Category Archives: United Airlines

United Is Upgrading Premium Cabin Food on Domestic Flights

Did you want the salad with chicken or shrimp?

Anyone who flies United in domestic business class frequently will no longer have to answer that question (no complaints, mind you – on the occasion when I’m upgraded I take my shrimp and shut the hell up).

United is upgrading salad options in the front cabin on domestic flights, as they note in this press release:

Among the changes:
-New, premium salads beginning this month for customers flying United First and United Business within North America;
-New, premium sandwiches and wraps, beginning Sept. 1, for United First and United Business customers within North America;
-Addition of Prosecco sparkling wine in premium cabins beginning this fall;
-Introduction of premium-cabin meals to flights of shorter duration, beginning in 2015; and
-Fresh meal options for premium-cabin customers on United Express flights, beginning in 2015.

Beginning in the middle of next year, flights longer than 2 hours and 20 minutes or 800 miles will get upgraded meals in premium cabins. United Express flights will see the snack boxes replaced with actual food. In addition, they’ll upgrade international economy meal service.

Now let the whining about everything United does commence!

Before You Start Crediting Your United Flights to Other Programs, Consider This…

I’m seeing a bunch of posts elsewhere about crediting your United flights to other programs after the change to a revenue-based program next year.

Be careful about that.

In general people who fly more than 25,000 miles a year on United would still want to get status on United (upgrades, ability to grab Economy Plus seats for free), so I would be surprised if someone flying more than 25,000 miles a year would credit their flights elsewhere because of their fear of missing out on some miles. But either way…

Here is my concern:

If you credit your miles elsewhere, you will end up orphaning miles in another program. It will be difficult to earn exactly the number of miles you need for a trip, so some miles will likely be orphaned wherever you move them to. So you’re not really gaining all the miles you think you are.

If you already have United miles, the miles you add to those miles make a greater range of trips possible. In other words, adding 14,000 miles to your 52,000 miles means you can fly round trip to Europe. Adding 19,000 miles to Turkish Airlines’ program won’t get you a trip to Europe.

If you’re not flying that much, do you really want to manage multiple programs? To gain, what, 10,000 additional miles that you may end up orphaning anyway?

I could be convinced that it would make sense to credit your United flights to another program MAYBE if you earn the miles you need for a very specific trip, so that you’re earning and spending those miles quickly. But to earn 19,000 miles with the possibility of orphaning them (which means not only do you basically lose those miles, you didn’t get the lesser number of miles you could have earned by crediting to United) is not a risk I’m willing to take.

The reality is this: for some people they will earn fewer miles when they fly United (or Delta). For most people who have status, you may end up a bit worse, or you may end up a bit better (for everyone who complains about the $400 Transcon that only earns 2,000 miles, as a Gold I’ll now earn 2,400 miles for that $300 ticket to Detroit). In any case, for the infrequent flyer, having to manage multiple programs and take the risk of losing those miles, I just don’t believe it’s worth it.

United Moves to Spend-Based Mileage Earning: An FAQ

In the least surprising announcement in quite some time, United is matching Delta and moving to a spend-based mileage earning program. To help you whine and complain in the best way possible, I’ve pulled together this FAQ:

Q: WTF?
A: You know how you used to earn miles based on the number of miles you flew? Yeah, that’s not going to happen anymore as of March 1, 2015. You’ll earn miles based on how much you spend (which really makes them points, not miles). If you have no status you get 5X the cost of the ticket; Silver gets 7X; Gold gets 8X; Platinum gets 9X; 1K gets 11X. This does not affect how many PQMs (what used to be Elite points) you earn.

Q: That’s on United tickets?
A: Yes, and on codeshare tickets issued by United (that would be ticket numbers that start with 016, if you care about that level of detail).

Q: What about fare class bonuses?
A: That’s built into that multiplier noted above.

Q: What about if I fly on a different Star Alliance carrier and I bought the ticket on that carrier’s website, but I credit to United?
A: Then you’ll earn the same way you were earning before.

Q: So, is this the worst thing that could ever happen?
A: No. Eliminating the program would be the worst thing. Or the best – I’m not really sure. In any case, United now joins Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America in having spend-based programs. The world is going in that direction, and I would be shocked if AA didn’t roll theirs out once they’re further along with the US Airways integration. They have bigger fish to fry.

Q: Shouldn’t I just earn on a different frequent flyer program if I fly United?
A: Sure, but then you won’t earn Elite status on United.

