United Airlines Does It Again and Delta Dining Stands Out


Superman has Lex Luthor, I have United Airlines. Yes, I took my last trip overseas with the miles I earned from their Mileage Plus program. And of course, I relied heavily on their reward cards and their sign up bonuses, but overall, almost every encounter I had with United was poor.

It Is Already Bad

I know that reward programs only get worse, but United has now completely lost me. Their award availability is terrible. Their partner flight awards are nearly impossible to find. They do note even offer a waiting list when the award you want is unavailable. Unlike other Star Alliance members, they have no partner upgrade awards.

If you do get an award flight on United, expect to be treated poorly. When things went wrong, as they inevitably do on United, we were frequently reminded that we were second class citizens since we were on an award ticket. All summer long, they have been piling on the fees and the surcharges as fuel prices went up, and they have retained these fees as the price of fuel has fallen.

It Only Gets Worse

What is a recently bankrupt airline to do when its losses continue to pile up? Punish it’s most frequent fliers! Yes, United, the airline that never misses an opportunity to discourage you from being a loyal customer, has just announced it’s 2009 program changes.

Lowlights include:

  • Increased number of miles for a domestic upgrade.
  • A $50 co-pay for an upgrade “award” in the continental US
  • $250-$500 co-pays for upgrades to Hawaii and all other trans-oceanic destinations.
  • Huge increases in miles required for international and partner award redemption (domestic stays the same)

They Do Throw You A Bone

They are retroactively restoring the 500 mile minimum flight accrual for segments below 500 miles, but only for elite members. This might add up to a few hundred miles to a few people who flew United on many short flights this year. This was always a stupid policy as shorter flights are their most profitable ones, mile per mile, especially when fuel prices are high.

What Does This Mean For Your Reward Card

I think that this makes earning United’s Mileage Plus affiliated cards third rate reward cards. The best reward value is always on premium international flights and upgrades. In my book, having to pay for this “award” is a hassle at $50 and an outrage at $500. You must now look at miles accumulated through your Chase Mileage Plus card as being worth one cent per mile, at best. Simply put, I would just assume go with a cash back award rather than hit my head against the wall trying to earn an “award” on United that might include a $500 “co-pay”. Leave the co-pays to the health insurance plans, thank you.

Dining For Super Duper Delta Miles

As you know, there are miles and there are miles. In the wonderful world of Delta, it is all about accumulating Elite Qualifying Miles, or EQMs. Credit card miles and most other partners don’t work, as the only way to get EQMs is to actually pay for an airline ticket and fly somewhere. Only then do you get all of the elite perks that sometimes makes flying a little bit more tolerable.

I just found out that Delta is offering 1,000 regular bonus miles and 1,000 EQMs through a new promotion. You have to register for it, then here is what you do: Spend $200 on a registered card between now and December 15th. If you are traveling for business, this is pretty easy. Otherwise, just go out to lunch with all of your friends and/or co-workers, put the meal on your card, and let everyone else give you the cash. There are many people who schedule an additional “mileage run” flight at the end of the year just to get to the next elite level. If you take advantage of this promotion, you might not have to.

They are also offering VIP members an extra 5 miles per dollar spent when you fill out a rating survey online. That seems to be in addition to the 10 miles per dollar VIP members get, as well as any miles you earn from your reward card itself. At that rate, you will easily earn more miles eating out on a business trip than you would flying!

I am a big fan of these types of programs. Almost every airline has an affiliated dining program. When you are in a new town, and you don’t know where to go, narrowing your choices down to restaurants that participate in a mileage dining program is easy to do. When you are traveling by yourself on an expense account, it is easy to make a game out of using your credit card to accumulate miles. With these new offers, Delta makes it a very rewarding game.

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5 Responses to “United Airlines Does It Again and Delta Dining Stands Out”

  1. Steve Says:

    The new soon to be instated policy of co-payment for upgrade has indeed rendered mileage plus useless.

    As many business traveler, my employer is not willing to pay for additional upgrade fees separated from the ticket fee. UA is certainly not providing suc stellar business or first services that it woudl be worth spending much of my personal money.

    As a Global Service / 1K customer I have notified UA that the day they put that policy into effect I will not use United Airlines ever again. I encourage all UA customers to send similar notices… May be they’ll reconsider the implications of their miguided plans…

    Boycott United Airlines!

  2. Joe Says:

    Why is there no poll on this co-pay thing? Why are there not enough frequent fliers being more articulate with United?
    I am flying about a dozen trips a year overseas. And due to company policy (like many others) all business class travel is suspended. So I have to use my miles for a 14 hour flight to make the trip more effective.
    Nobody is paying me the out of pocket expenses of $ 1,000 + $ 10,000 a year. So this will be a personal and unaffordable expense.
    United makes their customer recognition program a big joke.

  3. Chris Says:

    For retirees like me, who takes 3 or 4 international trips a years, the co-pay policy for upgrades is not necessarily bad. Right now and in the past, I have to buy upgradeable economy class tickets (H class) to get upgrade to business class, which cost at least a few hundred dollars more than the lowest economy fare. Then I have to hope that I can get an upgrade – if not, I would have wasted the money to purchase an upgradeable ticket. The new policy allows me to purchase the lowest economy fare, but still with a chance to upgrade.

    If you use miles mainly for upgrades to business class in international travel, each United mile is worth somewhere between 5 and 10 cents. For example, the price difference between economy and business class for a LAX-LHR round trip ticket is about $5000. So the 60000 miles need to upgrade is worth more than 8 cents a mile.

    For international travel, Star Alliance still offers by far the best connections. I also find United’s service very good, and better than most US airlines. United has always treated me well, even though I travel in business class only through upgrades using miles.

  4. Suleiman Says:

    AT ALL COST, YOU SHOULD STAY AWAY FROM UNITED AIRLINES. I have flown overseas once or twice a year during the last thirty years. In my international travel experiences, I have never encountered the level of disregard and callousness to point of incompetence until I flew United Airlines this year. The service is very poor, the cabin staff (stewards, stewardesses, et.al) all appear as if they have just walked out of a dog’s kennel, very untidy, and half a sleep. The quality of food is horrendous and to request anything aboard the airline is more humiliating than begging on a corner street. Beware also of switching your seats if you found more spacious, sparsely occupied sections in the airlines, as you will be charged an additional fee (as it had happened to me). If you refuse to pay, the flight attendant, as I had experienced first hand, will call the airline security to arrest you and charge you with theft.

  5. Paul Says:

    They definitely are going from terrible to horrendous. This airline is a disgrace, unfortunately the international routes I fly and my location are best served by either united or American. one worse than the other. Oh what I would give to be able to have an international airline fly my routes from either Houston or Dallas !!!United has lied to me, has caused business losses, financial losses, too many incidents to list here. And I totally agree with Suleiman. The FA are rude, ineffective, inattentive and great bringing you a simple meal as a heroic effort on their part

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