MileMemo

MileMemo

There’s absolutely nothing to talk about this month. It’s the dead middle of summer and most of you are on vacation, just back from the beach, waiting to go to soccer practice with the kids or simply too worn out from the company picnic to even care what I write. I understand all that, but I need your attention for just a few minutes.

August is, of course, an “A” month, just like April. What else do they have in common? Well, nothing, except that both were months in which the United/US Airways acquisition was supposed to have been consummated.
The question now is – Where do both of these frequent flyer programs go from here? While the people at United were waiting for the deal to get done, they wasted a great chance to celebrate their 20th birthday (they wanted to tie in the US Airways deal to this event). Then US Airways screwed up by dumping AAdvantage prematurely.

For the record, we will honor Mileage Plus’ May 6 birthday by noting the program’s milestones:

United actually had more members than the American AAdvantage program at the end of 1981 and now have more than 40 million members worldwide and the largest number of elite members (even larger than AAdvantage, which has more overall members in its program).

Introduced Premier program in 1983, and had two million members by 1984.

Introduced Executive level of Premier in 1985 and, in that same year, introduced automated flight crediting at check-in.

In 1987 the program introduced its first mileage-earning credit card.

In 1988 United was the first major frequent flyer program to introduce expiring miles.

In 1990 it introduced its own European awards, as the airline began service to Frankfurt and Paris.

In 1992, “Premier Seating” in the forward part of the coach cabin was introduced. In 1994 United started to allow corporations to purchase Mileage Plus miles to use in employee incentive programs, thus formalizing a practice it had sporadically offered.

Also in 1994, United captured its first Freddie award as best overall frequent flyer program. The program went on to win two additional Freddie award honors in the years right after that.

In 1997 the ‘million mile’ flyer program was introduced, and in 1998 Mileage Plus introduced my favorite program of all time, the College Plus frequent flyer program for college students.

The last few years United has also introduced Personal Miles, rid itself of expiring miles and introduced e-upgrades. I almost forgot, the marketing execs at Mileage Plus also tried to introduce Saturday night stay-overs for members at reduced award levels and to require an advance award request of some 15 days. These historical initiatives require an asterisk however, because passionate members forced them out.

US Airways Dividend Miles, by showing allegiance to United and its terms and conditions (one year notice for structural changes to the program), might have dug itself a hole by outing the Hawaii-award rich partnership with AAdvantage. Prior to that relationship, the only way Dividend Miles members were going to aloha was to swim for it.

If United Mileage Plus was so committed to the deal, then why not dump Delta SkyMiles and its limp domestic alliance deal with the same notice that US Airways gave the AAdvantage program. I think in fight parlance they call that a sucker punch, and it looks like United Mileage Plus threw it. The whole affair reminds me of the movie “Dumb and Dumber,” brought to life on the big screen of miles.

With a little luck, this deal may still go through. But let’s assume it doesn’t. Where does Mileage Plus and Dividend Miles go from here? Mileage Plus is big enough to weather the storm it created. US Airways could also wait it out, but I suspect their people have other ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they are chatting again with British Airways Executive Club. At one time, this was considered the perfect avenue for both airlines. Talks soured though, as egos and American Airlines entered the picture. But now it seems that British Airways isn’t getting as much from the alliance game as it really should, and no airline is as well positioned to feed British Airways’ planes than US Airways.

Now that I’ve filled you with high hopes, you can go back to doing whatever you were doing when I interrupted you with this column. By the way, I like my hamburger medium-well.

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