UNITED AIRLINES

Is United’s new frequent flier program created for wealthy rocket scientists?

Frequent flier programs have always been complicated and at times seemingly irrational, even for frequent fliers and travel agents.

But United’s new MileagePlus program takes it to a whole new level, since travelers who care about both Elite Status and award tickets now have to consider three different numbers for each trip.

No joke. And two out of three of those numbers are not obvious.
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Do seductive frequent flier programs hurt competition?

If you’ve ever done something for the miles, like Rick Brown has, you probably know the dilemma.

Should you shrug off a higher fare, a less convenient routing or consistently bad service for the promise of a “free” flight?

Brown, who runs a trading company in New York, has done all that — sticking with his preferred carrier, United Airlines, even when the airline struggled. He’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on airfares for himself and his family during his career, “more than on any other airline,” he says.

Research suggests many consumers are similarly seduced, and that the siren song of loyalty programs can lure them into booking a substandard product. The debate is particularly intense now, with United’s’ controversial loyalty program changes taking effect this month. It becomes the latest airline to reward customers based on money spent instead of miles flown.
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Furious at United because she missed her best friend’s funeral

Alicia and Joe Haviland are mad at United Airlines and at me.

They’re furious with United for canceling Alicia’s ticket from Panama City, Panama, to Seattle via Houston and issuing an involuntary refund. As a result, Alicia Haviland missed her best friend’s funeral.

And they’re upset with me because they want me to write about their negative customer service experience and I haven’t — until now.
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Yes, loyalty programs are rigged — but what are you going to do about it?

Remember how easy it used to be to earn frequent flier miles? You’d book a flight on a major airline, go on that trip, and earn miles based on the distance flown — usually one award mile for each flight mile.

It’s not that simple any more.

First, airlines added a class-of-fare bonus so that a purchased first class ticket would earn double miles. Then they started offering their own branded credit cards so you’d earn miles when you purchased your airline ticket on the card, one mile per dollar spent on a ticket on their flights. And then they upped the ante to two miles per airline ticket dollar (their airline, of course) and one mile for every other dollar charged on the card.
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