United Airlines Releases Details on 2012 MileagePlus Program

After weeks of speculation, United Airlines finally revealed some specifics about its 2012 MileagePlus program. I am frankly gleeful to state that the changes are tolerable and United Airlines will remain my airline of choice in 2012.

Here is what Scott O’Leary, Managing Director of Customer Solutions and a former guest on the UPGRD podcast released today:

Hi Everyone, today we’re going to give you a look at our 2012 MileagePlus program. Although many of my front line co-workers have begun the process of training, this is a lengthy process and not everyone will have completed their briefings at the time of this posting. Please be sensitive to this, as there’s no easy way to get everyone on the same page at the same time. There’s a lot to take in, but here are the top dozen things worth noting:

  1. New vocabulary. First, here’s some new nomenclature: The term Premier will live on but in a new context. It will replace the term “Elite”. With that will come some new three-letter acronyms:
    • PQM & PQS: Premier Qualifying Mile & Segment (formerly EQM/EQS)
    • CPU: Complimentary Premier Upgrade (formerly UDU and EUA)
    • RPU: Regional Premier Upgrade (formerly CR1 and RU)
    • GPU: Global Premier Upgrade (formerly SWU)
  2. New tiers and qualification requirements. Heard any good rumors lately? Here are our new Premier tiers – all of which will have a minimum requirement of 4 paid flights on United, Continental and/or Copa:
    • Premier Silver: 25K PQM or 30 PQS
    • Premier Gold: 50K PQM or 60 PQS
    • Premier Platinum: 75K PQM or 90 PQS
    • Premier 1K: 100K PQM or 120 PQS
    • Global Services: Invitation only
  3. Bonus Award mile changes. Here are the changes we’re making to premier and fare class bonuses:

    Premier bonuses:
    • Premier Silver: 25% bonus miles (no change)
    • Premier Gold: 50% bonus miles
    • Premier Platinum: 75% bonus miles
    • Premier 1K and Global Services: 100% bonus miles (no change)

    Fare Class bonuses for United/Continental:
    • Full-fare Economy Class (Y/B) fares: +25% bonus miles
    • Discounted Business Class (Z/P) fares: +50% bonus miles
    • Full-fare Business Class (J/C/D) fares: +75% bonus miles
    • 2-Cabin First Class (F/A) fares: +75% bonus miles
    • 3-Cabin First Class (F/A) fares: +150% bonus miles
  4. New CPU geography for United, Continental and Copa.Our rationale for offering CPUs will almost entirely be based on how the premium cabin of the flight is marketed. Simply put - markets where the premium product is predominantly our domestic standard will be eligible for CPUs, and all others will not. Based on our current network, this is how our CPU program shakes out geographically:
    • Mainland U.S. (except p.s. markets JFK-LAX/SFO), Alaska and Canada
    • Hawaii (California to/from Hawaii, plus any other market operating with a domestic premium product, such as Chicago-Honolulu)
    • Mexico/Caribbean/Central America
    • Northern South America (except New York-Lima)
    • Southern South America (Copa flights only)
    • Asia/Oceania (except transpacific, Honolulu-Guam, Tokyo-Singapore/Bangkok nonstops)
    RPUs will be eligible in these same markets plus our p.s. and all Mainland U.S.-Hawaii markets.
  5. Instant upgrades for full-fare Economy Class fares. Premier members traveling on certain full-fare Economy Class fares will be eligible for an instant upgrade as early as ticketing. Specifically, all premier members will be eligible for instant upgrades from Y and B fares, and Premier 1K members will additionally enjoy instant upgrades from M class fares. Y fares will instantly upgrade using last-seat availability. B and M fares will have expanded upgrade availability, but it won’t always be down to the last seat.
  6. New CPU clearance windows. CPUs will begin processing automatically starting at 120 hours for Global Services, 96 hours for Premier 1K, 72 hours for Premier Platinum, 48 hours for Premier Gold and on the day of departure for Premier Silver.
  7. New CPU hierarchy. Our CPU/airport standby upgrade hierarchy will be as follows:
    • Global Services
    • Y/B/M instant upgrades that weren’t confirmed in advance (sorted by fare class then premier tier)
    • Paid upgrades (i.e. GPUs, RPUs and mileage upgrades) sorted by status, fare class, and date of waitlist
    • All remaining premier customers by status, then fare class
  8. Companion CPUs for all Premiers. Premiers at all levels will be able to extend their CPUs to one travel companion in the same reservation, including in the advance clearance window and with Y/B/M instant upgrades. This will happen automatically when the Premier reservation includes a single companion. In cases where there are more than two people in the reservation, or where the companion is in a separate reservation, the companion upgrade may be designated at the airport.
  9. Economy Plus access at check-in for Premier Silver, improved access for all other levels. To ensure we have better seating options for our top premier levels, advance complimentary access to Economy Plus will be limited to Premier Gold members and higher plus one companion (Premier Platinums and above may have up to 8 companions). Premier Silvers and one companion will continue to enjoy complimentary space-available access to Economy Plus starting at 24 hours before departure.
  10. Baggage changes for Premier Silver. The complimentary baggage allowance for Premier Silver and Star Alliance Silver members will be reduced to 1 complimentary checked bag weighing up to 50 lbs.
  11. Aligned mileage expiration policy. Miles will expire if your account is left inactive for 18 months. Our definition of activity will be very easy to meet for earning or redemption in thousands of ways. This includes something as simple as a magazine subscription redemption – which can be had for as little as 400 miles.
  12. New lifetime benefits. Big changes here, and we think you’ll agree this is the most generous lifetime program in the world. The following will take effect next spring (so please hold tight until then):
    • Continental and United lifetime earnings will be combined. You all guessed that much, but the key will be how we do it. Continental’s lifetime earnings have been EQM-based, and United’s have been based on actual flight miles. Starting in 2012, the program will be based on actual flight miles, however, we will make a one-time adjustment on the United side to boost everyone’s lifetime earnings to EQMs dating back to the beginning of the program
    • Lifetime premier benefits for 1 million miles = Premier Gold, 2 million = Premier Platinum, 3 million = Premier 1K, 4 million = Global Services
    • Million milers will be able to designate a spouse or significant other to always have the same premier tier as them (this includes when the million miler member earns a higher tier). The spousal premier benefits will be identical as the member, except they will not include RPUs and GPUs. This spousal benefit will replace the one-time and annual upgrade gifts, and hopefully you’ll agree this is a better deal
    • Continental’s Infinite Elite members (the limited few of you that earned this back in the early 90’s) will be grandfathered in and given lifetime Premier 1K status, but without the GPUs. We hope you’ll agree this is a generous resolution

