|by Jason Steele|
When other frequent travelers hear that I live in Denver, they presume I must be a frequent traveler with United. The truth is that I once was, but I no longer am. It was both their reputation for poor service, as well as my personal experiences that caused me to swear off the airline and their frequent flier program.
Their Latest Offer, 40,000 Miles
Now, United has been offering 30,000 miles or even 40,000 miles as a sign up bonus for it’s rewards card. It appears that the 40,000 miles card is a targeted offer. You get 20,000 as a sign up bonus when you spend $750 dollars, and another 20,000 on your first anniversary. The annual fee of $60 is waived your first year.
Will United Last Another Year?
Mark Ashley, over at the Upgrade Travel Better blog, mentioned back in September that United has purchased oil futures, known as hedging, when oil was at it’s highest point. His conclusion is that United has been raising fees as oil prices have been plummeting in order to cover up it’s bad bets on the market and shift its losses to its customers. Now, travel expert Peter Greenberg suggests that United is loosing money so quickly, it might not last much longer.
Ashley agrees, and suggests it is time to get rid of empty your MileagePlus account immediately. His suggestion is to book reward travel on United’s partners, who would almost certainly honor reservations that have already been ticketed.
Even If They Survive, Is It Worth It?
Their program is being seriously devalued at the start of next year, with fees and “award co-pays” rising almost as fast as I can write about them. Here is an article in the Consumerist about a lifelong fan of the once great airline. He documents his struggle to use an award ticket. Ultimately, the fees charged exceeded the value of the “award,” and he, like myself, has committed to never flying them again.
If you are unlucky enough to fly with them, here you can expect flight attendants who rudely refuse to assist passengers or worse. In my final experience flying on United, my wife and I were lied to repeatedly and treated like second class passengers because we were traveling on award tickets. It was an eternal struggle just to get them to seat my wife and I together, and this was the service we received from their international business class!
My Latest Attempt To Use My Remaining Miles Fails
With 14,000 miles left in my account, I attempted to find an award, any award that can be redeemed for some value. The best award I could find, was a two day free car rental at National. I found this award page that showed four different rental companies that I could redeem an award for. I first made my reservation at National, but there was no award code listed on the web page. I wanted the code for the reservation before I confirmed the award, as all rentals aren’t eligible, and United’s web page makes clear that once the award is redeemed, it cannot be returned.
I called United and was eventually given some code that the people at National had never heard of. By the way, I love calling United. First the automated system asks you for you MileagePlus number, then you speak with a person. The first thing the person always asks for is, surprise, your MileagePlus number! I always tell them that the number is the same one I just entered, but they persist.
I called United back again, explained the situation, and was given a completely different explanation. They told me that the award is redeemed after the rental and then a refund is given. Finally, I decided to just redeem the award and try get rid of my miles while I still could. Only then was I informed that this offer was only available to elite members, something that their “customer service” people wouldn’t tell me no matter how many times I gave them my non-elite MileagePlus number.
There are many reward travel cards offered by many airlines. When choosing a card, you are making an investment in both the continued survival of the airline, as well as in the value of the award you hope to receive. When the airlines service is so remarkably poor, and their survival is in doubt, it is time to cash in your miles and find a new reward card.
Editor’s Note: – Even if you fly United, you can still earn frequent flier miles that are part of the Star Alliance program. For this reason, (if you fly United), you would inevitably better off getting a card like the Starwood Preferred Guest or allows you to transfer miles one on one for most airlines to other Star Alliance Partners.