Two days, two news releases. United MileagePlus is the worst frequent flyer program, United MileagePlus is the best frequent flyer program.
Why do we even read anymore.
We learned Tuesday that about half of frequent flyers surveyed by J.D. Power and Associates don’t know how to redeem rewards for free flights. The most difficult and poorly navigable in the survey: United MileagePlus.
United wasted no time responding with another consumer survey, this time conducted from readers of a magazine called Trazee Travel, a website I’ve never read before today but which calls itself “The Smart Source For Millenials.” Surprise ending: Trazee’s poll listed United MileagePlus as readers’ favorite frequent flyer program.
On both counts, this is really screwed up. While I’m totally sure many, if not most, flyers struggle to redeem their frequent flyer miles, and I’m sure that J.D. Power winners JetBlue and Southwest have programs that are simplified and much easier to use, I believe that United cannot be either the best or the worst frequent flyer program by any measure.
There are programs with better earning rates and better redemption prices for long-haul travel (Alaska, American). There are programs with far worse award seat availability in desirable premium cabins and on flights close to departure time (American, Delta).
JetBlue and Southwest have frequent flyer programs that guarantee seats on every flight. They also offer a fraction of the value that United MileagePlus — or really any of the major airline Frequent Flyer programs — do on long-haul flights.
When you convert your frequent flyer miles to cash fares, as JetBlue and Southwest do, you eliminate one of the great value propositions of mileage travel — the ability to compensate for expensive last-minute flights or long-haul flatbed redemptions.
United MileagePlus has become a personal favorite of mine, not because of anything to do with United, but because of how often its partners have award seats available on long, long, very long overseas flights.
The United website is also among the easiest to use when finding awards. A simple ‘Search for Award Travel’ check box in the home page reservations window allows anyone to pull up mileage award results that include every single Star Alliance member airline, with interconnections.
United also offers club passes with its basic Explorer credit cards, in addition to often generous intro bonuses for new cardholders — enough to fly long-haul business class.
MileagePlus is perhaps the easiest and most reliable transfer partner for Chase Ultimate Rewards members who earn points from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Reserve and Ink Business cards.
I wish I could tell you how J.D. Power’s survey results yielded a score that put United at the bottom. Unfortunately, I can’t. The full survey is sold to the airlines themselves for unknown troves of cash.
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