United fires back with more frequent flyer changes of its own

Loyal United frequent flyers, the airline has finally done something right. United is partnering with Chase to offer a new, enhanced Mileage Plus Visa that the airline says “reinvents travel loyalty programs.”

I don’t know if I’d choose quite those same superlatives, but this new card does look like a winner. In addition to the usual “Standard” and “Saver” awards, card holders will now be able to earn points (which United is calling “Choices”) good toward five different awards. They are:

  • The option to select any open seat on any available United, United Express, or Ted flight booked on online, with no capacity restrictions or blackout dates.
  • Hotel stays and car rentals booked online at united.com (no blackout dates).
  • Upgrades to United’s “Economy Plus Access,” which offers access up to five inches of additional legroom with Economy Plus seating.
  • Elite-qualifying miles or segments that count toward elite status.

Randy Petersen, editor and publisher of Inside Flyer magazine, says of the move: “United’s new Choices are the most significant innovation in frequent flyer benefits I’ve seen since 1988. This impressive array of redemption options brings a new level of transparency and value to today’s frequent flyer.”

From where I’m sitting, that remains to be seen. I prefer to reserve my praise until I see the program actually doing what it promises. Nevertheless, I have to admit this is a good step, particularly on the heels of JetBlue’s solid improvements to its loyalty program and the backlash toward United itself for its previous changes.

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