United Airlines announced some unpopular changes to their frequent flyer program, Mileage Plus. While most met the changes with criticism and contempt, it may actually be better for flyers.
United’s Changes 2020 Elite Qualification
I covered some changes last week with regard to United Mileage Plus elite qualifications. Spending requirements were added to elite qualification requirements in 2014, between $2,500 PQDs and $10,000 PQDs evenly split at each status level. The next year, that increased to $12,000/year and stayed there until 2019 when 1K requirements moved to $15,000. Just one year later, the requirement (now called PQPs) has moved up again across all levels:
- Silver – $4,000 (PQPs) & 12 PQFs
- Gold – $8,000 (PQPs) & 24 PQFs
- Platinum – $12,000 (PQPs) & 36 PQFs
- 1K – $18,000 (PQPs) & 54 PQFs
For United loyalists buying their own tickets (not business travelers) especially those that were accustomed to 1K, this was a staggering increase from six years ago of 80%, though just 40% for those flying less frequently at Silver. For business travelers, Platinum now requires 20% more than 1K did just a few years ago. Even for weekly flyers, $18k excluding taxes is a lot of cash.
Benefits Those That Spend More Than They Fly
I wrote about an old boss of mine that spent more than was required for top tier status at American taking a trip every other week. The distance he flew was so short that he didn’t even qualify for American’s Gold status (United Silver.) I asked the question then:
“Why does American Airlines care how many miles he flies? The thought that another colleague who happens to fly more miles on cheaper tickets will get complimentary upgrades for half the spend while he sits in the back of the plane is so counterintuitive to their goals it makes my head hurt.”
I was so far ahead of my time.
United agreed with my logic from February of 2018 and gave an option to eliminate the need for miles and segments to qualify in addition to revenue. As long as flyers sit on four United flights per year, the following will supersede distance/segment requirements:
- Silver – $5,000 (PQPs)
- Gold – $10,000 (PQPs)
- Platinum – $15,000 (PQPs)
- 1K – $24,000 (PQPs)
The situation I described isn’t so rare. My business partner would have qualified for Silver this year using 2020 requirements. He flies United exclusively but as a Houston hub-captive he pays more and, still worse, because he’s only a three hour flight from any destination in the US he struggles to accrue the miles needed.
My mother-in-law would have enough spend to qualify with United Gold next year based on revenue, but not on segments or distance. She also flies with American out of convenience but can’t qualify on both. Now she can move from splitting her loyalty to being exclusive with United. That’s better for her as she can earn a higher level of status, consolidate her mileage earning and amplify her chances of upgrading.
Casual travelers will also benefit from this (see the partner section below.)
Helps Elites Already Battling for Upgrades
For those on the fence that had not already left the building, this will push them out of the nest and let them fly elsewhere. My former UPGRD.com colleague, Sriram, has long advocated airline free agency due to requirements like these, he looks like a prophet finally vindicated for his move away from status a few years ago.
Considering defectors from American and the ever-swelling elite numbers, United wants to deliver an exclusive product to their best customers. As Delta put it: “When everyone’s an elite flyer, no one is.” They’ve got a point.
In 1K circles and even commenters on this blog say that they can’t clear upgrades on more than half their flights when an upgrade is available, there are probably too many. Those under 1K levels may only clear on Saturdays if ever. For flyers on United, upgrades will become more available with less elites in the fold at all levels.
That makes Plus Point upgrades even more valuable as Platinums and 1Ks won’t need to spend more points to guarantee an upgrade, they will simply clear more often. For casual flyers, however, that also means that TOD (tens of dollar) upgrades will remain available to everyone but elites will be less likely to buy up, so that benefits non-business travelers too.
Those Who Fly Partners
For whatever reason, United gave zero elite credit for flying their partner airlines. American and Delta both had elite accrual systems in place to keep business that couldn’t be flown on their metal within their alliance family, United didn’t until now.
This is a seriously understated perk of these new changes. I postulated in my previous piece that one could actually qualify on partners for less money than what they used to have to spend on United alone. Matthew covered this as well. For casual flyers that still want to hold status on United but struggle, this is their best option.
For those that stay with United, qualification levels may have increased but it’s worth it. Plus Points enhance the experience, earning on partners will help to re-qualify like their flag carrier peers, and elites of all levels are more likely to clear upgrades. Business travelers will have an option to qualify without adding miles and segments and that will benefit many flyers.
What do you think? Are United’s 2o20 elite qualifications actually better for flyers?