InsideLook: United MileagePlus

InsideLook: United MileagePlus

UNITED CONTINENTAL HOLDINGS It has been more than two years since United MileagePlus became the frequent flyer program of Continental Airlines and United Airlines when those two airlines officially merged on March 3, 2012.
All that’s left of Continental and the OnePass program are the faint memories brought on whenever anyone sees the tail of a United plane. United MileagePlus recently made unpopular changes to their award chart, making awards on partner airlines in first or business class especially pricey, and added a revenue component to their elite program. But the pain will soon fade because members can still find benefit in membership.

United Airlines has hubs in seven U.S. cities including Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The airline co-founded the Star Alliance global airline alliance in 1997.

Earning Ability
Members earn one award mile per mile flown on coach fares. Travelers in full-fare coach (Y, B) earn an additional 25 percent miles flown. Passengers in discount business class (Z, P) earn 50 percent bonus miles and 75 percent bonus miles in business (J, C, D) and two-cabin first (F, A). Passengers in three-cabin first class (F, A) on aircraft with three-cabin Global first class earn an additional 150 percent miles. Premier members only earn a minimum of 500 miles on short hops.
Along with earning miles for United Airlines and partner airline flights, MileagePlus members can earn award miles through hotel stays, car rentals, dining, shopping, credit card spending and other activities.

Award Choices
MileagePlus flight award choices include Saver and Standard awards, upgrades and awards on partner airlines. A domestic (Mainland U.S. and Canada) Saver roundtrip coach ticket is 25,000 miles. Roundtrip award flights of 700 miles or less operated by United and United Express are 20,000 miles. A domestic Standard award, offering more award seat availability, is 50,000 miles. First and business class domestic tickets are 50,000 miles for a Saver award and 100,000 miles for a Standard award. If you wish to go to Alaska from the continental U.S. or Canada, there is an extra 5,000 miles needed each way for a Saver award and an extra 10,000 miles each way for a Standard award. Roundtrip coach award flights to Hawaii from Mainland U.S., Alaska and Canada are 45,000 for a Saver award and 90,000 miles for a Standard award. First and business class are 80,000 for a Saver award and 180,000 for a Standard award.

Flights between Mainland U.S./Alaska/Canada and Europe are 60,000 Saver and 130,000 Standard in coach and 115,000 Saver and 300,000 Standard in first or business class. If you wish to fly a partner airline on first or business class, it will cost you 80,000 more miles for a roundtrip Saver award for a total of 140,000 miles for a roundtrip award to Europe. Roundtrip coach flights to Central America are 35,000 miles Saver and 75,000 Standard and 60,000 miles Saver or 140,000 miles Standard in first or business class.

Flights to Central Asia require 85,000 to 350,000 miles, plus you must redeem 60,000 more per roundtrip first or business class award ticket on partner airlines. Round-the-world awards are offered for 200,000 in coach and 350,000 miles in first or business class.

There are no off-peak awards offered. One-way flight awards are offered at half the amount of a roundtrip award ticket and members can mix and match Saver and Standard awards and coach, business and first class seats on a roundtrip award. One stopover is allowed on roundtrip award tickets and two open jaws are allowed. Standard awards provide more availability than Saver awards but only Premier members and co-branded credit cardholders have access to last seat availability.

Upgrades are available with miles and sometimes a cash co-pay that is waived for Premier members on most routes. The miles required vary by destination and class of service purchased. An upgrade from the U.S. to Europe is 15,000 miles one-way when you purchase a full-fare (Y) coach ticket. To upgrade from lower-cost coach fares, the cost is 20,000 miles plus a $550 co-pay.

Members can use their miles to book hotel stays and rent cars and can choose to combine miles and money for the award. Members may also spend their miles on gift cards or certificates for dining at thousands of restaurants, to download music or stream movies, play online games, for magazine subscriptions, merchandise awards, gift card exchange, along with other ways to spend miles. Through the MileagePlus Headliners offers, members can get sports and concert tickets. If you have a MileagePlus credit card or are a Premier member, you can spend your miles for tickets at Mileage auctions are offered with an array of experiences. Members can also donate their award miles to charities including American Red Cross, Dream Foundation, Feeding America, Guide Dogs of America, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project and others.

United is a member of the Star Alliance network, offering members a great many flight award options. Non-Star Alliance partners include Aer Lingus, Aeromar, Azul, Cape Air, Germanwings, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, Jet Airways and Silver Airways.

Hotel partners include Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, IHG, Hyatt, Carlson, Wyndham, Choice and Shangri-La. Earning varies by hotel, but typical offers are two miles per dollar spent or 500 miles per stay. Car rental partners include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, National, Sixt and Thrifty and ground transportation partners include GroundLink, SuperShuttle, ExecuCar and Carmel. Most car rentals earn 50 miles per day except for preferred rental partners Avis and Hertz, offering 75 miles per rental day. Members earn 250 to 325 miles on qualifying Amtrak travel.

MileagePlus offers a host of co-branded credit cards for members worldwide. In the U.S., members can choose from the United MileagePlus Explorer Card that offers a free checked bag, two one-time lounge passes, two miles for every dollar on United purchases and other benefits. The card is free the first year and then $95 for subsequent years. Members can also choose the United MileagePlus Club Card that comes with lounge access. Both cards offer a business version of the card.

