Following the merger of Continental and United Airlines, many loyal customers were left high and dry as United cut benefits for frequent fliers. A federal judge recently denied United Airline’s motion to dismiss allowing a lawsuit brought on behalf of many United customers to proceed. The lawsuit is expected to be certified as a class action barring any settlement agreements.
The lawsuit alleges that United breached its contract when it downgraded certain benefits associated with Million Mile status. Specifically, United revoked Million Milers’ “Lifetime Premier Executive” status, which entitled them to favored treatment in bookings, seating priority and upgrades, and demoted them to lower-tier “Gold” status. Additionally, elite bonus miles were cut from 100 to 50 percent and annual confirmed regional upgrades were discontinued.
There is no question that the lost benefits were indeed promised, or that they were subsequently diminished. What is at issue is whether United had the right to break what appeared to be a promise of lifetime benefits once specified conditions had been satisfied.
As the judge stated regarding the case: “It is undeniable that plaintiff claims he has and continues to suffer an injury based upon his lost benefits. At this stage of the litigation, the court finds it plausible that defendants had a contract with Million Miler members which differed from the contract they had with other Mileage Plus members.”
Frequent-flier programs help carriers attract repeat customers, but the airline industry has over the years tightened program guidelines. A separate case against Delta Airlines is expected to be heard by the US Supreme Court regarding whether the airlines had authority to revoke membership in its own frequent flier program.