Q: Son of a bitch!
A: I know

Q: Does anyone actually benefit from this change?
A: Actually, yes. If you fly a lot of short-haul where flights can be expensive, then you may make out like a bandit. I used to fly $1100 tickets between Cleveland and White Plains. As a Gold member, that would earn me 8,800 miles a week. Damn! Also if you (or more likely your business) is flying you on international business class tickets, you’ll be racking up the miles. Well, up to 75,000 miles per flight. So yes, if you fly on a $9,000 ticket and you’re 1K, you will only (“only”) earn 75,000 miles for that ticket.

Q: F- this, I’m going to fly Delta, at least they’re investing in their product.
A: Go right ahead. Good luck redeeming those miles.

Q: Crap, you’re right. AA here I come!
A: If you want to redeem to the Caribbean and Latin America, fantastic! Good luck redeeming non-fuel surcharged award tickets to Europe or Africa.

Q: Crap again.
A: I know…things have changed, deal with it. UA is still a pretty good option for redeeming coach-class awards just about anywhere in the world.

Q: Isn’t it a little weird that you can easily manufacture miles through credit card spend, but actually earning miles through butt-in-seat flying, especially on cheaper tickets, is difficult?
A: Yes. But the airlines are basically now saying that if you’re flying on the cheapest fare buckets, we’re happy to have you seek out cheaper alternatives. Just give us your full-fare business. It’s not an insane strategy.

Q: At this point, aren’t people so angry and annoyed with UA management that there’s little they could do that people would be happy about?
A: Fixing a broken merger is difficult, and it’s more difficult when basically every airline around you is thriving. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Q: So what are you doing in response to this?
A: Me? Nothing. Delta miles are useless. AA is a possibility, I guess, but I really do think that United’s miles (because I’m willing to redeem for coach awards) are the best option available. I’ll stick with what I’m doing and manufacture points through credit card churning.

United Offering (Targeted) Triple Miles Promotion for (Non-Discounted Coach) Travel May 1 – July 31

I just received a piece of mail from United offering triple miles for flights between May 1 and July 31st (that’s regular miles, not elite miles). In approximately negative 13 point type, they note that it is only good for flights booked in F, A, J, C, D, Z, P, Y, B, M and E, which is to say that deep discounted coach is not included.

This is a targeted offer, so go to united.com/triplemiles04 to see if you’re eligible for this possibly lucrative, possibly not-applicable-to-you offer.

You have to register by May 31st.

The 2 Most Worrisome Quotes to Come Out of the United Airlines Earning Call Last Week

United announced a Q1 loss last week and even the company said they were “extremely disappointed” in the results, especially in the face of profitable quarters from their competitors (you can read the whole transcript of the earnings call here).

The whole call was pretty rough, with management saying that their 4-pronged plan to improve revenues was solid — 1) Drive later higher-yield bookings; 2) Re-bank flights in Houston and Denver to maximize connections; 3) Sell more premium cabin seats at booking (bye bye upgrades); 4) Better match aircraft size to demand. They also had issues on the cost side, which seemed to receive less attention than the revenue side, though both were disappointing, with margins 500 basis points below competition.

I’m not sure I’d agree that the whole thing was a disaster, but it wasn’t good, and if you don’t believe in their overall plan, then you are likely a bit worried about what the next year looks like, relative to competitors.

I wanted to point out 2 interesting parts of the call:

1) It smells like we’ll be seeing a move to a Delta/Southwest/JetBlue/Virgin America-like revenue-based program. Not tomorrow, but some day. Check this out from Jeff Smisek:

Our frequent flyer program is evolving and as are others. And what we’re trying to do is better align the benefits that we deliver to our customers through the frequent flyer program with the benefits that the customers deliver to us from their flying, including the profitability of their flying. And I believe that you will see evolution of our program over time. We can’t talk about specifics at this point in time, but clearly, this is an evolving process. And frequent flyer — our frequent flyer program is becoming much more sophisticated and is better aligning the benefits bidirectionally.

I think I see where that’s going. Combine that with the focus on selling domestic upgrades at sale, and I think the United frequent flyer experience looks different in 18 months.

2) Analyst Jamie Baker asked an incredibly damning and probably spot-on question that gets to the heart of the matter:

Have you considered at any point that perhaps, not just perhaps, there is a more structural explanation as to why results are being held back? For example, we cited, and others have as well, that you face more competition in your hubs than American and Delta do? If I jump in a taxi in San Fran or Denver and say, “Take me to the airport.” the guy asks, “Who are you flying?” And that just doesn’t happen in Charlotte. You’ve pursued a 4-cabin strategy that should be generating a RASM premium, but currently isn’t. And I appreciate all the talk about winglets and Wi-Fi and the like, but I’m just not convinced that even if properly executed, even if properly mined, United has the same profit potential as your primary competitors.

