Change is inevitable. Over the years, the US-based major airlines have made a habit of changing things, and usually in ways that don’t benefit the majority of their customers. But, almost all changes have some aspects that benefit a specific group of customers. Revenue-based earning may be bad for a lot of folks in the hobby of collecting miles and points, but that earning style can be incredibly lucrative for big spenders.
United Airlines has managed a set of changes that will make virtually nobody happy (well, except United). I first saw a tweet from @ssegraves on Twitter about some of the changes:
Now, free award changes is one of the primary reasons I stretched to 75,000 miles on United last year to achieve Premier Platinum. It was pretty clear I wasn’t going to like these changes. But, since I cover the world of miles and points from a number of different perspectives, it was reasonable to think that there were changes that benefitted others. I’m traveling in Europe right now, so timezones were working against me on cranking out a post when the news first came out. The high-level notes were:
- Increases in change fees for pretty much all travelers other than 1K and Global Services members.
- Change in the definition of “close-in” changes from 21 days prior to departure to 60 days.
- Elimination of the current stopover benefit, replaced with a big mess.
- The promise of a better website.
By the time I got back to my hotel last night (late afternoon in the US), a number of bloggers had covered the changes in detail.
The first post I read was from Wandering Aramean. He discusses the changes to stopovers in more detail. The summary for folks who don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole is that stopovers as we know them today cease to exist. There are edge cases where you’ll be able to add on a stopover within a region, though no longer in the region where you started travel, one of the more common ways savvy travelers used to maximize their miles.
I don’t think the majority of travelers used the free stopovers in this way. Adding on a free stopover at the end of an award is something I’ve suggested in a number of seminars over the years, but few people ever told me they took advantage of the perk. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to forecast the dates for a one-way trip sometime off in the distant future. Again, smart travelers would use their ability to make free changes to awards to maximize a benefit like this.
As I first learned of these changes, though, United is making those free changes accessible to a smaller group of elite members and further restricting when those changes are free. Seth has a good chart illustrating these changes. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of green (good changes) on that chart.
View From The Wing had a slightly different perspective on the changes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not jumping for joy with these changes. But, he does point out that this likely means we’re not moving to revenue-based award charts at United anytime soon. He’s likely right about that, but we can’t eliminate that possibility since United just foisted new fees on some of their most loyal customers in the middle of the qualification year.
He also notes that United may have eliminated the ability to make free date and time changes while keeping the rest of an itinerary the same. We’ll have to wait and see if that holds true, but that’s another stinker of a change if so.
Mommy Points notes the painful aspects for Premier Platinum members in the announced changes. I’m Premier Platinum as well, and feel her pain. Acutely. I made 3 changes to my flights for our most recent vacation. All free. All would incur fees in the future. She’s almost as confused as I am as to the definition of an “Excursionist Perk”.
When United Airlines Makes Changes, Customers Should Be Scared
The same could probably be said for all of the major airlines right now. I wanted to get the meat of the changes written down while I had a few free minutes. I have some pretty strong opinions, both from a consumer and a business standpoint. I’m hoping to get those written out later today or tomorrow, but I’ve got a bit more vacationing to do.
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