United Airlines quickly followed Delta’s news on Sunday that it would be extending elite status for all current MileagePlus members by at least a year through 2021. This means existing elite members who earned their status in 2019 will not need to qualify again in 2020. United is also planning to adjust its qualification requirements in 2021 (next year) but has not announced specific terms yet.
This is good news for those who were concerned about the drastic overhaul United had previously announced for its MileagePlus loyalty programs late last year. 2020 was already slated to be one of the most difficult years ever to earn status before the current financial and health crisis emerged. Maybe that was justified as an economic boom was making it easier for more and more people to qualify, but now that is clearly no longer the case. During the last recession many airlines and hotels made it easier than ever to earn status.
In addition, United has announced many more details about its program this morning. Much of the news on Sunday was simply, “we’re matching Delta, wait for more details.” Now we have those details.
Elite Status Extended through 2021
As just mentioned, any MileagePlus members with existing Premier status will have it extended through January 31, 2022 (the normal end of the 2021 program year).
Qualification Criteria Reduced for 2020
If you don’t currently hold Premier status, or if you will be trying to increase your status level, United will be reducing the normal requirements by 50%. You can compare these to the original 2020 status requirements that were announced last fall, which included significant changes to how miles and segments are calculated as well as the introduction of a new term, “Premier Qualifying Points” (PQPs).
|2021 status||Earn Premier qualifying flights||and PQP||… or meet a higher PQP goal|
In addition, United will be offering more PQP through its co-branded credit cards issued by Chase. Watch out for a promotion running May 1 through December 31, 2020, that will offer 2X (for United Explorer cards) or 4X (for United Club cards) the maximum number of PQP you can earn in a calendar year.
Extended Memberships and Travel Certificates
Customers who already have a United Club membership or annual subscription to a service like Economy Plus or United WiFi will have those extended by six months.
In addition, United is extended the validity of any travel credits it has issued for customers with delayed or cancelled flights. Previously it was trying to avoid paying out the legally required refunds to those customers and earned a public reprimand from the Department of Transportation threatening enforcement action. Remember, you are owed a refund if the airline significantly changes your travel plans without your agreement.
For those people who already have a credit or are willing to accept a credit, United will extend the validity for an extra year, providing a total of 24 months to redeem for a future trip. This 24-month validity is the time you have to book a new trip. You can still travel on any flight after that date. (United issues tickets up to 11 months in the future.)
Waived Award Redeposit Fees
If you were thinking of using your miles to book an award ticket, United is making it easier for you to change or cancel your plans by waiving redeposit fees. Many airlines have been making this difficult, waiving change fees but not necessarily letting you put the miles back into your account. And I can understand why, since a redeposit is equivalent to a refund, and no airlines are refunding paid fares. United seems to have made a decision to be more generous.
Any travel through the end of May 2020, as well as any award cancelled at least 30 days before departure through the end of 2020, will be eligible to have the redeposit fees refunded if you choose to put the miles back into your account rather than just change your award trip to new dates.
I think these are very generous changes made, which address not just current members but also look forward to how United will maintain its customer loyalty over the next two years, which are likely to be a struggle for the airline industry. Kudos are in order. I only wish they had been so considerate before since they earned a lot of bad press when they started unilaterally changing terms on their customers and doing everything in their power to avoid issuing legally required refunds. The award redeposit policy makes me more comfortable redeeming some miles for a trip I hope to take this summer, but I’m not persuaded to give the airline my loyalty. Alaska Airlines, or perhaps Delta, seem more deserving.