United Airlines has named Richard Nunn as its MileagePlus CEO, a newly-created position that will “oversee the next chapter for the continued expansion of United’s industry-leading loyalty business.”
Richard Nunn Named United Airlines MileagePlus CEO
Richard Nunn does not have airline experience. Per an internal memo sharing news of the appointment with employees, United described Nunn as possessing two decades of experience in “advertising technology, digital media and data expertise, building and scaling businesses globally, and leading media technology groups spanning the world.”
Most recently, Nunn worked for Comcast, where “he built and led the Advertising Platform, a data enabled audience technology which unified and powered their multi-billion-dollar advertising businesses.” Nunn is a British national with a BA in business and accounting from City of London Polytechnic.
Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella heaped praise upon Nunn:
“Richard’s digital expertise makes him the ideal leader to accelerate the growth of MileagePlus as the team pursues innovative opportunities to make the program even better for our customers. I’m excited to see how improving our customers’ experience and engagement with United and our partners will unlock brand new business opportunities.”
No further details were provided concerning such “innovative opportunities.”
Bondar Still President Of MileagePlus
Nunn will not replace Luc Bondar, who serves as United’s Vice President of Loyalty and President of MileagePlus. Nocella added:
“Luc’s leadership has been instrumental in so many innovations at MileagePlus over the last five years. He has built the program’s public profile, proven its value to investors, and delivered record-breaking growth, member engagement, program performance and commercial results year over year, all while building closer, stronger and more valuable relationships with our many partners. The unbeatable combination of Richard and Luc in these leadership roles will power MileagePlus to new heights as the best and most valuable loyalty program and business in the world.”
Bondar will report to Nunn.
What Is In Store For MileagePlus?
Bringing in outsiders always worries me. Nunn appears to have sterling credentials in the digital ad making space and it is perfectly understandable and reasonable that United is looking at further ways to monetize its cash cow, MileagePlus.
At the same time, speaking as someone who has immersed himself in the world of loyalty programs over the last two decades, it is essential that United leave intact (and ideally improve upon) its loyalty program, in terms of the value proposition to members.
Comparisons are helpful and I note that the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program continues to lose value, particularly on the redemption side. With partner award devalued, miles are routinely worth a fraction of a cent on Delta and there is very little value to the program beyond the perks of elite status when flying on Delta.
This is not the case on United. On the loyalty side, United also takes care of its elites with superior customer service and the occasional upgrades (by the way, I’ve cleared a lot more upgrades as 1K this year – it seems we have finally thinned out the herd a bit). But on the redemption side, even though not nearly as lucrative as a couple years ago, the program is valuable: it is worth collecting points and it remains the US loyalty program I find most valuable to patronize.
People are not stupid. When it makes more sense to use a cash back card, they will cut up their MileagePlus co-branded credit cards. Considering Chase is United’s biggest customer, Nunn (and Bondar) must constantly remember that efforts to squeeze more revenue out of the program should not come at the expense of alienating MileagePlus members by robbing them of any meaningful redemption value.
United should look to Air Canada’s Aeroplan as the model to emulate. While Aeroplan is not without issues of its own (lack of web functionality, annoying change, cancellation, and redemption fees), it provides a fair and transparent award chart and continues to add an amazing array of partners.
Indeed, if United wants to innovate and add value to its program, it can start by adding more partners. How about Air Greenland to start? (yes, I’m eyeing a trip to Greenland this summer).
I’m rather agnostic about the appointment of Nunn. I don’t see any red flags, but I also am always concerned by change, since change seems to move in a linear direction toward less value. But let’s see what Nunn does in his new role and hope that he does indeed, as Nocella hopes, make MileagePlus the “most valuable loyalty program and business in the world.”
What are you thoughts on the appointment of Richard Nunn as CEO of MileagePlus?
Hmmm. You don’t see red flags but I sort of do. Comcast is widely hated for their customer unfriendly behavior. He’s British and if he fits the stereotype then no bending of rules, no flexibility. I don’t know what to make of the lack of airline experience. That could be a good thing since he’s been on the customer side of loyalty
It’s a fair point. I don’t have a TV (I use Charter for internet) and have never had a relationship with Comcast.
It could have been worse, he could have come from Cox Cable.
Talk about a love-hate relationship in customer disservice!!
Cash in your miles now
Comcast gets customers due to lack of competition, not advertising. In my area Comcast is shedding customers. Seems like a good fit for United.
No airlines experience and not an American national. Interesting how this will work out for Mileage Plus members and United.
That got him from Comcast? What, lesser evils like satan or Cthulhu weren’t available?
In fairness, United is doubtless just proving their bona fides as The Best Airline In The World by bringing in new blood to revalue the program, making it the best as well. Think AAdvantage fifteen years ago.
Good to see United bringing in some global non-airline experience to enhance what is already a successful loyalty program.
Coming from Comcast is the first red flag, no airline experience the next. I too hope the program improves but …..
I am so glad I don’t fly United.
Calm down everyone, Nocella is still running the show, this guy won’t have the final say on anything.
Oh, but I thought Bondar reported to Nocella JARED, is it not??
Amazing news. Look forward to seeing the progress in MileagePlus
@Matthew, if you have not had to deal with Comcast it is “compractic”, you are lucky, not that “sharter” is much better.
As a side note, Aeroplan is awesome in large part due to Scott O’Leary.
Scott was a rock star at Continental Airlines and he understood that an airline needs to have good customer service.
This is a huge mistake, no airline experience is a major red flag, and comcast background is a major negative. It seems to be all about the advertising, not actually improving the mileage plus program.
If his role simply is to focus on advertising and he leaves the redemption/elite side to Luc, I am less worried.