One final note is timing. As most of you know, our Elite program year typically begins in February. In the case of 2012, most of the new program benefits and features, including the new Premier tiers, will be effective when we migrate to a single technology system late in the first quarter. Some changes, such as CPU geography may come sooner, but for now, the expectation we’d like to set for all new Premier tiers and associated benefits will be late first quarter 2012. We’ll be sharing more details, including the exact effective date, in the coming months.

Our website has been updated with all the details. In the coming month, we’ll be filling in more blanks, such as extension of the current Elite year and how the overall account transition will occur.

Thanks as always for your feedback, and we look forward to answering your questions.

Scott O’Leary
Managing Director, Customer Solutions
United Airlines

First, the bad news for those top-tier elites who happen to be flying on a cheap fare: your chances of receiving a complimentary upgrade just got worse. With prioritization now going to full-fare elite passengers (Y, B, and even M fares), then to passengers "paying" for an upgrade with miles + co-pay or a confirmed upgrade instrument, I suspect the number of complimentary upgrades will be reduced, though still achievable. At least complimentary upgrades will be sorted by status first, then by fare class (meaning a 1K on an L-fare would beat a Premier Platnium on a Q fare). But a general member on a sponsored upgrade will now trump both...

What remains to be seen is whether United will adopt Continental's practice of hawking leftover premium cabin space to anyone willing to buy up (sometimes for as little as $39) before clearing complimentary upgrades. It would not surprise me if the answer is yes, but we will have to wait and see.

I maintain that it is unwise to focus so much on transactional loyalty over long-term loyalty, but at least United did not "go all the way" and start sorting elite upgrades by fare class first, as rumors initially suggested.

The news is not good for lower-tier elites, especially 25,000 mile flyers. Those Premier Silvers will lose the ability to reserve Economy Plus seating until 24 hours before travel and lose their ability to check a second bag. Premier Golds and Premier Platinums will also see their award mile bonuses reduced from 100% to 50% and 75% respectively. That is going to make mileage running much less valuable in terms of redeemable miles.

United opted not to institute a minimum spend requirement, though they have introduced a four paid segment minimum requirement on United/Continental/Copa to qualify for elite status. I believe United wanted a minimum spending requirement, but the logistics of calculating the cost of Star Alliance flights credited to United would have been too difficult to handle. And I doubt United's Star Alliance partners would have been pleased (to put it midly) had United simply not counted spending on other Star Alliance carriers.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the changes to United's million mile program--they appear to be good.

So we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief--the changes are not welcomed, but they could have been a lot worse. If the early rumors were indeed a clever ploy by United to lower expectations (I doubt it), they accomplished their mission. Afterall, I am smiling even though scoring upgrades will be much harder for me next year...


Gene September 21, 2011 at 07:50 pm

In my book, elite status it is ALL about the upgrades. Therefore, after my partner and I burn our 40 confirmable UA upgrade instruments in 2012, we'll be back either to DL for the convenient routings (and similar, crappy upgrade system) or to AA for their awesome EXP upgrade system. Of course, by then, things will have changed again, so don't hold me to this plan!

Nick September 21, 2011 at 08:05 pm

Gene, I hope to be able to talk to Maya about the direction AA is heading in at the OW MegaDO launch party in LA, especially in regards to the new changes by UA.

@Gene: For me, it really is all about first class international awards. Sure, domestic first class is nice and I still consider it a treat (and get quite angry when upgrades do not clear), but Star Alliance is too important to me.

Since I'll be back in PHL, there is always US Airways, but I don't like the no meals on flights less than 3.5 hrs rule and I just don't feel comfortable on US Airways.

But let's wait and see what happens. I honestly don't know right now how many lower-tier elites buy full fares and sit in the back right now.

@Nick, though the OneWorld alliance does not impress me, especially if they lose LAN, AA's domestic service is certainly superior to UA's. As more details about UA become clear, there is still a chance I could switch, though I doubt it. But let's see what AA offers--maybe they'll make the offer sweet enough.

Gene September 21, 2011 at 08:31 pm

@Matthew -- With the humungous credit card bonuses of late, first class international awards can be obtained by anyone, regardless of status. Therefore, in my mind, the true difference between elites and non-elites are upgrades, baggage fees, customer service, etc. (primarily) when traveling domestically.

I'm surprised that they made DEN-HNL a BusinessFirst market, but left ORD open for UDU. You would think that they would choose the longer flights to have better service.

@FriendlySkies: That is a surprise to me too. I have a feeling ORD-HNL will eventually become a BF route. I'd like to see those flights get back the UA1 and UA2 designation as well...

Brad September 22, 2011 at 06:13 pm

total guess, but might this have something to do with a 777 pilot base at ORD for the domestic 777s? That with the domestic 767s being reconfigured, ORD still has the 777 domestic configs going to Hawaii, but that is certainly subject to change as the merger proceeds

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