Today, I feature a guest rant from my friend David over at the Debt Free Guys. Have you ever tried to use airline points only to find that it’s completely impossible? I thought so…
United and Visa Team Up to Become the Unfriendly Skies
I will preface this, and you can ask John, that it takes a lot to upset me. For the most part, I am a mild mannered person and rarely rant. When I take time to write a post like this, it means something has really upset me.
Case in point, United Airline’s Mileage Plus Visa Program.
I have been a member of United’s Mileage Plus Visa Program for well over ten years. It was one of the first credit cards I let get me into trouble and one that I had to furrow when we decided to pay off our credit cards. At the same time, it was my credit card with the most credit history. So, I kept it.
I have spent well over $100,000 on this credit card over the years. I have faithfully paid my annual membership, even when I have not used the card. I was committed to this card. I didn’t have any plans for a financial break-up. That is, until now.
A Card for Saving Money
Being the Money Conscious guy I am, I must have a good reason to keep a card with an annual fee between $99 and $149 that I am not using. David Auten of The Debt Free Guys doesn’t like to throw away money. I am frugal, I cut costs and I enjoy saving money. With United’s Mileage Plus Visa Card I was doing just that.
The reason was two fold. First, I spent and racked up the miles, which paid for our travel to countries such as England, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and cities all over the US. We used these cards heavily once we learned how to travel hack and pay them off each month. Second, United and Visa send us travel vouchers each year for one complementary flight. They are a bit different from companion tickets. They are two tickets for a specified price. The price is valid all year and are based on the contiguous U.S. being divided into zones.
For example, if we travel from Denver to Philadelphia where John’s family lives, we pay one price for two tickets. If we flew from Denver to D.C., we pay the same price as we do for the Philly because D.C. and Philly are in the same zone. Likewise, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego are in the same zone.
We often save between $100 and $300 with these companion tickets. It is like United and Visa reward us for our years of patronage, especially through the good and bad years of the economy. Until now, it was a deal.
The New Money-Saving Swift Kick in the A$$
I recently opened my mail to read the “new and improved” companion ticket offer from United Visa. Sarcasm off. In a few short words, both United and Visa told their members to #$%@ themselves.
You see, United’s Milage Plus Visa Program no longer exists. They don’t offer companion tickets anymore. Those of us who used to get this offer have been with United and Visa for a long time. Offers can change at any time and they certainly did.
The new and improved offer gives card holders a certificate that says they can purchase two tickets for the price of one and requires card holders to select specific codes for the flights.
Two Points of Anger
- When searching for flights with these codes, I found that 90 percent of the time what used to be non-stop is now multi-stop. For example, the Denver to Philly flight can now be as difficult as Denver to Chicago, Chicago to Omaha, and Omaha to Philly. What was once a three and a half hour trip is now over 13 hrs!
- Using the same example, what once cost $560 in 2013 to fly us both from Denver to Philly is now a frugal $1,517. Yes, you read that right. A longer day, more stops and a whopping 270 percent increase in cost.
United, you have some ‘splaining to do. Why are you rewarding long-time customers with such a poor “new and improved” offer? Are you trying to drive us away? Do you realize I can and will go to your competitors? I have since booked two flights with your competitor, who has a better offer right now. It comes close to topping your original offer.
At a time when airline profits soar, why is United dismissing patrons who stuck with them through their very, very rough times? This horrible change has caused me to rant and will likely make United a detractor to many, many people who follow this blog and Debt Free Guys. That is not good business judgement.
Thanks Debt Free Guys for the rant today! I have one word for you regarding this issue: road-trip. Well, that is actually two words, but you get the point:
Oh wait, 26 hours together in a car? Yikes. After that, you may hate John more than you hate the airline/points program. Maybe just wait for science to come out with teleportation…
Join the 10s who have signed up already!
Subscribing will improve your life in incredible ways*.
*Only if your life is pretty bad to begin with.
Mrs. PoP says
Oh gosh, tell me about it! I’ve found it nearly impossible to use some of the airline points we accumulated and ended up using some to fly first class to Omaha (first class on a regional jet = not that exciting of an experience, but still expensive in miles!) in May just to use some so they wouldn’t expire unused. =P
Mrs. PoP recently posted…PoP Balance Sheet – July 2015
David of the Debt Free Guys says
Thanks for letting me share my story. United and Visa have taken me for a ride and not a fun one.
David of the Debt Free Guys recently posted…1500 Days to Freedom Guest Rant
Chris @ Flipping A Dollar says
Ugh. I just recently got one of the United cards because I was flying for business and wanted to get the points. It looks like I can’t even sign into my United plus mileage account. They set one up for me but didn’t give me any login credentials. Looks like I’m going to be on the phone for a few hours to figure it out.
I wonder if all of the travel hacking has made them re-think their rewards program?
Reminds me of the one at work where we used to have a reward program that was employee to employee. Now they’ve changed that. Instead, all of the “rewards” are either crap (stupid things you could buy in any mall) or giftcards to restaurants. There were literally 4 restaurants. That’s it. What the hell? I don’t want that. Just give me the cash so I can retire earlier!
