s of thousands of them. they need to cut back in some areas to keep the flights reasonably priced. i’m not saying they’re great, but the alternative is about the same. i have gotten tons of free upgrades on united.

  • PaulieeV

    I think you need to raise your standards and your expectations bud. US airlines get away with appalling quality & service, inflated prices and unbelievably obnoxious staff. Europe is known for far worse customer service than the US but when it comes to air travel passengers are treated with respect not as if they’re an inconvenience and a distraction from sitting in the galley chatting to colleagues. It never ceases to amaze me how badly United treats its customers. Strangely the only US airline that has any level of good service is the budget carrier South West. Go figure.

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  • AB

    United told me they matched my Delta Platinum Medallion status… I purchased the tickets and still no status change. Talked to Paul Abril and he refused to let me talk to his supervisor… Why do these people have jobs in customer service?

  • Bruce Ketcheson

    Your status only lasts for a year, so I’m not sure what you mean by your benefits have been yanked? Fly someone else. Also, Silver is the absolute lowest tier, why shoud you get the same benefits as I do flying every single week? Think about it, you fly a few times and want the airline to treat you like their biggest investor? Sounds like you won’t be happy paying $199 on any airline and sitting in small seats.

  • Bruce Ketcheson

    I would like to know why the planes are packed if they are losing so many loyal customers over this?

  • Bruce Ketcheson

    I think you are missing the point here, United did this becasue the fringe flyers, as you all are compalining, are one tiny notch above the one a year vacation family. YOU are not the customer United wants to award preboarding and larger seats to. When you fly once or twice a week with walk up fares, then you are an elite flyer.

  • Bruce Ketcheson

    Why havent you changed already. See if the others are better, and use them. My guess if you buy on price and want premium service. They don’t go together, never have.

  • Flyingsux

    Simple. They are flying smaller planes. A319, 320 and 737s with fewer long-distance flights forcing more people through their hubs.

  • Bettybarth

    My mileage number is TG048527 and want to know how many miles I have to use.

  • mysoreguy

    first of all, these people fly 25k to 49k miles. so really, they could be just within 5k of how many miles you fly, bruce. and flying 35k a year isn’t a fringe flyer. i used to live in chicago and would fly every other week , but the distances to many cities from chicago are less than say SF or NYC.
    i would hardly call that one notch above a once a year vacation.
    plus, you sound like a real snob.

  • O716542

    Sorry to disappoint you but being a European and having flown both regular and low cost carriers I fully agree with the low level of customer service in Europe. And did I mention the seats? How about this WizzAir review (search online and you will find many, many): “My bag was designed to be carry-on, however it failed their fit test along with the bags of many other angry passengers. Rude, unhelpful gate attendants. Leg room is the smallest I’ve seen. “

  • Guest

    Hi Wilson,
    UA wants you to fly in Business Class (beautiful lie flat seats in their new Dreamliner). They really do not care about economy travellers worth 1 or 2k a year.

  • Frank

    My wife and myself have been UA mileage plus premium members for years – no longer. With the change in the UA program we have shifted all domestic flights to Southwest who is treating us like customer. The next step is to find another airline for our international flights. Bye, bye United.

  • Renee

    I am definitely switching! It no longer pays to fly with United 2-4 trips per month. I’m going elsewhere, or I’ll just “play the field”. I’ll probably fly more Virgin since every seat feels like a upgrade, even from United Econ Plus seats. B’bye United.

  • Ben Brooks

    Of these changes the most crappy ones are the reduction in elite flying bonus (which really ads up over time, in particular on long flights) and the lifetime miles only being on UA (on PMCO you could get them when flying other carriers that gave you CO credit, if I recall correctly).
    Giving non-elites an opportunity to upgrade for cash but not giving that to best customers is crap. They should at least offer it to elites too, or give some opportunity to do it for miles (and I don’t mean for 10,000 miles and a $500 “fee” kinda BS).

  • Glen

    Its bad for the silver premium flyer. If you dont immediately reserve your premium seats on the transatlatic flight your stuck in the normal coach. I’m ready to go either to American or Delta. Had enough downgrades United.

  • Mike

    I lost my united mileage due to inactivity since I was very busy. Is there any way instead of paying money to them (about $200) to put all mileage back?

  • Uriah Heep

    United stinks. Paying per bag is idiotic. I don’t need points, I just want to check a bag without spending more $. Let me use the points for checking bags!

  • FDR61329

    Have flown 141,000 miles with united over the past 2.5 years only to be downgraded to premier silver due to changes after the merger. I won’t be flying with this airline ever again… Particularly as with each flight it is starting to look more like Continental. INFURIATING!

  • Brian

    I think a bunch of small claims suits may be the best way to go … I plan to go after them that way … if possible.

  • Eric

    It’s a slap in the face that premier silver members now get absolutely nothing in the area of baggage fees over someone with no elite status at all

    That’s pathetic and I will be actively seeking flights on other carriers.

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