So what is happening with the new United?

Background  or “it was all about service”

My Mileage Plus account tells me that I have been a member since 15 April 1989. I was 29 and came to visit a friend in the US. In those days British Airways worked closely with United, and my flight to Chicago was on BA, with a connection to Denver on a United DC-10. In those days international flights were bussed to an arrivals facility in the bottom of a car park. Being an inexperienced flyer I was towards the back of the line, and so only got to the gate for the flight to Denver at the last minute. The gate agent said that he didn’t recognise the boarding pass and gave me a new one. Once on board I found that the seat was in First Class. During the flight my row was the last to get meal choice and my seatmate threw a strop when he couldn’t have what he wanted. I gave him mine, and the flight attendant gave me a bottle of champagne as a ‘thank you’. I was sold!

Years later, with United not flying to London I became a TWA person. When PanAm collapsed, United came to London and did a double-miles promo for about 4 months. I went back to try them. On my second weekend to the West Coast the check-in agent recognised me and gave me an upgrade on the 747-SP that ran to Seattle. I was sold again!

The Experience or “how forgiving can I be?”

Endless miles later, I came across the pilots dispute – or ‘The Summer of Discontent’ when unhappy pilots would call in sick at the last minute leading to endless flight cancellations. I continued to fly as I needed to go places and United excelled itself once in a while. I built relationships with the staff I grew to know in London and the US. The 1K Room staff in San Francisco, were friends. I had some of the staff from London round to my house for a dinner party.

Through at least one bankruptcy which wrote off my $1,000 of UA shares, I continued to travel.  The years when Systemwide upgrades only applied to Y or B fares (making them useless), UA joining Star Alliance and endless changes to Mileage Plus I have continued to fly.

The Recent Past or “there were signals but I ignored them”

A few years back United stopped sending out US Domestic Upgrade Certificates based on the number of miles flown. In the old days you were awarded 4 certificates (each valid for 500 miles of domestic upgrades) for each 10,000 miles flown. This was changed to Unlimited Domestic Upgrades based on status. These were to be processed at a window in advance of travel – 120 hours, 100 hours, 96 hours etc based on status. This change of course, meant huge upgrade lists at the airport, with passengers no longer getting upgrades if they booked cheaper fares.

About a year ago I became concerned about a little announcement that United slipped out as it became clear that the merger with Continental was coming. The announcement was that 1K members (flyers doing more than 100,000 miles per annum), would earn their 6 Systemwide Upgrades when they crossed the 100,000 threashold. This seems OK, but in reality it meant than multi-Million Mile flyers (who are guaranteed a status level regardless of their actual flying in a year) would no longer get the SWUs unless they flew the 100,000 miles needed. Of course,  PR spin doesn’t allow the change to be announced as being bad for some of their best flyers, it gets released as a neutral statement that seemed almost clerical in nature.

Now or “does even United know what is happening?”

3-Million Miles – 6 Systemwide Upgrades or not? Does UA know?

With the United/Continental merger, United has had to recalculate the way in which they work out each members Million Mile status as Continental has typically used a different method. These recalculations have now posted and United has shown the effect of merging on a special web site. For me this is the result:

a screenshot of a phoneThis should mean that I will be “1K for life”. However, as identified above, this won’t earn me 6 Systemwide upgrades unless I fly the 100,000 miles each year. On the good side at 4 million miles I would become ‘Global Services for life’.

However, a United employee who posts on Flyertalk.Com as UAInsider stated on that 3 Million Milers would still receive their 6 Systemwides, regardless of how many miles they flew. Problem – there is nothing anywhere on UA’s web site. So does United know what is doing?

Who gets an upgrade? or ‘We knew change was coming…but is this right?’

United has changed upgrade priority so that a General Member (GM) using miles to upgrade, will receive their upgrade ahead of a 1K member waiting for their Unlimited Domestic Upgrade to clear. This is a big loss to 1K’s. (Of course, Global Services members trump even the GM on miles).

However, more concerning are some data points that UA is selling upgrades to non-status members when there are status members on the waitlist for upgrades. Continental didn’t so this before the merger, but there seem to be several cases mentioned in this thread on Flyertalk. In the example, the non-status child of a member was offered an upgrade on the self-service check-in machine, whilst elites languished on the upgrade list. This really is another unpleasant change in the merger. You can read more about the new Upgrades here.

Finale – or ‘Watch this space’

The much ridiculed welcome message from the new President of United, Jeff Smisek, talks about ‘changes we think you’ll like’. I have to say that at the moment, I am unsure whether any of the changes will be liked by this Mileage Plus member. I will keep this under review, and am awaiting confirmation from United about what is really happening.



  1. In my view, UDU was the beginning of the end. Up until then, elites had to use instruments to obtain upgrades, which put a value on them. With UDU, there’s effectively no value; hence the leap to selling mid-con upgrades for $19 instead of giving them to a Premier member free of charge is not all that great.

  2. 1. The link to the video doesn’t work anymore. The account has been closed. Any idea why? What was the video?

    2. You claim that CO didn’t sell TOD’s: “However, more concerning are some data points that UA is selling upgrades to non-status members when there are status members on the waitlist for upgrades. Continental didn’t so this before the merger” – Are you sure that is true? I experienced this kind of thing on CO before 3/3, on every flight.

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