Wednesday, November 19, 2014

And with this tiny footnote, United likely ended my husband's loyalty to them

If you look at item 1 at the bottom of this page, you'll see the power of a single footnote.
Premier members who request a MileagePlus Upgrade Award on or after February 1, 2015, for a p.s. route between New York JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco will no longer be exempt from the co-pay.
For several years now, my husband's work has paid for his JFK< >SFO flights in Economy and he upgrades those flights to United P.S. BusinessFirst with miles out of his personal account. One of the things he's really liked about post-merger United is that doing this is a piece of cake — no need to call customer service, just tap a few buttons on the website and it all happens automatically. 

But now, his upgrade to BusinessFirst is going to cost him 40,000 of his own miles plus $500 of his own dollars on top of whatever his company paid. While United miles are probably the most valuable of the US carriers, he essentially runs a deficit — he spends way more miles upgrading each flight than he earns, so he isn't accruing valuable miles for personal vacations at a later date. (Right now he's using a United credit card to keep his balance up). Honestly, with the recent devaluation – it's now 140,000 miles for Business Class to Europe – I question whether United miles are really that valuable anymore. 

There was a lot more bad news, but Lucky covered it better than I can. 

So now the big question is what to do next year? Does he just do JetBlue? I'm thinking aloud here and making some public notes to myself so I can keep all of my research in one place... 
  • There's a good overview of their program here. Long story short: points are worth about 1.4¢ each when you redeem them. If you use their website and their credit card to book, you earn 10 points per dollar spent (so basically you're getting a 10% back in JetBlue travel dollars). 
  • You can earn points on tons of airlines, but you can only redeem TrueBlue points for travel on JetBlue or Hawaiian
  • Mint is hands-down the best product on the JFK-SFO/LAX run. Better food, vastly friendlier staff, free Wi-Fi that's 10x faster than United's paid Wi-Fi, and the ride is especially sweet if you can score that middle suite (which they're still not charging extra for!)

  • It's $99 per segment to upgrade from Coach to "Even More Space" (i.e., Economy Plus) — but can he do that with his own money AFTER his employer buys his ticket? (He doesn't usually mind doing one of the legs in coach as long as he has enough room and Wi-Fi to actually work the whole flight.)
  • There are SJC and OAK flights, but he usually has to get a rental car and they charge huge fees if you return the car to a different location so i think the SJC and OAK options are off the table (since he'd be flying home via a SFO Mint Redeye flight)
  • JetBlue's Mosaic (elite) program lets you use points for Even More Space seats, but you don't get free access to those seats like you do Economy Plus on United, nor can you use the points to upgrade into Mint
  • Looks like JetBlue isn't running a status challenge at the moment. Their last one was 3/2014
  • I'm thinking it wouldn't hurt to just email them (mosaicchallenge@jetblue.com) and see if they'll do it anyway
I realize this is a lot of consternation about something that might seem simple, but my husband really hates commuting to the west coast and getting to sleep one or both ways is one of the few things that makes it bearable to him. I'm also the reason he moved so I feel extra pressure to make sure it's as painless as possible for him!
  • The other big wrinkle in all of this is that he only just recently learned that his employer will pay Business Class on redeye transcon flights BUT, like on all flights, he has to pick a fare within $100 of the lowest available. A quick skimming of the corporate travel portal seems to indicate that this will likely be JetBlue's Mint most of the time. We saw several test dates where the next-closest fare was fully $500 more (one way).
  • JetBlue also just announced a bunch of customer-unfriendly policies (no more free checked bag, shrinking the legroom in regular coach) so lots of people are probably thinking about new options right now
  • It's unfortunate that Virgin America hasn't refreshed their cabins. While their huge recliner chairs are the fanciest thing available from any carrier on most of their routes, all of Virgin's competitors have lie-flat beds standard in Business Class on the JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX runs. And Virgin is pricing their last-gen product like it's a lie-flat. Nope. 
  • Given the way that Delta is eating Alaska Airline's lunch in Seattle, I'd love it if Alaska would think outside the box and start offering a premium JFK-SFO flight. But sadly I think Southwest is more likely to do this than they are. 
One thing's clear: loyalty is long gone and 2015 is the year to shake things up. So far the only trip we have planned is Puerto Vallarta in January, which we're going on miles on Aeromexico's new 787 there and we're flying Delta's reasonably-priced Business Class direct service back. 


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