An Open Letter to United Airlines –

Please click to sign the petition over at Change.org:

Million Milers United

 

Jeffrey A. Smisek, United Airlines, CEO

Jeffrey T. Foland, United Airlines Mileage Plus, President

Dear Messrs. Smisek and Foland,

This open letter is being written because all of our e-mails, letters and telephone calls have gone unanswered.  Most of us have spent more time on your airplanes than we have with some family members; we know your flight attendants, check-in counter customer service agents and Red Carpet attendants.

In the 1980s, United was considered a world-class airline with a world-class mileage program to reward their most loyal customers.  United was the first airline to launch a status in the Mileage Plus program that could be attained by very few: the Million Miler status.  It was truly brilliant! Million Miler status could only be obtained by flying in increments of 1,000,000 miles on United aircraft and United alone (no codeshares, no partner airlines, or by any other means).

The beginning of every calendar year, for decades, we received our Mileage Plus package presenting the Million Miler program and it’s LIFETIME benefits.

Of course, other airlines came out with their own “watered down” versions of million mile status.  Watered down because they were a lot less strict than United, lifetime status miles could add up quickly in a variety of other ways than actually flying.  A person who didn’t fly an actual million miles could become a million mile flyer.  But, the million mile status did not give the premium LIFETIME benefits United’s Million Miler status offered.

United’s Million Miler status was the considered the crown jewel of airline loyalty programs and your most loyal flyers went after it, decade after decade.  Slowly, we finally became Million Milers.  Some even went on to become 2 Million Milers and a select few went even further, but not many, since one had to fly the actual miles, and only on United airplanes.

We based our travel decisions to make sure our flights were on United because we wanted the miles applied to our lifetime mileage status.  Never, for one second, did we question whether United would go back on their word – the Million Miler status required a long-term commitment on our behalf to fly the actual 1,000,000 miles.

Then came the merger with Continental.  Their loyalty program, OnePass, offered a million mile status as well, but members could have miles applied to their lifetime mileage status in a handful of different ways, such as:

- bonus miles from opening a co-branded credit card and miles on credit card spend
- miles earned on actual flights AND elite bonus miles
- miles from promotional offers
- miles from airline partners
- miles earned from class-of-service bonuses

United applied miles actually flown, regardless of where one sat on the plane; Continental applied miles a handful of other ways.  There was a period of time, when Continental was in bankruptcy, million mile status could be achieved by flying a fraction of the miles just so they would keep their customers!  However, a Continental flyer who achieved million mile status on OnePass would get lower lifetime benefits than a United Million Miler.  Actually every single airline’s million mile status was lower than United’s, and this is why we made the effort to obtain Million Miler status.

It wasn’t long after the merger was announced United’s Million Milers began to worry about our hard-earned status and the LIFETIME benefits.  We were all reassured by United on the company website in 2010-2011, that United’s Million Milers would NOT be affected by the merger with Continental.

Yet a year later, this published reassurance suddenly disappeared!  The promise made to United’s most loyal customers was brushed aside publicly, as “a regrettable and confusing error,” as recently told to the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, United’s Million Milers had spent plenty of time – and money – flying United, believing we would not be affected, believing our LIFETIME benefits would stay in place.  Imagine our surprise when United announced ”new and enhanced lifetime benefits” to the Million Miler status downgrading or taking away all of our benefits.

The “enhancements” to the Million Miler program?

1. Removal of the LIFETIME yearly deposited confirmed regional upgrades

2. Removal of the United Red Carpet Club lifetime membership at the 2 Million Miler level.

3. The removal of “new Million Miler” one-time gifts (systemwide and regional upgrades).

4. The introduction of the Spouse elite match.  This adds incentives to the Million Miler program but the benefit is of little or even no value to members with spouses at the elite level, or elites who travel with their spouse, or customers with no spouse or significant other.

5. Creation of “Premier Platinum” downgrading United’s Million Milers who were told would receive LIFETIME Premier Executive status, which was second tier in the program; Impact: your best flyers now have lifetime third tier status; before the introduction of Platinum, it was second.  Because of the downgrade, we get less bonus miles for flights flown and now are even lower on the list for stand-bys, etc.

This is not only a devaluation to the Mileage Plus program generally, but especially to United’s Million Milers who directed corporate and personal travel exclusively to United Airlines in order to achieve Million Miler status.  How about those who were close at becoming Million Milers or the 2 or 3 Million Miler thresholds?

On January 1st, 2012, United gave all Mileage Plus members a one-time mileage recalibration to include mileage on partner airlines and applied this towards Million Miler status.  This was done as an “equalizer” to combine Continental’s and United’s programs and put all flyers on equal lifetime mileage footing.  There’s an issue because it is quite possible someone who has flown 1,000,000 actual miles on United will have flown very little on other airlines.

This past March 2012, United Mileage Plus and Continental One Pass accounts were combined.  There were many OnePass members who held the status of one-, two-, three, four-million mile or more in that program and didn’t even fly the actual miles and now, with the new system, leap-froged us in status and benefits! We determinedly paid, flown and gotten to Million Miler status on United based on the promise of exclusive LIFETIME airline status, recognition and benefits.  When the new rules came into place in March of 2012, the program was flooded with new “pseudo” one-, two-, three- and four-Million Milers from Continental’s side and were thrusted into the top tiers.

Before any merger, Mr. Foland told some loyal United Million Milers: “United is honored that you have shared millions of miles of your life’s journey with us….You are truly one of our most valued customers and your loyalty is greatly appreciated.”

Please figure out some way to make this whole.  We ask for no more and no less than what United promised us over the decades in LIFETIME benefits and status; it would not take much to satisfy everybody.

United may not belong to us, but we belong to their program, and in a way it’s our airline as well; it has been for a long time. The merger of United and Continental to form the world’s largest airline provides opportunities not just for the airline but also for its customers. Merging best of the former United and Continental million mile programs, instead of removing or downgrading previously provided status benefits, and maintaining incentives to fly United, we believe will be the best course in the long run.

United executives are charged with the responsibility for the well-being of the airline and integrity in the way they conduct its business. We say, where is the integrity in broken promises?  When is LIFETIME considered a LIFETIME?

Please, re-consider our long-term loyalty and our special elite position.

Very Truly Yours,

Your Million Milers*

Disclaimer: This Web site and public forum is not associated in any way with United Airlines, Continental Airlines or American Airlines and the use of terms from the United MileagePlus, Continental OnePass or AmericanAdvantage frequent flyer programs are used only in the public domain.

*Of course, not all of them

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