[cancer|travel] The hidden costs, courtesy of United Airlines

In a larger sense, this is trivial, but it’s still important to me. I’ve stumbled onto yet another cost of my cancer today.

I was on chemotherapy for six months last year, along with a month of tapering off, as well as liver surgery with a month or so of recovery. These cancer treatments kept me grounded from work or writing related travel for eight months.

In the course of a normal year, I fly anywhere between 60 and 100 segments of air travel. (A “segment” being any individual hop, so a one-stop round trip is a four-segment flight.) Last year I didn’t come anywhere near this, due to the aforementioned grounding courtesy of chemotherapy and surgery. As a result, United Airlines has downgraded my frequent flyer status.

I called United Airlines today to ask that my Premier Executive status be restored, as I expect to travel my full rota this year. I was told that since I had transferred in to their program in 2009 on what’s called a “status match” (from being Aadvantage Platinum on American), and had flown so little in 2010, that I didn’t have enough history to be granted a waiver. Neither 2009 nor 2010 was a full year of travel with their program.

As it happens, on American I am a lifetime Aadvantage Gold flyer, due to having accumulated more than 1,000,000 frequent flyer miles over the years. Since United has declined to give me a waiver for my health problems, I’m simply going to switch back to American. It won’t take me any longer to regain my Platinum status on American that it would to regain Premier Executive on United, but with my Gold status, I can keep my early boarding and preferred seating privileges while I’m working my way back up.

United Airlines is penalizing me for having gotten ill with cancer too soon after moving the majority of my travel over to their frequent flyer program. American’s lifetime Gold status award to me is paying off, as I’m taking my business back to them. Their routes are less convenient for me than United’s, but unlike United Airlines, American also isn’t taking another bite out of my life due to cancer.

Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m complaining about a loss of privilege. But this is how the system works. If you fly a lot, the airlines treat you better in an effort to keep your business. I’ll be flying a lot this year, and I’ll be doing it with the airline that is treating me better.

No thanks to United Airlines.

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