Just a few weeks ago, United matched Delta in boosting by 20 percent the amount of dollar spending required in 2015 for MileagePlus members to achieve elite status levels in 2016. And now United has made some more “updates” to its loyalty program starting early next year that will further chip away at the benefits of Premier membership.
Effective February 1, MileagePlus Premier members who ask for an Upgrade Award on United’s enhanced-service “p.s.” routes (New York JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco) will be charged a co-pay in addition to miles — something they’re currently exempt from. That co-pay can range from $75 to $250 one-way, depending on booking class. (United’s complimentary Premier Upgrades do not apply on p.s. routes.)
In another change taking effect February 1, United will no longer pick up the $100 cost of membership in Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry trusted traveler program, which allows speedy re-entry to the U.S. from international trips — and also gives members access to TSA’s domestic PreCheck security checkpoints. Currently, United provides a Global Entry payment code to eligible Global Services, Premier 1K and Premier Platinum members of MileagePlus. (That will still be available through the end of January 2015.)
United’s Premier Gold members who require lots of luggage will be sorry to see that when they travel on a domestic economy ticket on or after February 1, their free checked bag allowance will drop from three pieces to two. (For most international markets, it will remain at three.) The domestic economy allowance will still be one free checked bag for Silver members and three for Platinums and 1Ks.
Starting April 15, elite-level members who use their miles to acquire an award ticket for someone else will find that their own Premier trip benefits will no longer be granted to that second person for the award trip; instead, the recipient’s Premier status — if any — will determine which perks will apply.
Photo: Bernal Saborio / Flickr
Finally, some changes are coming to United’s relationship with its Latin American partner Copa Airlines effective July 1. As of that date, flights on Copa won’t count toward the minimum segment requirement for MileagePlus Premier status, and flight miles on Copa won’t be applied to a member’s lifetime MileagePlus mileage balance. MileagePlus Premier members will keep many of the benefits they currently have for trips on Copa, like an extra bag allowance, priority reservation waitlist, priority standby and so on; and they’ll still earn Premier qualifying miles — and can take award travel — on Copa. United said the reason for those changes is that Copa will roll out its own loyalty program in July.
Taken individually, the new MileagePlus rule changes might not have too much of an impact on any single member. But collectively, they represent a continuing pattern of benefits erosion that could well make members wonder what might be coming next.
Declining program benefits, along with rising fees, post-merger quality-of-service problems and other indignities led one disgruntled MileagePlus loyalist to pen an essay that appeared in the prestigious New Yorker magazine this month under the headline “Why I Left United Airlines.”
What do our MileagePlus readers think of these new changes? Are they deal breakers — or no big deal? Post your comments below.
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