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Travel Management Travel News

The United/Continental Merger: A Personal Epiphany

I was recently sitting in a client review meeting with our United Airlines sales representative. I, like most, have been extremely frustrated with the immediate results of the United/Continental merger and how it has wreaked havoc in our travel community. But I was pleasantly surprised with how our United representative took ownership of the situation and the difficulties that have surrounded this transition. She actually shared many points about this process and what has been occurring over the last two months.
One comment in particular stood out above all others. She said, “This was the single largest technology conversion in aviation history and we are working through the technical issues that inevitably accompany a project of this magnitude.” From that one statement, it all began to make sense to me.
Perhaps you could call it a personal epiphany, but I decided I wasn’t going to be frustrated anymore. I couldn’t. Anything of this magnitude can’t be easy!
It was then I took a deep breath and decided to just have patience.

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Travel Management Travel News

Recent Changes In the Airline Industry

A number of changes have occurred within the airline industry in the last month. Some, like the merger of United and Continental, have been very visible, while others have gone by unnoticed. And yet, many these changes will have long lasting impacts upon both the industry and its travelers.
With the United merger, we have seen the combining of two very large companies—including tens of thousands of employees, thousands of aircraft, hundreds of airport facilities, numerous policies, two frequent flier programs, and their reservations systems. Most of these changes will result in subtle differences that won’t seem all too unusual. However, there is one very noticeable change, that I haven’t seen mentioned in the media, and that is the change in the policy concerning exchanges and change fees.

Prior to the merger, United permitted travelers to make a change on a nonrefundable ticket with the payment of a change fee. If the new fare was lower than the original fare, then the change fee could be deducted from the difference. For example, if the initial ticket was a $850.00 round trip ticket between Spokane and Savannah and the new ticket was a $500.00 round trip ticket between Spokane and Denver, then the $150.00 change fee could be deducted from the $350.00 residual amount, leaving $200.00 on a nonrefundable credit:

$850.00 (old ticket) – $500.00 (new ticket) = $350.00 (residual amount) – $150.00 (change fee) = $200.00 in credit

This credit would be valid for a set period of time, generally one year from the date of issuance of the original ticket. But the change that occurred on March 3rd, however, is that United adopted Continental’s policy of not permitting the change fee to be deducted from that difference, instead the change fee is charged at the time of the exchange. This means that in order to make an exchange one has to initially pay more money out of pocket, however in the end, the traveler winds up with a larger credit. So in the above example, the math would change to:

$850.00 (old ticket) + $150.00 (change fee) = $1000 (initial out of pocket expense) – $500.00 (new ticket) = $500.00 in credit

