United has announced changes to its Mileage Plus program for 2004, and oddly enough, the resulting uproar you hear is not grumbling, but cheers.
While programs like Delta SkyMiles and Continental OnePass have chosen to cull their herds of elite-level members by rewarding only those passengers who pay for high-priced fares, United has gone in a completely different direction.
For starters, every mile flown will count toward elite status — a sharp contrast to SkyMiles and OnePass, where discount economy fares net just 25 percent of miles flown. But enforced equality is not United’s aim — while they don’t wish to penalize budget-conscious members, they also want to reward the big spenders. As a result, for the first time, the bonus miles earned in First (50 percent) or Business (25 percent) will count toward elite status. This is not an entirely new idea (Northwest, for example has already implemented this practice), but that does not detract from its value.
What’s more, elite members who purchase full-fare United Economy E-Tickets (Y and B booking classes) will be upgraded when seats are available. No mileage redemptions or upgrade certificates are necessary.
And there’s even a little extra for 2003 elites: Premier members with 25,000 flight miles or 30 segments will find a bonus of 2,500 miles in their accounts, and Premier Executive members with 50,000 miles or 60 segments will receive a 10,000-mile bonus. Premier Executive 1Ks with 100,000 qualifying miles or 100 segments in 2003 will get six system-wide upgrades (incidentally, SWUs will all be electronic in 2004).
Finally, in 2004, SWUs will be eligible in North America from all booking classes except Z and G. And starting Jan. 1, members will get two SWUs as soon as they fly 125,000 flight miles or 125 flight segments. One hundred and fifty thousand or more flight miles or 150 or more flight segments will net two more.