Interestingly, United has always had a unique approach to its mileage programs. So, a “Stuart” fun fact, right out of college in the late 80’s/first months of the 90’s, I worked for Mileage Plus. It was my first post college job.
At that time United actually had Mileage Plus as a separate company completely void of UA in general. We had no flight benefits and simply were an independent “marketing firm.” In fact, the company was so unique it was called MPI, and also managed its senior discount program called, “Silver Wings.” Our offices were in Marina Del Rey and it was fun as heck. Though times have changed, I did get to see a lot of the inner workings of the programs. With, back then, our main function being just trying to stay on top of getting credit to people, mostly for partner points with Hertz, Westin, which never went through automated. It was a mess at time, lol.
These were the Wild West days of mileage programs. Not that people were gaming, no one had a clue back then. It was the Wild West in that United and, I assume, most airlines were just scrambling to figure out how to manage it all. I still remember the piles of paper, endless paper, and the work in attempting to come up with systems that eased the often months long backlog of getting credit awarded. Millions of paper mail of people sending receipts for credit. You can’t even imagine.
My point with this is that it seems Mileage programs are entering a new third stage of life. If my experience tells me anything, this appointment is an example of. UA, like every airline, trying to now manage the aspect of the popularity of the programs in this new generation with also protecting the ability to actually run them without giving the store away – or having everything implode. Hiring someone outside the industry may give them a new perspective to latch onto. In many ways, they have come full circle from those days of MPI and it being apart from every day UA operations. This is not a bad thing in bringing in outsiders. In fact, it might be really good. Back then, because we were outsiders, we ran what was a mess and made it something great. We cared. We delivered a great product in the end. We were not tied into the unions, the daily operations, or the drama of normal operations.
One big difference: you did not work for Comcast before. 🙂
My bet is United MileagePlus is going the way Delta Skymiles went by the way of “enhancements” and giving customers “what they want”.
I hope United will not destroy the cash cow…
If UA returns to the root of how we ran MPI back in the day it can potentially become a great program again.
The focus we had was pretty simple. Manage a program that encouraged people to want to fly United more. To promote loyalty. And to service the needs within the program of those who were loyal. That’s it. And as a marketing company, separate from UA, we knew how to do that. It was only when “airline people” took it back over that the whole thing deteroriated over time.
Hmm “industry leading” is a bit optimistic for MileagePlus…I would say Aeroplan is the best program right now, after recent Alaska devaluations, in terms of just redeeming miles for the flights I value most. We will see what happens – Comcast is an awful company from a consumer standpoint, so this guy coming onboard will probably not be a good thing for consumers.
I think award programs are generally at a low point for past 10 years in terms of value for mile hobbyists for price ad availability – it has been a fun ride, but it’s not the same as 2013 anymore. Maybe once airlines build back capacity, staffing stabilizes and revenge travel dies down, then there will be better options again – but for now I’m happy to have the memories.
No doubt it has changed. but there are corners and back doors that if you can change your habits will help to make these shifts less difficult. Be flexible, plan last minute, be more free. With that, values are there.
No doubt, they are making it difficult for those who remember the old days of being able to plan months in advance, secure F seats to the Maldives for the whole family, and imagine that this is the norm of expectation. Bottom line, they caught on. And in many ways the blogs, the gaming sites, the chatter killed it more than anything. It used to be the secret world of those who flew a lot. Now it’s the public world of anyone with credit cards. What did you expect?
From my perspective. As long as I can freestyle, be flexible, spontaneous, and just wing it, there are great redemptions and a lot of aspirational flights out there. You just have to game them back. And the one sweet spot is that a week or two out, with a half empty J or F cabin, there seats galore to be had pretty much everywhere.
Makes for a fun lifestyle actually. You never know! These days I often head somewhere, sometimes with my GF, with absolutely no plan or tickets for the return. Why? Because in the end you will find something in a premium cabin. I have never been shut out. And worst case scenario if I ever am, a cheap paid Y will work in a pinch.
Once you realize that 98% of the credit card points holders won’t or can’t travel or live like this you are golden. It’s not hard once you get used to it. In the end, the airlines are lying. So trick them back and call their bluff. They will normally fold their cards a few days out. They rarely have a good hand.
Bad news, very bad news. “Enhancements” ahead no doubt.
Come on, have a little faith. Just look at the list of improvements United has implemented lately, like… or… umm. Oh wait, United has done nothing to improve loyalty for engaged members. You’re right. We’re hosed.
I share in your concerns Matthew. An outside leader looking in – I don’t know. Then again even Mr Bondar’s changes to the program have been less than ideal for me. I think what would seal the deal for me in not having any more loyalty to UA would be that they finally allow Polaris and United Business and United First to board the aircraft first just like Delta. I feel bad every time I pass Polaris, United Business, and United First passengers during the pre board phase because reality hits them when they find out boarding group 1 means nothing at uA. The SkyMiles redemption is another issue in itself and I truly hope MileagePlus never goes in that direction either.
United seems to be gearing up for more of the online shopping mall approach with this move — all so as to get more referral kickback money from online partners in exchange for selling customers and UA loyalty program members on the carrot of UA miles and/or status.
Wait, the job title is CEO?? Not vice president nor executive vice president!!
Shows how important the loyalty program is worth to UA. During the COVID crisis, each trunk line carrier borrowed billions of dollars based on the intrinsic value of these programs. Some exceeding the net value of the airline itself.
If these programs are so valuable, why are members so disappointed on how they are run? They can be more of an irritation than a benefit. Expectations are poorly communicated leading to hard feelings.
Let’s hope Richard can sort it out or be recorded as another airhead executive thru the revolving C-suite door.
His first act was to massively devalue miles without giving any notice so it’s clear what United is doing here… bringing in new talent to screw us over more than the last person. Not sure how to uh can be a mileage plus member and feel smart about yourself. I certainly don’t.