While this may not seem like a big deal to some folks, to others, having to pay that extra fee out of pocket, is a bit of a burden.
There is also one disturbing aspect to this change that I have yet to mention.
United has made this new policy retroactive to all nonrefundable tickets, regardless of the date of issuance. This means that tickets issue last October, under the old rules, are now subject to the new rules, which I think has the potential for legal action by some travelers since it seems to be in violation of United’s contract of carriage which states the following points:
RULE 3 APPLICATION OF CONTRACT
A)    These rules constitute the conditions of carriage upon which UA agrees to provide Domestic and International Carriage and are expressly agreed to by the Passenger. These Rules are also the tariffs filed by UA in accordance with certain government regulations.
E)    Except as otherwise provided within specific fare rules, transportation is subject to the Contract of Carriage and charges in effect on the date on which the Ticket is issued. References to pages, rules, items and notes are coterminous and include revisions, supplements and reissues thereof.
F)    Where the Ticket has been purchased and issued before the effective date of an increase in the applicable fare, the increase will not be collected, provided there is no change in Origin, Destination, Stopover point(s), flight(s) or dates shown on the original Ticket.
K)    Except where provided otherwise by law, UA‘s conditions of carriage, rules and tariffs are subject to change without notice, provided that no such change shall apply to Tickets issued prior to the effective date of such change.
This break from tradition and their long standing contract of carriage could have long term implications if it becomes normal for airlines to change the rules after the consumer has purchased their tickets.
While United made the biggest and most noticeable changes, Delta has also worked in a couple of changes worth noting. First, they have modified their international baggage policies. They have lowered the fee for a second checked bag for coach travelers and increased the fee for the third through tenth bags and for overweight bags. Additionally, they have added a second checked bag fee for transpacific flights. These changes can be viewed here.
The other and potentially more interesting change is that Delta has rolled out a new product for select domestic flights between Detroit, Orlando, Ft. Myers, Ft. Lauderdale, and Tampa. The new product is called Basic Economy and it creates a new type of fare.  This fare is nonrefundable and non-changeable, except in the case of involuntary changes, like irregular operations. This product cannot be combined with refundable or changeable fares, nor does this product allow advance seat assignments. Currently this option is only available to the identified markets, however if successful, I would expect to see Delta expand in the future. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see other carriers come out with similar products. Currently the cost difference between this new Basic Economy ticket and the standard nonrefundable ticket is less than $10.00 in each direction. That could change fairly quickly and if it does, don’t be surprised if the difference increases to more than $50.00 in each direction.
The good news is that agents at Christopherson Business Travel are aware of this new product and can offer these choices to travelers. The bad news is that currently, travel sites such as Orbitz don’t make an obvious differentiation between the two types of fares, so travelers booking online will have to be very careful and read the fare rules in order to avoid getting stuck with a non-changeable ticket.
At the same time, Delta is rolling out what they call Trip Extras. This allows travelers to purchase a variety of “extras,” such as additional SkyMiles and/or 24 hour Wi-Fi Passes, which allow unlimited Wi-Fi on all GoGo-equipped Delta flights. It also allows travelers to purchase priority boarding. Delta offers packages that combine various options, such as the LIFT package that combines Priority Boarding and an extra 1000 miles, or the ASCEND package that includes Priority Boarding and the 24 hour Wi-Fi pass. These extra services are currently available for purchase at Delta.com and at the kiosks.  Once purchased, they are nonrefundable and non-changeable.
As you can see, the one constant in the airline industry is change.
 
 
 

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Travel Management

United’s MileagePlus Program: FAQ

United’s recent merger with Continental has resulted in many questions regarding their Mileage Membership accounts. We received the following information from United to share with our clients and hope you find it helpful in answering some of the questions you might have in regards to this issue.

