Tuesday, November 4, 2008

United reinstates minimum mileage, adds upgrade fees

As Continental prepares to leave SkyTeam in favor of joining the Star Alliance, United Airlines--a Star Alliance founding member--is making changes of its own to bring its policies into closer alignment with its anticipated ally.

One of these changes, reinstating the 500-mile mileage minimum for elite members of its frequent flyer program, makes United the latest carrier to reverse a trend that it actually brought to the industry a few months back. (Ironically, it was Continental that first broke this trend, when a majority of its own OnePass elite members expressed anger at the policy.)

United has also decided to change its international upgrades, adopting one of the few policies that Continental has that arguably makes passengers worse rather than better off. When the changes take effect for 2009, every fare code will be eligible for overseas upgrades, and mileage requirements will drop. The catch? Passengers requesting mileage upgrades will have to pay cash upgrade fees in addition to miles, with the amount based on the fare class. For the most deeply discounted fare classes, fees may be as high as $500 one-way.

There's no word yet whether the new upgrade model will affect the workings of United Systemwide upgrades, which are unique to that airline.

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