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New United MileagePlus Honors Loyal Flyers

© Richard Seagraves

Maintaining its 1K status shows United was listening.

I’ve been closely watching the merger of Continental OnePass and United MileagePlus, and the resulting new loyalty program debuted in March. While I’m sure members of each program will lament the loss of something, the whole story is that they can also applaud something in the new MileagePlus program.

The single thing I like the most is the very subtle nod to MileagePlus members in retaining the use of “1K” to describe its top published elite level. If you look closely at the progression chart of elite levels, 1K does seem out of place. Putting “Premier” aside, we see Silver, Gold, Platinum and…1K.

Formerly called Premier Executive 100K by MileagePlus, the 1K moniker was adopted by members of the program to describe the level many years ago. And it stuck. It does not make it clear that it takes 100,000 qualifying miles to earn (we all know 1K stands for 1,000), but the fact that the new MileagePlus program adopted both the term and the flawed description it stands for shows that United is paying attention. The single instance that comes to mind of a company adopting slang from its customer base is when McDonald’s uses the term “Mickey D’s.” Oh, the heartburn of a quarter pounder with triple cheese that must have caused when put forth by the advertising agency.

But somehow I don’t think that United was persuaded to use the term by a branding agency. Naw, I think that the folks in Chicago likely spent far more time in the trenches looking at member information and feedback. So, in my own world of paying attention to details and customers, this little detail of 1K stands out.

I also applaud the decision of United MileagePlus to extend 1K status in the new MileagePlus program to Continental OnePass Infinite Elite members. This move by United honors the implied promise by Continental of top lifetime elite status and recognizes the emotional attachments formed by Infinite Elite members more than a decade ago. Infinite Elites earned lifetime status after they’d achieved Gold Status (the highest tier at the time) for five consecutive years—I earned mine from 1988 to 1991. Although the number of Infinite Elites is small, the offer to extend lifetime status is a big statement by United.

Agent of Change

Some of the major modifications to the new MileagePlus program are:

  • Four elite tiers instead of three
  • Bonus miles accumulation restructuring
  • Different free bag levels for various tiers
  • Lowest-tier elites can’t confirm Economy Plus seating until check-in

Randy Petersen is widely regarded as world’s leading expert on frequent-flyer programs. He founded FlyerTalk.com in 1998—the largest discussion forum on loyalty programs—and MilePoint.com in 2011. He is also publisher of Inside Flyer magazine. He holds more than a million miles in at least five airline and four hotel loyalty programs. He can be reached at editor@executivetravelmag.com.

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