In other words, whether we like the management team or not, is it possible that structurally United cannot thrive relative to competition? That’s a tough question, and the response by Smisek (long-winded, but basically we have performed poorly from an operations perspective and that’s driven away revenue, but we have a plan to fix that) probably did not inspire confidence in the airline’s frequent flyers, who have experienced those operational deficiencies.

The transcript is worth a read, because you can hear the frustration from the analyst community, one of whom prefaced a question with “One of the many excuses we heard last year…”

Ouch.

United Upgrades to 767-400ER on Houston – Honolulu So You’ll Get Lie-Flat Business Class

For travel from April 1 to June 14th, United is upgrading its aircraft on the Honolulu-Houston route from the 777-200 with the domestic first class seating to a 767-400ER with lie-flat BusinessFirst seating. For those looking for a comfortable option to Hawaii, there ya go.

Sadly, best of luck getting award seats up front though – I see a couple of dates in April and no dates at all in June.

How Adorable, I’m on an Ancient United 757-200

I fly United a fair amount and somehow I have never ended up on a non-Continental 757-200. Until today.

I’m going to Vegas, and this aircraft has tv monitors in the aisles and no power ports. It’s like 1982.

I had no idea United still flew these (how have I never ended up on one?). From what I’ve heard from my perch in 21C (along with its friend 21D, the best coach seats in United’s fleet – exit row, full recline), literally every single person has complained about the state of this aircraft.

People whine about US carriers because of this inconsistency – nowadays a 5-hour flight without seat back tv or, at least, wi-fi (or power ports) seems nuts. But here it is…

(I have nothing else to add – I somehow just had no idea they were still flying these around).

United: Our Domestic First Class Is Worth about 79 Bucks

Nothing (well, almost nothing) has driven United Elite members crazier in the past few years than the idea that United is selling upgrades before giving free upgrades to Elites. This has been discussed ad infinitum on Flyertalk, and if you’re a United shareholder you should be happy about this.

Anyway, the offers I’ve received in the past few years to upgrade have, for the most part, been unreasonable. But today I saw that I could upgrade my rather cheap ticket tomorrow to San Antonio (~$300) for $79. That seems crazy cheap to me, considering it includes a LaGuardia – Houston leg that (supposedly) is incredibly different to get upgraded on (it’s a 737-700 with only 12 FC seats.

I turned it down because the exit row in Economy Plus was available for free (and I’m perfectly happy with that for 3 hours), but I’m surprised how little they were selling it for. Is that normal?

United: We Have Successfully Destroyed the Environment With Our Old Coffee Cups, So Now It’s Time to Move On to Different Cups

Let me ask you a couple of questions:

- Are you one of the millions of people who choose their airline based on the cups in which their beverages are served?

- Do you love your piping hot beverage served in a styrofoam cup?

Well, if you answered yes to that second question you’ve got a decision to make:

United Airlines has announced that it will no longer serve coffee (or tea!) in styrofoam cups (like it’s 1973), and will be switching to – wait for it, beverage lovers – insulating InCycle® cup, manufactured by Washington-based technology company MicroGREEN, which is made from 50% recycled materials, and is, itself, 100% recyclable.

cup

Yep, that’s it. It holds hot beverages, cold beverages, lukewarm beverages, beverages of indeterminate temperature – and everything in between! In the United Club (where it debuts this month), you can fill it with those little cheese crackers and yogurt-covered raisins (where available). If you’re not in a Club, you can fill it with all of the extra miles you’ll need to fly anywhere now that they’ve devalued their award chart. Your choice!

If you love styrofoam, I suggest getting a bunch of flights in before Mid-March, when they roll out the new cup in the skies.

A Clarification on Which US Airways Flights Earn United Miles

Based on what I’ve seen elsewhere, there is still some confusion (including my own confusion) around which US Airways flights earn United miles, now that US Airways is owned by American. Here we go…Until March 30th:

- US Airways flights on US Airways metal will earn United miles, as they always have.

- US Airways flights that are a codeshare with American Airlines that are on American Airlines metal will NOT earn United miles.

- US Airways Express flights operated by any of their express partners WILL earn United miles.

- Keep in mind that Republic flights Express flights for both US Airways and American. That is confusing. Just saying.

- American Airlines codeshare flights that are operated by US Airways WILL earn United miles.

The rule of thumb is that the operating carrier determines whether you’ll earn miles with United.

(Thanks to this FT thread…)