Saturday, December 22, 2012

Breaking Up with United

Leaving an airline is like breaking up with a significant other, but worse, and far more complicated, especially when you've been with the airline longer.

I joined MileagePlus is 1986 and used to have one of those account numbers that started with a bunch of zeroes- a clear indication of how long I'd been with the airline. That was before the merger. Now I have one with a bunch of letters just like everybody else. I've been at least a Premier (Silver) for over 15 years, and a Premier Executive (Gold) for the past 4. This year I made Platinum.

I've been flying United to Hawaii since I was born. I made 4 trips there before I was a year old, and the trend has continued every since. Back in the days of the "Friendly Skies" flying to Hawaii on United was truly something special. The flight attendants even had cool Aloha shirt uniforms. Those went away in the early 90's, but there were still the Halfway to Hawaii game and the famous Mai Tais. A lot of times when we flew we'd even recognize our pursers; a lot of them had been working for the airline and bidding for that route since I was a kid. Over the years we've tried other carriers: Aloha, Alaska, and even Delta, but we always somehow ended up back at United because of what they had to offer. We had a good run with them. For a period of about 4 years, I don't think we missed an upgrade. We were consistently paying around $350 per person to fly First Class to Hawaii on a 767. It was a good deal. All of that tradition ended December 6, 2012.

This year wasn't good. With our general member infant son added to my itinerary, we did not have much luck with the upgrades. The only reason my son didn't earn status last year was because he hadn't been born yet. He flew almost 40,000 miles in utero during 2011, if only that counted. So instead of him being treated like my Gold/Platinum companion, when we traveled together I got treated more like a general member. During all three trips we made with him this year, United split our itinerary every single time no matter what I did.  After that, one of two things usually happened- I either got upgraded without him, or none of us got upgraded at all. There was one time we had a companion upgrade come through the way it was supposed to. Then there was the time that they re-booked my son on a separate flight. On our most recent trip, they gave away our seat assignments. So after we give them extra business by booking our infant his own ticket, they reciprocate by making it harder for us to fly. We seldom get to enjoy the Premier benefits I have worked hard to earn and all those hours I wasted on the phone trying to work it all out is precious time that I will never get back.

During our son's 2nd trip to Hawaii at 5 months old we experienced a 5 hour mechanical delay at LAX, a cancelled flight, a missed connection, and an overnight at SFO. At least that time we were able to get a hotel though, and didn't have to sleep in the airport like I did in September. The thought did cross my mind at that point, that maybe it would just be easier to take a direct flight on another airline out of Sacramento.

We still gave United one more chance after that. Nothing about this last trip was that remarkable. We had the same problems with the splitting of our itineraries as we did before, and the only real issue to top that, aside from not making any of our upgrades, was that they gave away our seats. At some point, and after a separate complaint to United Customer Care went unanswered after 3+ months, I lost the will to complain. No one I interacted with on this particular trip was that much ruder, less helpful, or more incompetent than I have dealt with in the past. In fact, if I were to rank all of the times I've been wronged by United over the years, I doubt this trip would even make the list. I'm just over it.

In the end, I figured if I am going to sit in coach on a narrow body aircraft going to Hawaii, it might as well be on a direct flight. United doesn't offer that. The 767's, the Halfway to Hawaii game (which is now rarely played), the Mai Tais, and everything else that made United special are gone. The Maui flights are now run by a bunch of strangers from Continental Airlines. If I'm getting stuck with a new airline, I might as well go pick a good one.

I still plan to fly with United, just not to Hawaii. I'd vow never to fly them again, but where's the fun in that? We have a long history together, and I still look forward to seeing some of my old friends on the red-eye to Houston, or whatever other lousy route they put them on now. I'll still continue to mileage run, and earn valuable miles for my family to use on our overseas trips, I just won't be dragging any of them along for more of the torture. Right now I have more e-certificates than I even want to disclose, but let's just say it's enough to keep me "loyal" for at least another year as I continue my quest towards Million Miler. I might very well become the least profitable customer the airline has ever seen. With my all of my Hawaii business gone, and the loss of my family, United is now only going to see me, alone, on trips that cost $.04 per mile or less and that's before I apply any e-certs. You can bet I'll be trading in my United miles on a different Star Alliance carrier too. How's that for sweet revenge?

I always wondered what this day would feel like but instead of feeling bitter and scorned, I actually feel liberated. I'm excited to take my business over to Alaska next year, after fantasizing about it for so long. I briefly cheated on United and status matched to MVP Gold in 2010, so I know what to expect and that I'm making a good choice. Sadly the status match was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, so this time around I'll be earning MVP status the hard way, by actually flying for it. Since I can also earn Alaska EQM's on American and Delta, this new love is opening up a whole new world of possibilities. 2013 is already looking to be a great year!

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