Posted April 1, 2015. Happy April Fools Day!
Missed check-in cutoff or credit card payment? Be prepared to cough up miles
April 1, 2015 | CHICAGO, IL: United Airlines today announced a major change to its MileagePlus frequent flier program that will penalize late-arriving passengers to the airport for flight check-in. Under the new terms and conditions, which will go into effect on May 1, 2015, passengers who arrive after the check-in deadline will not only face automatic cancellation of their reservation, but also be penalized with a 10,000 mile deduction per traveler on their monthy frequent flier account statements.
The penalty will also apply to late or missed credit card payments for any owners of a United-branded credit card who fail to pay their minimum balance due each month.
All United customers will be impacted by this change, regardless of their level of elite status or cabin class of service. Furthermore, United will continue to charge passengers for issuing a new ticket if they missed their flight and cannot be re-accommodated on a later flight that same calendar day.
Special assistance customers, such as unaccompanied minors or vision-impaired travelers, can receive a “special protection” exemption from the penalty as long as they inform United in advance of their condition, and pay a one-time, non-refundable insurance fee of $100 at booking.
United Executives: “why should you remove benefits when you can confiscate them?”
United has been aiming to achieve $2 billion in annual cost savings since 2013. In addition to automating as many touch points in the customer travel cycle to cut down on labor expenses, especially at airports, the carrier believes that passengers will be even more incentivized to arrive for their flights on time. Further, they will also be more cautious about booking itineraries with tight connections and paying their credit card bills to avoid the penalty fees.
“We are essentially passing on greater control and accountability to the flying public,” said Jimmy Samartzis, United VP of Customer Experience. “It reduces costs for us and eliminates stress for them.”
Even if a United passenger does not possess a frequent flier account with the airline, or flies infrequently and has a low balance with little overall investment in the program, punitive measures will still be enacted if the rules are broken. Customer accounts will be updated to reflect defecits that the passenger must either earn back, rendering it harder to accumulate enough frequent flier points towards purchasing an award ticket.
United CEO Jeff Smisek said that the move, although infuriating for United’s “over-entitled” elite passenger base, will help stem revenue leakage under the threat of having hard-earned points confiscated for their insolence.
“Loyalty is a privilege, not a right, something that has to be earned at United,” said Jeff Smisek. “We also can no longer trust our disgruntled gate agents to merely accept bribery from passengers who game the system so they can dish get-out-of-jail-free cards.”
“Our novel approach is novel, and shareholders will love it,” added Samartzis. “Why remove benefits when you can confiscate them?”
Change draws mixed responses from United airport agents
Employee reactions to the news were mixed, with some airport check-in and gate agents applauding the corporation’s decision to penalize lazy customers, while others rare puzzled.
“You won’t believe how many times I’ve heard the, ‘I’m late because my cat had diarrhea,’ excuse,” said a San Francisco-based ticket counter agent who wishes to remain anonymous. “Next time, they’ll know better to teach their cat to properly sh*t in the litterbox because on United, you certainly can’t sh*t where you eat anymore and expect to succeed.”
At delay-prone Chicago O’Hare airport, United’s largest hub, agents remarked that the penalty was pretty ruthless given that late passengers usually arrived at the gate to discover their flight still had not pushed back yet, and had been delayed due to weather, mechanical issues, President Obama visiting his hometown, or trapped catering carts.
At Newark, United gate agents are already so numb to the level of contempt customers hold towards them, that they merely shrugged their shoulders and glanced at their watches.
Few other airport agents could be reached for comment as United is currently in the midst of outsourcing union employees at 28 domestic US airports to contract workers.
New MileagePlus website called, “FAQ University” to be launched in Q2 2015
United also announced that the change to its MileagePlus program would be rolled out as part of a broader initiative to create a single repository on its website with all of the bells and whistles detailing its loyalty program, known as “FAQ University,” or “FAQ – U” for short.
“We are really excited about the future of FAQ-U,” said Tom O’Toole, SVP of Marketing and Loyalty and President of MileagePlus at United. “With all of the changes that have taken place at United and its award-winning programs, United customers can now directly access the new site to answer their questions about what to expect when flying United or its Star Alliance global partners when it comes to mileage redemption and accrual. Or lack thereof.”
“We think FAQ-U will be the perfect response to satisfying the needs of our most devoted clients,” said CEO Jeff Smisek.
Visit Untied Airlines’ home page for the official Press Release.