Here’s How United Transformed Their Premium Club Card From Hero To Zero; The Worst Credit Card Devaluation Of All Time?

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21 years ago legendary Continental CEO Gordon Bethune wrote “From Worst to First” about how he turned Continental from the worst US airline into the best US airline. He took flak for calling United “HIV positive” when asked about merging with them and his hand picked successor, Larry Kellner, was forced out when he refused to merge with United. Jeff Smisek took over and merged Continental with United while preserving the worst aspects of both carriers.

Sitting at then United CEO Jeff Smisek’s desk:

 

Smisek was eventually forced out due the federal government investigating him and due to poor performance and new CEO Oscar Munoz went on an apology tour, promising to make United great again.

Meeting Oscar before United’s final 747 flight:

 

The honeymoon period didn’t last long after Munoz bungled the Dr. Dao incident.

United hired infamous USAirways bean counter Scott Kirby as their new President after he had a falling out with American. Jeff Smisek and Scott Kirby could write the sequel “From First to Worst,” but nowadays former USAirways CEO Doug Parker has the rightful claim on worst as far as airline operations go. Delta has the worst mileage program, though the other airlines are trying so hard to catch up with them.

The ability to not have to compete for customers was all made possible by the mergers that eliminated Airtran, America West, Continental, Northwest, and USAirways.

The rise and fall of the United Club card benefits mirrors the industry’s.

When the card launched it cost $395/year and had some pretty sweet benefits as can be seen from my April 2012 post on it. But looking back at that post, I’m just amazed about how many of those benefits have been killed!

  • It offered 1.5 miles per dollar everywhere, which was very innovative at the time.
  • It offered Avis President’s Club elite status.
  • It offered a full unrestricted United Club membership.
    • At the time this offered United Club access for you and your family even if you weren’t flying. United would issue you a gate pass to get past TSA and access the club, which was very useful.
    • In September 2013 United started charging for previously free premium liquors and beers.
    • In August 2016 they started requiring that you had a same day boarding pass on any airline to access the club, the gate pass benefit was killed.
    • In December 2016 United removed showers from United Clubs and shifted them to their new Polaris lounges that require an international business class ticket. This devalued the usefulness of the clubs when flying coach or even when flying in first class across the country or to Hawaii when it’s nice to freshen up in the lounge before or after a flight.
    • Effective 11/1/19 United will only allow you to access the club if you have a same day United or Star Alliance boarding pass. This severely limits the usefulness of the club membership.
  • It offered to waive the $75 close-in fee for booking award tickets within 3 weeks.
  • It offered priority boarding in a group before cardholders from less expensive United cards.
  • It offered 2 free bags for the cardholder and one companion, even when you didn’t purchase your ticket with the card.
    • United now requires that you purchase the ticket on the card in order to get free bags. Other cards offer more miles per dollar spent on airfare and more travel benefits, so you lose out on those benefits. This is still a valuable benefit, but it comes with an opportunity cost.
  • It used to offer Hyatt Platinum status.
    • This benefit was eliminated on 1/1/19.
  • It used to have better perks than the $95/year United Explorer card.
    • The United Explorer card now has a limited signup bonus with the annual fee waived.
    • The United Explorer card now offers more points per dollar spent on dining and hotels than the Club card.
    • The United Explorer card now offers free Global Entry/Pre-Check, which the Club card does not.
    • The United Explorer card now offers a 25% rebate on food, beverages and onboard Wi-Fi, which the Club card does not.
    • The United Explorer card offers 2 free annual Club passes that you can give to anyone to use. The Club card comes with Club membership, but that’s only good if the cardholder is traveling.
  • The United Club card’s annual fee has gone up from $395 to $450.

Brutal! I don’t think I’ve seen another card get devalued quite like this one. Citi Prestige could possibly give it a run for its money, though at least it got some new benefits to replace the more valuable ones that were killed.

Ironically, I think the United Explorer card is still the best co-branded airline card and is a must have for United flyers. The Club card can still make sense if you need the club membership and don’t care about the new restrictions or if you need the extra free checked bags a few times per year, but the case for keeping the United Club card is worse than ever.

Do you have a United Club card? Will you keep it active after the November elimination of club access when not flying United/Star Alliance and the end of the close-in award fee waiver?

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91 Comments On "Here’s How United Transformed Their Premium Club Card From Hero To Zero; The Worst Credit Card Devaluation Of All Time?"

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DD

Citi prestige got hit badly too

pes

dan can i match my current hertz president to avis president and do you have a link to your post that shows where you can email avis? and how was it able to offer 2 free bags for you and a companion if you adn the companion had different frequent flier numbers and you had the card linked to your ffn and not him ?thank you

Anonn

Avis would only match to preferred plus.

Dandealsfanman

You hit the nail on the head. Good post

Harry

@dan would you still say the old Presidential Plus cars is worth to hold on to?

L

With all these devaluations maybe you can make a nice cashback thread. With the case for cash back and all the best cash back cards.

Ike

Dan, curios your thoughts on this overall. Long time Continental (Cleveland guy and it was the hub)/United flyer…most miles are from business flights, so racked up quote a bit. It’s just getting harder and harder to stick with them. The 1K and possible GS invite soon are what’s holding me, but with Delta willing to status match to Diamond M, is there a major downside to finally making the jump? United MP miles used to be the most valuable but with this downgrade coming is there really a plus to the MP over SM? Delta’s Asia routes aren’t as good (nothing like flying up front on ANA with star alliance), but i’m sure with the alliance i would find a good airline.

Seth

I’ll be canceling before my next renewal.

BRUCE ALLAN SYDENHAM

I cancelled mine yesterday

NooB

Do you think that there will no longer be expanded availability from the credit card after they lose their award charts?