2012 MileagePlus Program: New Account Number Information and Start of Program FAQs

1.    When will I receive my 2012 credentials and membership card?
We will begin mailing 2012 Premier credentials in mid-February.
2.    When will I receive my new MileagePlus account number and when can I begin using it?
If you are being assigned a new eight-character MileagePlus account number, you can log in to your personalized page to retrieve it starting February 23.
You can start using the number on March 3. Your current 11-digit MileagePlus account number will be recognized for a short time after that, but it will be important to start using the new account number as soon as possible. We understand that your account number may be linked to partners and travel agencies, so we will provide you with time to coordinate this change.
3.    What is a PIN?
When the MileagePlus program migrates to using eight-character account numbers, Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) will also be required. The PIN will be unique to your account and is designed to protect your account from unauthorized use. It will be required when calling United or MileagePlus for transactions such as redeeming award miles or changing the address on your account. The PIN does not replace your password and will not be required for online transactions.
If you are a MileagePlus member and aren’t linked to a OnePass account, we assigned you a PIN when we assigned you a new eight-character MileagePlus account number. After March 3, you can reset your PIN at United.com/AccountSettings. You must have a valid email address in your account.
If you are a OnePass member and already have a PIN, it will carry forward into the MileagePlus program.
4.    I am a member of both MileagePlus and OnePass. Which account number should I include in reservations I book between now and March 3? You can continue to use either account number to make reservations and earn miles, as you do today. No matter which account you use, your miles and status are safe.
5.    Can I use my new eight-character MileagePlus number before March 3?
No. It will not be valid until March 3, 2012. Continue to use your current 11-digit number until then.
6.    Can I combine my OnePass and MileagePlus miles?
Yes. If you have both a MileagePlus and a OnePass account, you can transfer miles between them through March 2. Start at United.com/TransferMyMiles.
7.    I have accounts in both programs and they aren’t linked. What will happen after March 3?
After March 3, you will have two MileagePlus accounts: your current MileagePlus account and a new MileagePlus account that replaces your OnePass account. Both accounts will be valid for earning and redeeming miles. However, you should consolidate them in order to consolidate your mileage earning. By early April we will have an online process for you to request an account consolidation. If you want to consolidate the accounts before April, you must call the MileagePlus Service Center.
8.    Will we continue the existing MileagePlus mileage expiration policy?
Yes. However, we want our members to enjoy and be engaged in the MileagePlus program, so we’ve made it easy to keep your miles active. As long as you earn or use MileagePlus award miles at least once every 18 months, your miles will never expire. And there are hundreds of ways to earn or use award miles, such as flying United or any partner airline, staying at any of the many partner hotels, using miles to buy flowers or a magazine subscription, shopping online through one of our numerous MileagePlus partners, purchasing miles or donating award miles to a charity. In addition, if you have an eligible Chase-issued OnePass or MileagePlus Credit Card, your award miles will never expire, as long as your card account is in good standing.
For current OnePass accounts, the MileagePlus policy will go into effect on April 1, 2012, which means the earliest award miles could expire for former OnePass members is September 30, 2013.
9.    I didn’t make Premier Silver/Gold/Platinum/1K status for 2012. Can I still earn it?
Select members are eligible for a limited-time offer to purchase the remaining 2011 EQM or EQS/EQP they need to earn a higher Premier status level for 2012. The last day to participate in the offer is February 28, 2012.
10. How do I find out if I am eligible for the Purchase EQM offer?
To see if you are eligible, contact MileagePlus Customer Service or OnePass Customer Service.
11. Once the 2012 MileagePlus program begins, will I be able to request upgrades on the day of departure or at the airport? Members can request to be put on the waitlist for Mileage Upgrade Awards, Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades until 24 hours before departure. Within 24 hours, these upgrades can be requested only through united.com or United Reservations, and only if upgrade seats are available.
If you are a Premier member traveling on an eligible flight, a Complimentary Premier Upgrade is requested automatically on your behalf when you book your ticket, even on the day of departure.
12. If I’m a Premier member, can my traveling companion receive a Complimentary Premier Upgrade?
Yes. One companion traveling on a paid ticket on the same reservation as a Premier member is eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades on select flights, and may be confirmed with the same priority as the Premier member, even on the day of departure. This benefit applies to all Premier levels, including Premier Silver. Further, if the upgrade is confirmed before check-in, the Premier member and the companion will remain on the same reservation.
Note that for flights operated by Copa, Complimentary Premier Upgrade companions will continue to confirm on the day of departure.
13. If I have questions regarding the status of my account, whom should I contact?
You should continue to work with representatives from your current program to answer questions regarding your account.
 

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Travel News

Merging Continental and United Means Endless Decisions

United Airlines and Continental Airlines migrated to a single airline reservation system on March 3, 2012. Deciding which reservation system to migrate to was one of a thousand of decisions which had to be made for the two airlines to merge, integrate, and become one airline.

In addition to selecting the combined reservation system, following are some of the interesting decisions which had to be made, in order to create “the new United”:
•    Which coffee supplier to use (they brew 62 million cups per year)
•    Serving roasted nuts to the first class travelers (heated or not)
•    Boarding procedures (back-to-front or window-to-aisle)
•    Boarding passes (information and printing format)
•    Shape of the plastic drink cups (width and height)
•    Branding (including logo, slogan and uniforms)
•    On-board animal policies
By way of anecdote, on July 1 the “new United” coffee was introduced to fliers. However, due to the barrage of complaints the received following this introduction, they had to change their decision. To read more about this and other details of the United Continental merger, see this Bloomberg Businessweek article:
Making the World’s Largest Airline Fly