Which Million Miler Status to Chase in 2014?

I hit Delta Million Miler in 2013 and have been debating what to do in 2014. Continue the march to Delta 2MM or set off on United or American?

The greatest difficulty is projecting long-term for benefits that can change at the whim of the airline, as found by many ticked off at United’s post-merger Million Miler program. A fairly heavy business traveler is looking at a 5-10 year flying investment and a lot can change.

My assumptions:

1. I will continue to keep flying revenue tickets for business and pleasure, so the question is where to direct my time and spend, not if I should fly extra.

2. For the foreseeable future (unfortunately) I will continue to be based in the NYC area so can pick among the airlines.

3. I get roughly similar value out of miles from American, Delta and United. Some may scoff at that notion, however my peculiar travel patterns fit Delta’s SkyTeam partners pretty well and since I am currently based in NYC, I can often do international award trips without having to touch Delta metal, which keeps pricing under control.

4. United 1MM is equal to American 2MM and Delta 2MM.

United’s 1MM gives Premier Gold and Star Alliance Gold for the million miler and companion.

Delta 1MM awards annual Silver Medallion and SkyTeam Elite, which are nearly worthless, as most benefits can be had by holding a Delta co-brand credit card. Delta 2MM triggers Gold Medallion which comes with Sky Priority and SkyTeam Elite Plus, comparable to Star Alliance Gold.

American’s 1MM similarly gives skimpy AA Gold and OneWorld Ruby status.

There are significant differences in million miler earning criteria that shape the decision:

American (see Million Miler program details):

The good: partner flights count

The bad: only base miles count, so premium class tickets are partially wasted

Delta (see Million Miler program details):

The good: all MQMs count, even earned from credit card bonuses

The bad: partner MQM earning has been slashed on many Delta partners

United (see Million Miler program details):

The good: 1MM benefits are like 2MM benefits at the other two airlines, and at each successive million another status level is awarded in the only program to include top-tier status in its program (Premier 1K and even Global Services); class of service bonuses count

The bad: no partner flights except Copa count

The ugly: that means you have to fly United

When I consider this, I quickly eliminate American. 1M is so pitiful as to not even be a goal. Trying to go from nearly zero to 2MM on base miles is not appealing to me as long as I have a job that has business class on long international flights. OneWorld is the most limited alliance for my travel patterns, and as long as British Airways Avios has cheap redemptions for short flights, my incentive to purchase OneWorld leisure travel revenue tickets is very limited. Also, joining them during merger madness seems asking for trouble.

United puts me in a dilemma. I completed a 1K challenge so have that status for 2014. Newark is the most convenient airport for me. Having Star Alliance Gold for me and wife is appealing. Of course I could do the Aegean route, but still hesitate on plunking down on a program that I assume will not last, and going to the hassles needed every trip to get the benefits but then credit to a program I will use. My wife certainly isn’t going to mess with that.

The only appeal for me of United is its Star Alliance members. However to earn 1MM I would need to fly United a lot, which I do not want to do, and then earn miles that are being severely devalued for redemptions on those partners.

So I am back to Delta, which is not where I thought I would be at the beginning of this exercise. MQM earning is generous. I can still fly some of their partners and earn. The program works for me, despite its many glaring failings. 2MM will lock in Delta’s pretty good Gold status if I then decide to switch airlines. If I was starting from zero, though, it would barely be more attractive than American.

The overarching question is are any of these million miler programs worth chasing beyond ego boost? Probably not in a way that requires any special effort. With Delta, other than customer service agents always mentioning my million miler status, I have seen no discernible benefit. The Tumi suitcase gift I did sell for a tidy profit on Amazon.

For those who are traveling anyway, there is appeal for keeping mid-tier status when life changes and travel is reduced, however not too much that a few good credit cards can’t do.

Readers, your take? Am I nuts to double-down on Delta? Are you in chasing MM?

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  1. “The overarching question is are any of these million miler programs worth chasing beyond ego boost?”

    Nope. At least not if starting today. You have something of an advantage in that you get work to pay for premium cabin long-hauls but even then it still doesn’t make much sense IMO. I wrote a piece addressing the value proposition for chasing lifetime status and essentially came to the conclusion that it is a nice benefit if you get there but not worth going out of your way for.

  2. @Wandering Aramean – I agree, and yet I feel that envy when I see 2M, 3M, 4M, etc luggage tags clinking past my 1M. Good that I value that, because as you argue, there are many more valuable benefits than that.

  3. RTC, I’d stick with Delta if I were you. Your bad experiences (along with your wife’s) on United probably makes them a bad option. Since you haven’t had too many bad experiences with Delta and they didn’t inflate their award chart too much, it’s definitely the better option.

    By chance, are you able to get paid flights to China on Cathay? If so, MPC seems to be a pretty good program, other than their bad redemption rates (compared to AA).

  4. I would go for the UA million miler. *A gold status plus spouse benefits are nice thing to have in your pocket for life.

  5. You’re a young guy and from meeting you in Chicago, I felt you travel by destination, not by airline/mileage. I say just keep on flying to the destinations you want to go to (or have to go to) and I bet before you turn 40 years old you’d be a million miler in all three carriers!

  6. I’m not focusing on million-miler status; I just focus on the benefits of being high-tier in the current year. Being American Exec Plat for one year, now, far outweighs eventually being silver on Delta for life at some point in the future.

  7. DL Gold isn’t bad for upgrades if you have flexibility in timing/routes, and a Delta Reserve card can get you an extra 30K MQMs per year without flying. UA MM currently seems like a slightly better deal, but I shudder at having to fly that much UA metal.

  8. @Aaron Hurd – dropping from top-tier would be a hard landing, I am planning for a rainy day, but I certainly hope to keep traveling enough to stay at the top!

    @JEM – yes, that UA metal part is a tough thing to stomach. I need one of those jobs where every flight is business class.

  9. Asiana Mileage Club offers 100% miles on United, but offers lifetime Star Gold at 500K miles, if you still want to start from scratch but don’t want to fly a million on United.

  10. @OZ Option – that is an interesting suggestion, for years I have loved seeing the snappy Asiana uniforms in the airport, had my first segment on them last fall, just a ICN-PVG, and upcoming have PVG-ICN-CGK that I actually redeemed business since only 45k on current UA chart to North Asia to Southeast Asia roundtrip. Looking forward to it and it might be a great option for million miler. The return is on Thai, DPS-BKK-PVG. A lot of hassle just to finally get to East Timor, but I am excited!

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