United – I am sorry to leave you, but I know when I’m not wanted.

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I have written before about my decision to leave United as my primary carrier and after yesterday’s post I remain convinced that this was the right decision.

United’s twitter account, for those that missed it, confirmed that its change in spending levels for US members is a plan to thin the herd of elites. Some people say ‘United is a business, why not?’ and you could take this view. The change from an airline that rewards people for the miles they fly to one where cash spent is king, is painful for those familiar with the older model.

The ‘Cash is King’ model (CIK) started for United when they launched Global Services which was originally confined to a few thousand members who were their very best customers. Slowly services were taken away from 1K’s and Global Services were favoured with goodies that 1K’s used to receive.

And so fast forward to the merger and whilst all elites expected to get less, what no one expected was that so much would be ruled by cash and so much taken away.

What led finally to leaving is the way United handles upgrades now. Elite’s fall for the ‘Unlimited Domestic Upgrade’ offering of many airlines too easily. In fact it means that after the airline has tried to sell its First Class seats to non-elite members, then to elites, it will give them to their top tier (unavailable to most people unless you spend $50k per annum), and then to elites who fly 100,000 miles and spend $12,000.

What frustrates me is that often United is asking a fee from its elites for the paid upgrade that is several multiples of that offered to non-members. Of course the elites can decline but then they will sit in a queue of other elites where they can be beaten by someone who paid a higher fare (CIK). This seems wrong to me. Often the price charged to the non-elite is less than a second bag charge and so is sucked up by cost conscious travellers.

United’s GoGo service is ridiculously expensive on their PS service:

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My last few flights with United were on their PS service from New York to LA and San Francisco.

The service on this plane is pretty nice – flat beds, better entertainment, and generally an on-time service.

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But to secure these upgrades I had to book and confirm about 9 months in advance or take the gamble described above.

A SMALL EXAMPLE OF MY FRUSTRATION

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The flight was late – accepted.

The reason – not accepted.

This flight was during the recent problems with air traffic control in Chicago. United decided to fly the pilot that was to operate my San Francisco to JFK flight from Chicago before operating our segment. The ATC delays caused him to be late. Why would a reasonable airline chose to make a plane full of passengers 1,800 miles away from a problem, be delayed because of that problem?

UNITED CLUBS

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I have been a member of Red Carpet Club from as soon as I started flying with United. They offered a haven of peace and good customer service when there were problems. Now, they serve plastic cheese and predictable standard food. One of the things I liked was having different things to snack on in different places. I know standardisation is cheaper – CIK.

This was the coffee machine when I was on a 6am departure from JFK:

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So after 3,545,218 miles I am off. Will it be better elsewhere?

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Well you have to look at the choices – could I stand another 454,781 to get to 4 Million Miles?

That might be an option if I thought United will keep Global Services for life at 4 Million Miles. I am not convinced that as more people reach this level United won’t simply dump the 4MM for something higher. Who can be sure?

In the start there were a covenant between an airline and its most frequent flyers – we’ll get you there when you buy a ticket. If you buy lots of tickets we’ll make a life a little better for you. United’s broken that by making everyone able to buy special services once retained for its most frequent flyers.

There is something wrong with standing in line at Orlando and being pushed out of the way by the wife and kid – ‘Global Services WE have priority boarding’ they said. ‘Are you Global Services?’ the agent asked. ‘Yes, my Dad is and it says so on our cards’. Cash never equalled classy.

Yesterday the New Yorker published a story from Tim Wu about why he left United (its trending as their second highest article at the moment.)  If you want to read it you can see it here. At the end he says that the airline left him rather than the other way around.

I agree.

I will always have have fond memories of trips to exciting places –
– my first trip to Australia with United from San Francisco.
– My seat on the first commercial flight of the 777-200 from London to Washington.
– The picnic on the floor of the First Class Lounge at JFK on Christmas Day when the connection was delayed with the   Concierge Team coming and chatting.
– The sly slip of a bottle of champagne to a good customer on a special trip.
– An upgrade to First Class from London to San Francisco on Christmas Day when it was only the pilots wife and I in the cabin, and he asked if it was Ok for her to be there!

They were the happy times and I thank every member of United’s staff who delivered those. In exchange I spent almost all my flying time with them for probably twenty years and only in the last month this has stopped.

I know United’s a business but you left me, and I am sorry about the break-up.

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Comments

  1. As Tim Wu stated in the article, “the airline left me.” I’m actually surprised you’ve been a frequent flyer with UA for so many years given you live in the UK. May I ask why that was the case versus BA or VS given both of those airlines have a hub in the UK?

    I used to be a frequent flyer with Continental and loved it. The highest tier before its merger with UA was Premier Platinum and from what I call there was no such thing as Global Services. Got upgraded all the time, etc. All that changed after the merger. I left the airline a year ago when I opted not to requalify as 1K.

  2. I think you are nuts for not going for 4 million miles. You should at least try Global Services and see how it goes for you before leaving United.

  3. About these ToD upgrades (tens of dollars): I get these offers all the time and I’m 1k. Is there any current evidence that United still prices them differently for different people on the flight, and that non-elites get lower offers? I know that used to happen after the merger but I haven’t seen any signs of it in the past year. It doesn’t really make sense for UA to do that either.

    The broken coffee machine etc aren’t a reasonable reason to quit an airline. To me, any person leaving UA is good news — it means United is a tiny little bit less likely to dilute elite benefits.

    Gogo inflight being a ripoff: is that UA’s fault? I thought they were always a ripoff?

  4. @augias – I have not seen it myself but there are so many reports that it must still be happening. Why wouldn’t United do it?
    I agree that the coffee machine is not the core of my issue and tried to get that over in the post.
    Glad you’re pleased I am leaving – personally I am sad and I hope that is explained in the article.
    GoGo – well who knows how that pricing is controlled?

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