“Million Mile Flyer” unable to go the distance in challenge to frequent flyer program changes

Lagen v. United Continental Holdings, Inc. (N.D. Ill. Jan. 23, 2014).  As with many, if not all, frequent flyer programs, United’s MileagePlus program rules have always expressly allowed United to change or eliminate the program’s benefits.  In an attempt to get around these rules, and the many opinions upholding an airline’s right to enforce similar rules, the plaintiff contended that United had entered into an additional and separate “Million Mile Flyer” contract with him, and the members of a proposed class, under which the airline was obligated to provide them with certain irreducible “lifetime benefits,” including certain upgrades, bonus miles and seating priority.

In January 2013, the court partially granted United’s motion to dismiss, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and unjust enrichment, leaving only his breach of contract claim.  In its opinion regarding the motion to dismiss, the court warned that, ultimately, the plaintiff would have the burden “to prove (not plead) that a contract exists between Plaintiff’s proposed Million Miler class and United that differs from the Mileage Plus contract United argues is the contract Plaintiff seeks to enforce.”  The case proceeded through discovery, but the plaintiff was unable to prove the existence of a separate Million Mile Flyer contract.  Accordingly, the court granted United’s summary judgment motion.

Update:  On December 22, 2014, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

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