|by Jason Steele|
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.
- 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.