So for those of you who fly United, I have put together a quick overview on the biggest changes that are most likely to have a direct impact on you.
The merger is still not fully completed - but enough changes have either already been made - or been announced - to enable us to draw some early impressions.
But I caution you to remember that they are still two, completely separate entities. I mention this because of stumbling on a woman the other day looking for UA flight X when her boarding pass clearly said CO. Flier beware! Anyway - here we go.
- Probably the number one thing that separates United from every other US carrier is their Economy Plus seating option in coach. All coach seats from roughly the wing forward have more space between rows, and thus more leg space. The difference is dramatic - and is the single biggest reason I fly United. I am quite pleased to report that all of Continental's fleet will be so configured once incorporated into United's. Hallelujah!
- United's three-tiered Elite flier system (Premier/Premiere Exec/1K) is changing to a 4 tiered system: Silver/Gold/Platinum/1K. The main change here is the addition of a 75K-100K level - now called Platinum.
- The Red Carpet Club will change it's name to The United Club. I like this. I never liked the hoity-toity elitist name Red Carpet Club. It pure aesthetics - but hey.
- New International routes. For example - Peru. I just flew there using United award miles. This time last year that wouldn't have been possible. Big plus.
- New paint job. United has changed their paint design a lot in the last 20 years. I've liked them all - but I really, really like their new one. It's essentially Continental's existing design - but with the name United in it's place - and I think it looks great.
- More terminal space. United will get great Continental terminals & gates at places like Houston - and they're expanding terminal space at places like San Francisco. Nice.
- Only 1K's will receive 100% mileage match on flights flown. Heretofore - 50K-100K Premier Execs also received 100% match. Now the match structure will correspond to the Elite level. 25K = 25%; 50K = 50%, etc. That's a big change if you've been a Premiere Exec before - and will be noticed.
- Premier/Silver 25K level will no longer be able to choose Economy Plus seating at booking - only at check-in. And since almost all flights are full at check-in, good luck. This is a Huge negative change for Premiers. I anticipate it means the end of unpaid Economy Plus seating for this Elite tier.
- Premier/Silver 25K will only be allowed 1 free checked bag versus the current 2. Ka-ching. Well, ya had to see that one coming. Solution? Lug the second one on-board.
These are the big ones so far; others are sure to come. The bottom line is that being a Premier/Silver 25K-50K flier isn't going to get you much any longer. And anyone between 50K-100K will be getting noticeably less perks than pre-merger.
However - the expanded route structure and number of available seats are definitely a plus. And all Elite level fliers wanting to redeem miles will be guaranteed a Standard Award seat on any flight with space (even if it's the last available revenue seat) - which is nice when trying to book award travel. Note that I said Standard Award - not Saver Award - but still pretty cool.
So I'm giving United an A- so far. The A is for maintaining Economy Plus seating. The minus is for stripping too many perks from the Premier Level, and dis-ing the 50K-100K level on matching miles.
It's not a perfect picture - but still pretty good.