United Asks: Is Your Premier Status Headed in the Direction You Want? I Answer.

United recently emailed me posing the question, “Is your Premier status headed in the direction you want?

United wasn’t asking my opinion. The point of the email was to tell me I am far from re-qualifying for 1K.

I’ll answer anyway: no.

united-status-direction

Delta is my primary airline and I have over 250,000 MQMs plus credit card waiver to keep me going the next two years.

United has been my secondary airline for the following reasons:

  • Star Alliance partners
  • Flexible economy class awards on Star Alliance partners
  • No fuel surcharges on awards
  • My residence proximity to Newark

United 1K is so far short of Delta Diamond and American Executive Platinum that I had no intention of re-qualifying for that, however am debating between Gold and Platinum. Now I will stop at Gold and next year pick a new Star Alliance program.

Here’s my take on United 1K compared to Delta Diamond, based on what I care about and my travel pattern:

  • Complimentary upgrades: Delta over 90% vs United under 10%
  • Upgrade certificates: I still haven’t used any Delta Diamond global or regional upgrade certs since I have few paid eligible flights that seem worthwhile, though I hear they are generally available; United when I have tried RPUs on transcons they have not cleared, and GPUs require more expensive fare classes with atrocious advance availability so my whole stack will go unused
  • Domestic lounge access: Delta gives me Sky Club individual membership, United gives me nothing (my only good things to saw about United Clubs are the newspaper selection and those that have mixed berries)
  • Alliance lounge access: SkyTeam is hurt by not giving lounge access on international domestic flights and generally poor lounges, while Star Alliance gives me lounge access on international domestic flights
  • In-flight: a world of difference, Delta is strong, United has some pleasant flight attendants but even the new planes are dumpy
  • Customer service: Delta Diamond agents are uniformly good, United they always start out unprofessional though some get better as they warm up
  • Award tickets: I do well with Delta by knowing the system and partners, such as this weekend finding Thanksgiving single-connection business class to Australia for my wife at the partner 95,000 mile one-way level, United on 10/6 made even worse changes than we expected
  • Lifetime status: Delta takes 2 million to get Gold (Silver at 1 million is a joke, I am at 1.4) though counts all MQMs, United is 1 million for Gold and includes a companion but only counts actual flown miles and only on United (funny how flown miles still count for something, and I am only at 173k)
  • Partner earning: Delta’s partners are hit or miss on cheap economy tickets I consider, while much of what I look at on United partners such as Lufthansa/Swiss/Austrian, Turkish and Air China earn nothing (ANA, Asiana and Copa still seem ok)

What I find really insulting is United’s addition of a $50 award change or cancel fee for Platinum within 60 days of original departure AND that they did it on 10/6.

How did we get to the point that airlines makes rolling changes through the year so that annual elite status is in flux every day?

Either a status has fees or not. The difference in psychology is huge. United’s Platinum is already weak versus Delta and now is letter better than Gold, since both have Star Alliance Gold. Because of this I will not go for Platinum.

What is awful for my travels is the 10/6 award changes.

We knew the stopover changes, etc were coming. I can live with that.

We didn’t know was what else would happen with the new system. I encouraged readers to book any dream trip before 10/6 because we did not know what would be possible after 10/6.

The early results are that multi-city searches are pricing additively by segment, even if exactly the same flights as United’s system finds for one-way or round-trip. Dan’s Deals gives examples such as US-Australia that prices at the correct price in a one-way search, but when searching multi-city to piece together those same flights, you get additive pricing as if each is a separate award. If this holds, a major component of United mile value to me is gone.

The Value of United to me is Star Alliance, anyway.

In my quest to travel every country in the world I recently prioritized Africa because of United flexibility and great Ethiopian award space. I am glad I did. I have visited every African country and that concluded a big area where OneWorld and SkyTeam have few or no offerings in many countries. Most anywhere else in the world I can make do with alternates. I am excluding the Pacific and Air New Zealand because on key county collector routs such as Auckland – Niue there are never any award seats, and by never I mean never.

If United has really gutted award pricing this way, then it is little different from competitor Star Alliance programs. Except that Star Alliance Gold with anyone else will give me US domestic lounge access.

Time to get serious about an alternate Star Alliance program.

