United Mileage Plus recently announced a number of changes to the program, good and bad. Elite members will be happy to know that they will now once again receive 500 minimum miles on short flights. Effective Jan. 1, 2009, the 500-mile minimum accrual will be returned to elite members, and as an added bonus, the policy will apply retroactively to flights taken between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2008. And the retroactive miles will be reinstated by the end of this year to help members requalify for elite status in 2009. Non-elite members will continue to earn only the actual miles flown on flights less than 500 miles.
United has joined Continental and American in offering the 500-mile minimum to elite members and maybe the airline’s decision will influence partner US Airways’ to revise its policy of not offering 500 miles to any of its members.
United is also making changes to its award charts and upgrade awards policy. Effective Jan. 1, 2009, award levels will be increasing with the exception of Saver and Standard awards in coach class within the continental U.S., which will remain at current mileage levels. Domestic business and first class Saver tickets, however, will increase from 45,000 to 50,000 in business class and from 60,000 to 70,000 in first. Standard tickets will be adjusted to 100,000 in business and 140,000 in first.
Mileage requirements will increase on many (but not all) classes and routes between the mainland U.S. to Hawaii, South America, Europe, Japan, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Oceania and the Middle East. Increases range from 5,000 miles to 35,000 miles and the biggest increase will be on business class awards from the U.S. to North Asia, which will now require 125,000 miles, up from 90,000 miles. Award flights on the popular transatlantic route between the U.S. and Europe will jump to 55,000 miles in coach (from 50,000), 100,000 miles in business (from 80,000) and 135,000 in first (from 120,000). All flight awards to the Caribbean, Central America, Oceania, Central Asia and Africa will remain the same. You can book award flights at the current, lower mileage chart through Dec. 31, 2008.
The industry standard for an award flight in coach to Europe is creeping upward from the average 50,000 miles. Delta Air Lines’ lowest level award is now 60,000 miles and when Northwest WorldPerks joins SkyMiles, there will likely be one less 50,000-mile award to Europe.
Effective July 1, 2009, a cash co-pay will be required with many Mileage Plus upgrade awards and the mileage requirement will be decreased on some routes. Within the continental U.S., upgrades from Y or B class will require 5,000 miles (from 8,000 miles) and no co-pay. One-class upgrade awards from all other coach classes will require 15,000 miles plus a $50 co-pay. The co-pay on upgrade awards to Hawaii will range between $0 and $500 and require between 7,500 and 17,500 miles. And Mileage Plus members who want to use miles to upgrade on a flight to Europe will soon have to pay up to $500 and 20,000 miles. American Airlines charges AAdvantage members a cash co-pay on upgrade awards and with United’s new policy, we expect more airlines to follow.