Saturday, October 11, 2014

United and MileagePlus Fail to Win My Business

So we're going through the process of booking flights for another trip to Japan. As I mentioned previously, I have Premier status on United and my fiancee has status on American. As we try to coordinate the best flight for this trip -- one that's mostly business for her -- we considered a number of factors in selecting our flight or flights. Here are some of our factors, in no particular order:
  • Cost of the ticket
  • Departing and arriving airport
  • Miles and status on the airline
  • Number of stops
  • Fare codes on the various tickets
  • The potential benefits of miles on said airline
  • The potential to upgrade
On our last trip, we actually took different airlines just so that we could both benefit from our respective mileage programs. This time, however, after considering all of the factors, United has lost. Not only has United lost, but MileagePlus and my experiences with the program earlier this year have basically essentially downgraded the airline in our decision process.

That's right. Depending upon the route that we selected, a United flight actually offered a lower priced flight but we opted against taking it. All of those 'benefits' that I've accumulated, lounge access, the theoretical option to upgrade, and the potential flight miles from the trip were not enough -- even with the lowest price. Here's why.

With their new MilieagePlus qualifying dollar requirement, even thought I spent the first half of the year flying on United -- and even with the cost of this ticket to Japan -- it's still unlikely that I would have met the dollars spent requirement. Hey, the company demands that we attempt to purchase the lowest cost fares. I can't do anything about that.

Based on my experiences expecting an automatic upgrade to Economy Plus combined with a new note on their site that says, 'automatic upgrade for Premier Exec with minimum class ticket', I now know that I can't expect an automatic upgrade. I also know from my experiences that the idea of using my accumulated miles to buy a class upgrade is, similarly, a pipedream.

But even if all of those things weren't the case, the low price fares are actually a ticket class that you can't upgrade. C'est la vie.

Practically speaking, what that means is that even with all of the miles that I've spent in United Airlines seats over the years, for all of the customer loyalty that I may have built with the airline, my reward is to be treated as though I was a customer that traveled only once every couple of years.

Similarly, even though my fiancee has status on American Airlines, we won't be flying on them either. In this case, a direct flight and a newer 787-class plane were more important that status. In short, as I mentioned in my previous posts on this topic, the mileage loyalty program has become so diluted that it's not enough to incentivize loyalty.

And the ironic thing is that, if everything goes according to schedule for next year, I have a busy year of travel coming up. Lots of tickets, lots of domestic travel. In the old days I probably would have booked all of that on United and been a happy Premier passenger riding along in Economy Plus. Now, I'll be surprised if I find myself on a single United flight.

The really crazy part is that, with all of experiences in the past, there is a part of me that holds onto the pipedream, deluding a part of my brain into thinking that there is the potential for special, better treatment and that I'm somehow missing it. Even in the face of my experiences in the past year, there is a part of me that feels like I'm leaving something on the table by not choosing United. That's some seriously mad Pavlovian shit there. Even crazier that a business would sit back and just torch that kind of thing.

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