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Mayer v. United Air Lines

November 15, 2010

CARL J. MAYER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED AIR LINES, INC., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Mercer County, Docket No. SC-1419-09.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 19, 2010

Before Judges Payne and Baxter.

Plaintiff Carl J. Mayer appeals from a January 15, 2010 order, entered at the conclusion of a non-jury trial in the Special Civil Part, that dismissed his complaint against defendant United Airlines, Inc. (United). The complaint alleged that defendant, "in violation of customer contract and under its own terms, expired or converted plaintiff's airline frequent flyer miles, a valuable commodity," for which plaintiff sought $3,000 in damages. We agree with the judge's conclusion that United reserved the right to modify its Mileage Plus Program (MPP) and that United had notified plaintiff well in advance that his frequent flyer miles would expire if he did not take certain steps to reinstate them. We affirm the order under review.

I.

Plaintiff became a member of United's MPP in November 1984 and began earning Frequent Flyer miles (miles). The MPP awarded benefits to enrolled United passengers whenever they flew on a United flight or did business with a United partner, such as designated hotels or car rental companies. At the time of plaintiff's enrollment in the MPP, there was no expiration date on miles earned, a fact that the airline's witness, Catherine Palumbo, conceded at trial. It is undisputed, however, that United did reserve the right to change the terms and conditions of its MPP. Rule one in the MPP brochure stated:

Mileage Plus membership and its benefits are offered at the discretion of United Airlines and its affiliated companies (collectively, "United"), and United has the right to terminate the Program or to change the Program Rules, regulations, benefits, conditions of participation or mileage levels, in whole or in part, at any time, with or without notice, even though changes may affect the value of the mileage or certificates already accumulated.

In addition, Rule four provided:

Each member shall be responsible for remaining knowledgeable as to the Program Rules and the amount of mileage in his or her account. United shall attempt to advise active members of various matters of interest through such means as may be appropriate, such as account summaries, newsletters and its Web site, but United shall have no liability for any failure to do so. United will not be responsible for correspondence lost or delayed in the mail . . . .

Further, Rule seven contained a warning that MPP members had no vested right to the continued existence of earned miles:

Accrued mileage and certificates do not constitute property of the member.

At some point, the actual date being unclear, plaintiff accepted United's offer to receive by email any changes in the MPP rules.

In 1994, for the first time, United notified its MPP members that accumulated miles were subject to expiration, specifying that MPP miles would expire on December 31, 1998 for any member having fewer than 20,000 miles. Because plaintiff's account showed only 9,258 miles, he was notified that his miles were subject to the new rule. Plaintiff accepted United's offer to participate in a ...


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