Chris @ Flipping A Dollar recently posted…Ask the Readers: What the Hell do I do with this Sign?
Mrs. Crackin' the Whip says
I would be frustrated too! I’ve had success with Southwest’s point program and we have a hub just a couple of hours away. I also have quite a few American Airline points “banked” so I’m curious to see how their availability / points requirements pans out. Hmmm, maybe I should start planning a trip?!
Mrs. Crackin’ the Whip recently posted…Privilege Is Not Required
Ali @ Anything You Want says
This is awful but I hate to say that it doesn’t surprise me at all. Airline programs change all the time it seems, and never for the better. I guess you can be thankful that you got so many years of good rewards out of it?
Ali @ Anything You Want recently posted…The Sunshine Blogger Award
Yep…happens all the time. When I’ve searched for flights with rewards miles, it always has connecting flights…even for a flight that was only an hour long if direct. Somehow, they would send me somewhere else beforehand making it a 3 hour flight with a layover. It’s great to have points but what’s the point when you can’t use them. I opted to pay for a flight recently rather than use points because of the layover. I layover wouldn’t have been too bad if it was just my wife and I, but with a toddler…it’s too much stress.
I’ve lived in Denver since 2001 and fly back to Philly every year and drive up to A-town to visit my folks. I also have had a United Visa card for what seems an eternity. Since 2001 a round trip flight on United from Denver to Philly has always been around $300….sometimes less, sometimes more but for the last 14 years I’d say in my unofficial opinion the average has been right around $300 for a round trip.
With that said, Denver is a United hub…Philly is not. That’s why there are only a few direct flights every day. Chicago and Wash DC are United hubs and that’s why multi-city trips are more common. Funny thing is I just bought a one-way ticket this week to Philly that is a direct flight and it was $157 (so that’s $314 round trip). Sure I’m flying an early evening flight but finding a $300 round trip ticket is not impossible. You just need to be a little flexible. I’m using Southwest miles for my return direct flight from Philly to Denver.
Also I just used my Visa miles for 3 round trip flights from Denver to Maui / Oahu to Denver. Again…not impossible if you are a little flexible with dates and times. I will say we did get bumped from a 1 city layover to a 2 city layover trip on the way back so I can relate a little.
Finally I’m using 2 days of Hertz miles for part of my rental car. I didn’t have any trouble using Hertz miles for this trip.
I am just glad that at least miles give us an option of not paying for a flight. Like I did above I paid for a one-way ticket and used miles for the other half. It is a nice option if you are short on cash or short on miles.
I’ve used a lot of frequent flyer miles, but never a companion pass. I can say with certainty that United is one of the suckiest out of the domestic airlines, so I’m not surprised at this change. They’re usually among the worst in customer satisfaction according to Consumer Reports. But I have to say, I love using Untied miles on Star Alliance partners. It’s really easy to search and find seats. I usually go with Southwest for domestic flights.
Norm recently posted…Camping! A Frugal Friend’s Favorite Vacation
Duncan's Dividend's says
That’s crazy stupid, why companies make decisions like this boggles my mind. Although with the amount I flew United last year it does not surprise me. This is one of the most terribly run companies with the most mechanical issues I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. No AC for an hour on the tarmac in summer? Check. Engine leaks and cancelled flights? Check. Terrible customer service? HUGE check.
Duncan’s Dividend’s recently posted…Thursday Rant – The Evolution of Facebook
Adam @ AdamChudy.com says
Need to jump on that SW bandwagon and score you a Companion Pass!
Adam @ AdamChudy.com recently posted…Keep Stacking Bricks
diane @smartmoneysimplelife says
Here in Aus we don’t have too many options with frequent flyer miles. I was part of the Visa/Qantas one for a while (many years ago) but it was near impossible to book the flights I wanted using my miles. I quit the program pretty quickly as it was no benefit.
Now I save up my reward points for prepaid visa cards: I can use them where I want, when I want. Easy!
I don’t blame you for being peeved…
diane @smartmoneysimplelife recently posted…Getting Fit and Staying Fit on a Budget
No Nonsense Landlord says
I find cash back cards to be the best. I can buy tickets with the cash, and if I do not travel I can just get the cash. No annual fee either.
No Nonsense Landlord recently posted…Should I Pay Off My Rental Mortgage?
Glad my oldest cards are cash rewards/no annual fee cards!
Interesting. That explains why my husband recently said he was going to cancel that card.
We’ll need to find a new back up.
I feel like companies cancel good offers because they feel like it hurts their bottom line. This is so stupid because offering a small “treat” (nice companion pass, food, or even a snack) goes a long way. I love, love, love Hawaiian Airlines. They fed me, I got enough frequent flyer points for two tickets and they gave me a complimentary rum punch right before we landed in L.A. (and a chocolate covered macadamia nut). I am now a super fan and these other airlines would benefit if they cultivated super fans too.
Michelle recently posted…Girl Gone Frugal Episode 6: Mrs. Frugalwoods from Frugalwoods!