United Airlines is working hard to scrub off its infamous title of America’s worst airline for customer satisfaction by re-purposing some of its offerings.
This time by letting its customers pay for inflight Wi-Fi using their earned frequent flyer miles, which the airline has conventionally allowed to only pay for seat upgrades and Star Alliance bookings.
The move marks a shift in the airline’s business strategy after Oscar Munoz took over as the CEO of United Continental Holdings, United Airlines’ parent company, in September this year, Reuters reported. Since Munoz’s appointment, the airline has reportedly been putting in extra effort in getting customer feedback and absorbing it to overhaul its travel experience.
In an interview with Reuters, Munoz emphasized that while the carrier’s latest move might be perceived to be financially motivated, it has been implemented to improve offerings and travel experience. “There is a bias towards promoting that type of thinking. It’s always existed, but maybe where it was more balanced, it’s shifted a little bit,” he said.
United’s plan to let its customers pay for Wi-Fi with miles aligns with the idea of treating frequent flyer miles as an equivalent of digital currency — a move which is increasingly becoming more common for airlines — to use for buying tickets, travel upgrades, holiday bookings, goodies and even travel insurance.
The plan also signals towards the carrier’s broader efforts focused at regaining its customers’ lost trust and loyalty, coming from its rocky merger with Continental Airlines.
While the merger made United Airlines the second-largest U.S. carrier after American Airlines, it sent the customers on a ride riddled with regularly delayed flights, choppy Wi-Fi, a clunky reservation system, poor service, cutbacks in service and an undervaluation of frequent flyer miles, as The New York Times recently reported.
"I feel like at 100,000 miles, somebody should care and make me feel like a valued customer,” Paul Wigdor, a former Continental frequent flyer, told NYT. “You’re treated as just a commodity, and it’s a race to the bottom. They don’t really appreciate me at all."
Now, with its pay-for-Wi-Fi-with-miles program, the airline is making progress towards hitting its goal of being the top carrier of choice, which it aimed for five years ago. Other than an update to its Wi-Fi payment system, a United spokeswoman said the airline has done a “major investment” in food, clubs, airport lounges and operations — all directed towards losing its bad customer service label.