Since the United/Continental merger was announced last year, uncertainty has clouded the status of the combined carrier's million-mile program. Which program would survive?
United offered million-mile flyers Premier Executive (Star Gold) status for life and presented MMers with two systemwide upgrades each year. But United only counted actual flight miles ("butt-in-seat" miles) flown on United metal toward the million-mile tally. Continental granted Silver (Star Silver) status to MM flyers and counted elite miles rather than flight miles, including miles earned through fare class bonuses, partner flights, and credit card purchases.
United has now provided some insight on what the new program would like--and the news is good:
- 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
The first bullet point is key. United clarified this on their new MileagePlus update page:
Currently, MileagePlus and OnePass® track lifetime activity differently: MileagePlus counts only base EQM (actual flight miles on United and United Express), while OnePass counts both base EQM and bonus EQM (those earned on partner airlines, or through promotions or credit cards). To bring everyone to the same starting point, on December 31, 2011, we will recalculate MileagePlus lifetime miles balances to include both base EQM and bonus EQM. This means the lifetime miles balance will either increase or remain the same. Then, for all members who have both a MileagePlus and OnePass account, we'll combine the lifetime miles balances to arrive at a new MileagePlus lifetime miles balance, which will be carried forward into the 2012 program. The OnePass and MileagePlus lifetime balances will continue to display separately until late in first quarter 2012.
This will put me in contention of million-mile status next year--I've flown 25K+ miles on Lufthansa alone this year and took full advantage of United's consecutive years of double elite qualifying miles in 2008 and 2009 to build up 200K+ EQM each year. I also have flown on a number of full-fare tickets over the years, thousands of miles on Star Alliance partners credited to United, and held the old United platinum Chase credit card for a few years which earned elite qualifying miles.
What that means for me--and I suspect for many of you--is that my lifetime earnings will see a huge bump up once the recalculation is completed. No doubt, there is going to be a swelling in the number of Premier Golds, making upgrades in that 50K category highly dependent on fare class.
The new United will not continue to award lifetime miles the way Continental has. After United "equalizes" Continental and United accounts only flight miles earned on Continental/United/Copa will count toward lifetime status:
Starting January 1, 2012, flight miles on the new United (including Continental), Copa Airlines or Copa Airlines Colombia will accrue toward Million Miler status. Until that time, MileagePlus and OnePass members will continue to earn toward status and benefits in their respective programs.
I have no problem with this--in fact, I am surprised that United is counting all past elite miles for the program integration as one million flight miles is quite different than one million elite miles earned through fare class bonuses, credit card spending, and partner flights. Up until now, achieving MM status on United took years of dedication to United metal.
For existing MM flyers, benefits will be cut back: no more upgrade deposits each year purely due to the status. While I am not opposed to that decision, the policy change does demonstrate that what United gives, United can also take way. We can only guess what the MM program might look like in ten years' time...