United Matches American's Elite Bonus

Within 24 hours of the launch of American's double elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) promotion, United has responded with an elite-focused promotion of its own.

Like American's offer, United's is in effect through December 15.

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Also like American's promotion, United's awards double EQMs to members of its Mileage Plus program who fly on United or United Express during the promotion period.

Unlike American's promotion, United is giving its members a choice between earning double EQMs and double elite-qualifying segments (EQSs). For those who travel frequently on shorter flights, the EQS option can qualify them for elite status faster than qualifying via EQMs, so it's nice to have the choice. And it is a choice: You'll have to register to receive either double EQMs or EQSs, but not both.

Another difference between American and United's overture to current and would-be elites: In addition to the double EQMs, American is offering additional bonuses for those who exceed requalification thresholds; United is not.

I still expect Continental, Delta, and US Airways to respond with their own elite offers. In all probability, the decision has already been made, and these airlines are now slogging through the necessary steps to bring their offers to market. What's the hold-up? It takes time to prepare the marketing communications; adjust the back-end software to compute and award the bonuses; train front-line staff; and so on.

These offers are designed primarily to give the airlines' most profitable customers an extra reason to remain loyal, and to spur some additional trips before the end of the year.

But they're also an opportunity for less frequent flyers to at least qualify for entry-level elite status, after logging 25,000 EQMs during the year. By the end of 2009, American and United—and probably other airlines as well—will have been offering double EQMs during six full months, making this the easiest year ever to sample the benefits of elite status.

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