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United devalues Premier status – now must pay cash for P.S. upgrades, no more COPA upgrades + more changes

by on Wed November 19, 2014 • 2 Comments


United quietly announced changes to the benefits Premier members will receive in 2015. As you might expect, none of the changes are improvements, and they are on top of the change to earning miles based on what you pay in cash instead of the miles you fly:

Premier members must now pay up a cash and miles for P.S. upgrades from JFK-LAX / SFO

United offers lie-flat seats in Business Class on its ‘Premium Service’ P.S. flights from JFK – LAX and SFO. Today, Premier members can upgrade with either miles (with a waiver of a cash co-pay charged to non-elites) or using an upgrade certificate (‘Regional’ or ‘Global’).

Starting February 1st, Premier members will have to fork over a cash co-pay if they’re using miles to upgrade.

This is the news that will get the most attention and grief from United’s Premier fliers, as even top tier 1K fliers are not exempted from this policy, and no discounts are offered based on elite status.

United’s co-pay amounts for P.S. flights are high. These are the prices for a one-way upgrade:

  • $75 + 15,000 miles for M, E, U class
  • $125 + 15,000 miles for H, Q class
  • $175 + 17,500 miles for V class
  • $225 + 17,500 miles for W class
  • $250 + 20,000 miles for S, T, K, L, G, N class

American charges only $75 + 15,000 miles for the same routes (for now), along with giving free upgrades to top tier Executive Platinum fliers, and Delta charges no co-pay, just restricting upgrades to mid to high fare classes for 12,500 miles.

Delta also unofficially allows complimentary upgrades for Platinum and Diamond level fliers on these routes.

United can’t argue its product is better than its competitors here, as they all now operate the same lie-flat seat on these flights, so this is a flatly uncompetitive proposition.

It’s made even less competitive by the fact that JetBlue Mint now offers Business Class fares as low as $599 each way, with a better product.

So 20,000 miles plus $250 is rarely a good deal.

United frequently offers upgrades on these flights for $299 in cash, while a full award ticket in Business Class is just 25,000 miles.

And United usually offers advance Business Class fares of about $1,000 one way on P.S. flights, so paying $200+ for a coach ticket, plus $250 for an upgrade, plus 20,000 miles (worth $200 – $400+) saves you very little.

But it’s not much different than United’s international upgrade policy, which offers no discounts for Premier members and is priced higher than competitors despite a similar product.

COPA complimentary upgrades will end in July 2015

COPA, an airline with a big presence in Central America, and longtime Continental Airlines partner, will stop offering free upgrades to United MileagePlus Premier members starting July 1, 2015. After that only Platinum and higher members will be able to upgrade, and only then using a Global or Regional Premier upgrade certificate.

This change isn’t so surprising. Avianca / TACA is now part of Star Alliance, giving lots of coverage in that part of the world, and COPA is starting its own, independent frequent flier program. It’s a let down, but was in our view a situation where things were a little too generous because of some legacy deals that had to be sorted out.

Award tickets issued from a Premier member’s account will no longer confer the status of the member

This was in our guess a glitch in the old Continental computer system that gave friends and family of Premier members a gift.

Whenever a Premier member books an award ticket for someone else, the status of the Premier member would appear in that person’s reservation, even when the Premier member isn’t flying. That makes them eligible for free checked bags, priority boarding, and even upgrades.

Effective February 1st that will end.

It’s a let down if you enjoyed the perk and got used to it, because it really was useful, but in reality it was never a published benefit.

One less bag for Premier Gold members

Starting February 1, instead of 3 free checked bags per flight, Premier Gold members will get only 2 checked bags per flight. Not a huge deal here, but if you relied on it of course it’s a downgrade of benefits.

All in all this is bad news for Premier members. If you are a regular P.S. or COPA flier it is a big devaluation in benefits, though ironically the value of your Regional and Global upgrades just went up. But if you’re not a regular P.S. flier these changes are small.

You might want to think twice about spending more on flights this year to hit the next level of United Premier status if these changes hurt you. American and Delta are happy to offer status match challenges.


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2 thoughts on United devalues Premier status – now must pay cash for P.S. upgrades, no more COPA upgrades + more changes

  1. DDingler

    Sad news. I’m a 1K. Flew UA and AA business LAX/JFK-EWR about a month apart. American has a superior product/service. Thinking of taking the challenge.


      @DDingler – You’re probably not alone there, though the new United food is a step up. AA though seems to do some of the details more refined.


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