JKA

Dan, thanks again for the helpful post. I have the United Club Card and a standard United Premier card, but have never had the Explorer card. Would I be eligible for the Explorer card? I assume I would need to apply for the Explorer card to get the promo miles, and would I then cancel the Club card, and move the credit line over to the Explorer card? I assume that asking Chase to downgrade the Club card will mean I wouldn’t get the promo miles. Thanks!

reb yid

And yet UAL stock seems to have outperformed S&P, AA, and DAL. Isn’t that what matters to the company?

C2CMom

The United Club card used to be my favorite airline card primarily because of the waived close-in booking fee coupled with expanded award availability and of course Club access for my family. But, for the reasons you outline above, I couldn’t justify keeping it any more. Sad!

genius

It used to offer Hyatt Platinum status.
This benefit was eliminated on 1/1/19. I had upgraded last year a some point my united explorer card to the club card & i got Discoverist | status with hyatt, which is their lowest level
Valid through Feb 29, 2020

genius

Does the club card however still offer complimentary discoverist status with hyatt going foward?

Toda

My main reason for having the card, and collecting points with United for that matter, was close-in awards without fees.
I assume that will likely be irrelevant moving forward.
I will very likely cancel after an upcoming flight on which I will get 4 free bags.
Thanks, Dan, for such well written and informative posts.

Reader

the one benefit the card has it earns 1.5 miles per dollar

mendel london

i have the card, and managed to get 2 bags for 4 of us on a trip EWR- LHR a $600 saving

Dan (not that Dan)

Wait… has something changed? Aren’t two bags free on international routes anyway? Am I missing something?

mendel london

that has finished a long time ago, now you barely get one!

Dan (not that Dan)

Looks like it is dependent on the destination. I’ve got no status, and flew to China on United in December, with no charge for two bags per person.

Ben

I use the club card for the 1.5 miles for my business spending about $200,000 a year on it. The Amex blue is capped at 50,000. Other than the Amex platinum and the
Capital one spark where can i get at leadt 1.5 points per dollar? Thanks.

Marie

I will be canceling also before next renewal. Thanks for the detailed analysis.

iahphx

You’re getting too worked up about this. Credit cards come and credit cards go. If you don’t like one, cancel it, and get a different one. As far as complaining about Munoz, Kirby and Parker, you desperately need PERSPECTIVE. Your blog (in large part) exists to EXPLOIT frequent flyer programs. To get your readers more than they deserve. Munoz, Kirby and Parker work for their shareholders. And their employees ultimately report to these leaders. These employees need to take steps to avoid people like you and their readers from exploiting their company. They’re nothing wrong with these CEOs or their employees. Their goals are simply different from your own. As I said, you need to think harder about this and try not to be negative to people who are only doing their jobs (pretty well, I’d say: like if you invested $1000 in any airline managed by Scott Kirby, you’d now have $20,000).

johnny

corporate greed has no end.

iahphx

It’s not “greed” — it’s business. The profit margins of airlines is way below the S&P 500 average. It amazes me how human beings can have a complete lack of perspective. As I told Dan, when you’re mooching off somebody or something, and they try to limit your mooching, it’s bad manners to complain how horrible they are. There’s nothing wrong with looking for a deal, but when the deal ends, look for another one instead of complaining (especially about the people who ended your deal).

Marc

I pretty much keep it for acces to UA and SA lounges as it’s cheaper than buying access. I’d happily give it up if there was an alternative, any recommendations?

dying to know

i know this is off topic but can you tell me after your whole saga with tesla and the free home charger and referral credit repair issues bug bounty etc etc do you mind telling me how much you paid for the tesla model 3?factoring in the bug bounty and not factoring in the bug bounty? and did you get the standard or midrange one? thank you for sharing

Leibel From Kentucky

I have the Club card, and I’ll cancel if the fee goes away unless they introduce FREE changes. Or maybe partner awards will still incur a close-in fee?

Michael

Dan, thanks for the United Club Card timeline of devaluation. I’ve had the card for less than a year and was planning on using it in my retirement years. I didn’t realize there was a long history of devaluations. What’s the next one? Not a good way to treat a long time loyal customer , I’m out.

mkairey

I used to fly United all the time out of Newark. I have had too many bad experiences with them now I avoid them at all costs.

Js

Hi where can I get president circle status without this card shanks

Ivan X

No. The $75 close in booking fee waiver was a major motivator.

I think the card still makes sense for non-Premiers near a United hub, as it offers a lot of the benefits you’d get by being a Silver (and some better than that).

But I agree with all of the above.

Avi

Can you downgrade the club card or does it need to be cancel entirely?

J

I will defiantly be getting rid of it was great for the close in fees while it lasted…

Thingy

Do these changes give reason to suspect that there will be changes in the ability to transfer points from other programs to United or the rate at which they are transferred?

NJMACMAN

Dan, if I have the President Plus card and have flex miles- if I close it do I lose the flex miles, or do they stay in the account until I use them? Thanks.

Noach

Had it, was going to close it eventually, now the deal is sealed, I am shutting it down when the next annual fee comes around, disgrace, scam and rip-off!!!!!
the upgrade with status on united awards tickets NEVER got me one complimentary upgrade on even a short domestic flight, with seats available same day at the gate and with my status!! SCAM! UNITED mileage MINUS!
lousy service, screamed at my pregnant wife for vomiting during turbulence, I’m done with them, enough benefit of the doubt and attempted opportunities that always failed.
I was switching to flying only united, though that’s now over, I’ll be giving up status opportunities, but I will either go after the cheaper fare even if it’s insignificant over a status with any US airlines these days.
I’ll work on swiss or ba status over any US airline!

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