Big Blow to United Elite Family Travelers

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This morning I released a post about the highlights and low-lights of United 1K status….and apparently I should have waited another day to write that post as some things I liked got whacked today by United.  There were a number of changes I will get into more tomorrow (spent today on a plane with no WiFi doing my last mileage run of the year for United status…oh the irony), but I’m going to focus on the change I like the least tonight.

For as long as I have had United elite status, it has effectively transferred to others when they traveled using my miles.  This may have just been a “bug”, but it was a well known bug that worked in the favor of elite family travelers.  They would get priority boarding, free E+ seats, free checked bags, etc. when the miles for their ticket came out of my account, whether or not I was traveling on the same itinerary.  This is a bigger deal than just being a nice perk for the traveler because my family, like many others, will often use miles for the kid(s) and potentially the spouse, while purchasing a revenue ticket for the one who is chasing status in order to help that person re-qualify for elite status for the following year.

Previously this method worked just fine as we could all still sit in E+ together, but once this “enhancement” kicks in on April 15th, that method will no longer work.  If I am not also traveling on miles on the same itinerary then my benefits like E+ seats don’t transfer to my family members.    If an elite traveler wants to use their miles for their family to join on a trip, it is a little off-putting to then have to pony up for benefits like E+ when the miles are coming out of the elite account.

United E+ Seats

United E+ Seats

The official wording of the change is:

As of April 15, 2015, when traveling on an award ticket for United- and United Express®-operated flights, benefits including but not limited to complimentary Economy Plus seating, Premier priority travel services (such as Premier Access check-in and priority boarding), and checked baggage service charge waivers are determined by the traveler’s own Premier status, even if another member’s miles were used to purchase the award ticket. Customers traveling on the same reservation as a Premier member may receive the applicable companion benefits. Please visit the pages relating to specific Premier benefits for more information.

The bigger issue is why does United seem insistent on “a death by a thousand cuts”.  It is cliche, but I don’t of know a better way to describe what they have been doing.  With the one exception of some slight meal improvements in first class, it seems that everything United does is solely to tick people off, often in the form of nickel and diming.  There has to be a better balance between being profitable and making customers happy than the trajectory they seem to be on.

In my imaginary world, what would be a very helpful compromise would be to extend the benefits if the elite traveler who used their miles is also on the same flight via some sort of record linking.  In my view, there shouldn’t be a “benefits punishment” just because the elite traveler wants to fly on dollars while the family flies on miles.

Will this impact the way your family uses miles on United?

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  1. I always viewed this as a “glitch” rather than a feature. I guess United grew wise to it. I lose my Platinum status in February but definitely enjoyed giving my E+ benefits to my family.

  2. Uggh…I agree with you. That is a big hit. That was a perk I leveraged multiple ways, but especially when travelling with my wife and kids.

  3. Could be worse. You could be flying Delta. We have REALLY been wacked this week. Then again, I am sure United will follow as they do everything bad Delta does to us elites! 🙁

  4. I could bitch that you used “clique” instead of “cliche,” but instead I’m going to be very angry that you used “impact” as a metaphorican instead of a literal verb.

  5. What Nick said. As a lowly silver, this means I have a better shot at an E+ seat at check-in. Seems to me like Premiers should have better benefits than non-Premiers traveling without their sponsor.

  6. I’m all for bashing United for all the crappy things they do but this benefit was a fluke to begin with and I think if we’re honest with ourselves, this fix is “correct” and there’s really nothing to complain about here.

  7. Alaska did the same thing a year or two ago. I’ve enjoyed this perk on United but I completely understand why they are making the change.

  8. I never thought it was right that the status of the “sponsor” carried through IF the sponsor was not travelling on the same itinerary. However, I agree with you that if United confers the benefits on family members on the reservation if all using miles, they should also get it if the sponsor is flying on a paid ticket. That makes no sense.

  9. But it says: “Customers traveling on the same reservation as a Premier member may receive the applicable companion benefits.”

    Doesn’t that cover most scenarios?

    I saw a recent situation (on AA) where a father flashed his XP (on AA) at the gate and asked that his kid receive benefits when he (the father) was not on the flight — so if abused this can indeed cut both ways.

    • Dale, it only technically covers if the one with the status is on the same reservation as those without, which they aren’t when you use miles for family members but buy your own tickets.

  10. For those who usually travel solo this may be a small net gain, but really the biggest loss for family travelers is E+, not upgrades, which didn’t happen on awards anyway if there was more than one person on the itinerary (and even then it was still glitchy).

    The transferring of status may have started as a glitch, but United viewed it enough of as some sort of policy to warrant an official update with 6 months notice of the change (which I’m thankful for), so it this was more than just “fixing a bug”. It was a thought-out decision that hurts families by far the most.

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