United Airlines made announcements today about how elite members will earn status in 2019 and how they’ll be rewarded when they do. These changes mostly affect the top-tier Premier 1K members. Let’s recap the changes and then I’ll throw in my two cents.
United Airlines Elite Status Qualification Changes
There are no changes in how elite members earn status in 2018. Starting January 1, 2019 the qualifications for Premier 1K are changing. Instead of a $12,000 spending requirement, loyalty members will need to spend $15,000 along with earning 100,000 Premier qualifying miles (PQMs).
Additionally, the Premier qualifying miles earned on discounted domestic first class fares (P-class fares) will drop from 200% to 150%.
United Airlines Elite Status Benefit Changes
Effective in 2019, United Airlines will no longer issue additional Regional Premier Upgrades (RPU) for 1K customers who earn 125,000 PQMs or more. Instead, members will earn one additional Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) at 125,000 and an additional one at 150,000.
United Airlines Elite Baggage Allowance Changes
Effective immediately, all elite members will have a baggage weight allowance of 70 lbs, where certain situations only merited a 50 lb weight limit on free checked bags.
The (First?) Final Two Pennies
I’m sure we’ll be revisiting this topic. In fact, I’m working on getting one of my fellow bloggers who’s a United expert on my podcast to discuss this in more detail.
I’ve been a United 1K member for a handful of years now. 3 or 4? Last year was the first year I wasn’t top-tier Executive Platinum status on American in more than a decade. That’s generally meant spending at least $10,000 with one or both of these. I’ve already spent $12,000 with United for 2018 and don’t think I’ll have a hard time hitting $15,000 in 2019 if my travel keeps up at the current pace.
That’s a lot of money to spend with one airline. My complimentary upgrades clear less frequently than they used to. And, the seats in the back aren’t nearly as comfortable as they used to be. The new domestic first class seat isn’t the best design.
All that is meant to say that elite status isn’t quite as rewarding as it used to be. Making it tougher to earn that status feels a bit like a thumb in the eye, though it’s not unexpected. The airlines continue to try to thin the herd of top-tier elite members. The spoken reason for this is to be able to more consistently deliver benefits to those members.
The reality is that it’s unlikely complimentary domestic upgrades for 1K members will get noticeably easier to snag. Airlines like United have gotten much better at tweaking the prices of a first class upgrade (or outright purchase). That means the front of the plane goes out full with paying customers much more often. Yesterday I was offered an upgrade for less than $150 on my 2-hour flight home. I’ve seen prices under $100 here and there for flights 2-3 hours in length. Those prices only need to be appealing to a few folks to fill up the smaller cabins near the front of the plane.
But, What About The Upgrades?
On its face, the change at 125,000 miles from two RPUs to one Global Premier Upgrade sounds like it could be a positive one. Or, maybe a net even proposition for some customers. For me, it’s a loss. GPUs come with this nifty feature on United that I refer to as “upgrade lottery”. To redeem a GPU, you need to purchase more expensive economy class tickets (W class or higher). However, upgrades are also capacity controlled. That means you could get stuck paying a higher fare for your economy class ticket to score an upgrade….and then not score the upgrade. Don’t worry, there’s no refund to a lower economy class fare when your upgrade doesn’t clear.
The Final Two Pennies
What’s the business case here? That United believes it can earn more money from their top customers? I doubt that will be the case with me. If I was at $12,000 in spending on a yearly basis, I’m not sure I’d find a way to give United an extra $3,000 for 1K status. At least for me, United gets my business because they generally have the best times to the places I need to go. Translation: they get me home to my family early.
Maybe I’m wrong and upgrade percentages for 1K members will go way up. But, the airline that doesn’t want to abandon a mostly failed attempt at a price increase (Basic Economy) doesn’t seem to me to be likely to resit the urge to sell those seats in the front of the plane instead of giving them to elite members for free.
Moving the goal posts on spending without increasing the benefits associated with 1K status leaves me scratching my head a bit.