I value Star Alliance Gold, lifetime Star Alliance Gold, earning on cheap economy tickets, flexible awards and, ideally, low fuel surcharges. A functioning website and competent English-language support are needed. I do not particularly value upgrades.

The programs in play for me to research, roughly in order of initial impression, are:

  • Asiana (500,000 mile lifetime Star Alliance Gold)
  • Aegean (the Greeks have been around a while, sure, but their economic siuation makes me pause of thinking of them long-term, though I suppose they are the last European airline that will ever agree to be purchases by Lufthansa)
  • Copa (I hear they have good English-speaking customer service)
  • SAS (reports of decent mileage earning)
  • ANA (award chart sweet spots)
  • Avianca (more a frequent flyer program than an airline)
  • Singapore (not a fan of forced mileage expiration and I don’t expect United 100% mileage credit to last enough for me to build anything)

Some big names such as Air Canada and Lufthansa I don’t see the value for what I need.

Readers, where should I start?

p.s. When was the last positive change to any United status? Seems years. Pre-merger, even?

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  • If you’re going to keep flying United domestically and you want lifetime status, I think Asiana is a good option. You earn flown miles for most fare classes ( http://us.flyasiana.com/C/en/homepage.do?menuId=002004003001000&menuType=CMS ), though not the 100% that Singapore offers. As you said, though, no idea how long that will last!

    SAS doesn’t have any non-earning fare classes (for United) just like Asiana ( http://www.flysas.com/Templates/FlexiblePage.aspx?id=216853 ), but you need many years of maintaining Gold to get that. :/ (http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/sas-eurobonus/1751612-lifetime-gold-status-pause-membership-city-lounge-many-more-changes.html)

    ANA has similar earning rates, but the really cheap fares (L/K/G/N) only earn 30%, it looks like (http://www.ana.co.jp/wws/us/e/asw_common/amc/reference/tameru/flightmile/tk/ua.html). The nice thing with them is if you have 1M miles with them, your miles don’t expire ( https://www.ana.co.jp/wws/japan/e/asw_common/amc/reference/premium/millionmiler-program/ ).

    I found this nice thread on FT on lifetime status, and it looks fairly up to date! http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/milesbuzz/1365154-lifetime-status-airline-attempted-summary.html

    I have no idea how easy it is to redeem with any of these… but my personal choice would be Singapore, just because they have mileage deals on award flights pretty regularly. 🙂

  • @Hari – awesome food for thought, and you pulled out that surprise SQ pick at the end. I don’t like the mental burnden of points expiring even though in rolling 3 years it would be hard for me to not use them in time. I will stuck all these links you sent. I have to say for cool factor I favor Asiana.

  • @Stefan SQ is one of the main reasons I like Star Alliance, truth be told. 🙂 When I was a kid, we took an around-the-world flight to visit family in India, and I still remember the way they treated us in Economy. I have never had a more attentive cabin crew (domestically or internationally). Their mileage expiration is -really- frustrating, especially when you have account activity.

    I just finished reading the changes to United from Tiffany ( http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/10/11/uniteds-new-award-pricing/ ) and between the two of you, I’m definitely going to be re-evaluating as well!

  • Pingback: Award Pricing with @United: Ouch! – Traveling Tiger()

  • Shannon

    It sounds like you will continue flying United even it is a love hate relationship. Maybe Delta is your wife and United is your lover. Wife is more stable now matter how…
    Could you further explain what does “I have over 250,000 MQMs plus credit card waiver to keep me going the next two years” mean and how does it work? This means you can just spend on credit card to maintain Diamond for two more years? That seems a lot of money to just spend on credit card? What is trick to spend so much on credit card?

  • @Shannon – I will style fly United on price and for Star Alliance Gold status.

    Delta has rollover MQMs. Many of my 250,000+ balance are from prior business trips. Diamond each year is 125,000 so I have two more years if I do nothing except the spend requirement of $25,000 per year on a Delta credit card, which I can meet with various ways.

  • Shannon

    what are various ways to meet spending? can you tell a few so I can try:)

  • @Shannon – here is a good piece that gives ideas. One approach is methods to use credit cards to pay bills you might currently be paying cash such as taxes and rent. Then there is manufactured spend solely for the purpose of generating credit card rewards, which Amex took a hard look at with the Amex Platinum 100k offer from May, and may do so for other cards.