Members can earn award miles with a variety of other partners including cruise and vacation partners, shopping, flowers, wine club, dining, financial partners, e-Miles, e-Rewards, Opinion Miles Club, airport parking, buying tickets, through investments and with electricity providers in some states.

Elite-Level Program
MileagePlus added a revenue component to the elite program starting January 2014, requiring members in the U.S. to meet a certain spend requirement along with the required qualifying miles or segments to earn the various elite levels.

There are four status levels: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K. Premier qualifying travel includes travel on United, United Express, Copa Airlines, Star Alliance or partner airlines issued on a United ticket and Economy Plus purchases. To qualify for any Premier level, members must fly at least four paid flights on United, United Express and/or Copa Airlines during a calendar year.

Premier Silver status is earned with 25,000 Premier qualifying miles (PQM) or 30 Premier qualifying segments (PQS), plus $2,500 Premier qualifying dollars (PQD). Silver members get free access to Economy Plus seating at check-in when available, free Premier upgrades when available as early as the day of departure, 25 percent more miles on United and some partner flights, one free checked bag, reduced fee for booking award flight less than 21 days before departure ($50 instead of $75), no fee for award changes more than 21 days before departure (same origin/destination, normally $75) and other benefits. Premier Silver members get Star Alliance Silver status.

Gold Premier status is achieved once a member has flown 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS, plus $5,000 PQD. Gold members receive the benefits of Silver status, plus some enhancements including 50 percent more miles on flights, up to three free checked bags, free access to Economy Plus at booking, confirmation for free Premier upgrades as early as 48 hours before the flight, lounge access when flying internationally along with further discounted or waived award booking fees and waived fees for same-day flight changes. Gold and above status will be recognized as Star Alliance Gold.

Premier Platinum status is reached at 75,000 PQM or 900 PQS, plus $7,500 PQD and comes with further benefits. Premier members can enjoy Economy Plus seating with up to eight travel companions confirmed at booking, upgrades confirmed as early as 72 hours before the flight, 75 percent flight mileage bonus, 10 percent discount on inflight Duty Free purchases and regional Premier upgrades as early as ticketing.

The top official elite level for MileagePlus is Premier 1K, which is reached at 100,000 PQM or 120 PQS, plus $10,000 PQD. This level offers free Premier upgrades confirmed as early as 96 hours before the flight, instant upgrades on M-class coach tickets, Global Premier upgrades, 100 percent more miles on flights, 1K dedicated phone line and an annual $60 statement credit for owning a MileagePlus Chase card.

All Premier members get a minimum 500 miles on all flights, priority check-in and boarding depending on status, priority baggage handling, special Premier Priority Desk phone line, instant upgrades on Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets and more award seat access. There is also an invitation-only program called Global Services for top Untied customers. Gold members and above can sign up for the RewardsPlus program in partnership with Marriott Rewards that includes Marriott Rewards Gold Elite status.

United also offers a Million Miler program. Members who fly a million lifetime miles on United and Copa, will get lifetime Premier Gold status, two million lifetime miles will receive Premier Platinum status; three million lifetime miles will get Premier 1K status for life and members who fly four million miles will receive lifetime Global Services membership. Million Milers can also nominate their spouse or partner to get the same Premier status they have.

Rules & Conditions
Retroactive credit for flights taken before joining MileagePlus is not allowed. MileagePlus award miles do not expire, as long as you have account activity (earn, burn, buying or transferring miles) every 18 months. If your miles expire, you can reinstate them starting at $50 for up to 25,000 miles within 18 months of expiration. Awards may be issued in anyone’s name, but mileage pooling is not permitted, except through the transfer miles program. Members may transfer up to 25,000 miles, and no less than 2,000 miles, to another member’s account at a cost of $15 per 1,000 miles and a $30 per transaction processing fee. Members may also purchase or gift miles in increments of 1,000, up to 150,000 miles per year. Miles cost $35 per 1,000 miles plus a 7.5 percent tax. There is no processing fee and a minimum purchase of 2,000 miles is required.

Service Support
Members can contact the MileagePlus Service Center via email anytime or by phone between 7am and 12am (ET), seven days a week. Award reservations over the phone incur a $25 per ticket handling fee, waived for Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services members. If the award is less than 21 days before departure, the phone booking fee is $75 (general member), $50 (Silver), $25 (Gold). Regarding dealing with the airline itself when things go wrong, one member stated, “It’s just painful some days to do business with them.”

Online Services
Members can join the program and manage their accounts online, view balances and account activity and update their profile. You can claim missing credit within 12 months of the flight date online for United flights and in writing for partner airlines. Members can book one-way, roundtrip and multi-city, award travel on United and partner airlines with the help of an online calendar showing availability.

Plus Features
United MileagePlus has the benefit of being a member of the largest airline alliance in the world, and except for the new revenue-based component of the elite program, is holding fast on the old-school mileage concept to get awards.

Minus Features
Like most frequent flyer programs, United has made some changes to add a spending component into the program and the recent addition to making international partner awards more expensive did not go down well with members.

Program Rating
Overall Score 7.36
Earning Ability 8.0
Award Choices 7.5
Partnerships 8.0
Elite Level 7.0
Rules & Conditions 7.5
Service Support 6.5
Online Services 7.0

Program Information:
PO Box 6120
Rapid City, SD 57709-6120
(800) 421-4655