2019 Airline Status Review And A Look Towards 2020

an aerial view of a city

It’s time to look back on another year of travel and think about what the future holds.  Today I’ll break down my 2019 airline travel and what I expect 2020 to look like.  The next time I stop drinking from a fire hose, I’ll take a look at hotel elite status in 2019 and my expectations for 2020.  I took a look back at my 2018 stats before writing this post, and the year went largely as expected.  United’s lack of working Wi-Fi affected my numbers.  We’ll get to that in a bit.

First, The Numbers

I flew predominately on United, with a healthy dose of American, Delta and Southwest.  But, United Airlines got the majority of my business.

United Airlines

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I accrued about 15,000 more Premier Qualifying Miles in 2019 than in 2018.  However, the number of segments I had was about the same.  I’m guessing that’s a combination of some overseas flights on Star Alliance carriers plus a few more discounted first class fares, but I haven’t dug deeply into that math.  I did spend more on flights in 2019 on United.  This was more than enough to qualify for 1K status again.  But, I’m not sure if I’ll hit the new higher requirements for 2020.  United is making some bold bets on how loyal frequent travelers will be, and ultimately what that breaking point is.  United continued to have horrible Wi-Fi in 2019 which caused me to move some flights to other airlines.

American Airlines

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My flying on American increased minimally in 2019, based solely on United’s lack of Wi-Fi.  I wish that my American Airlines number was higher.  I enjoy flying the airline.  The staff at my home airport of Washington-Dulles have been there forever and all take good care of me.  I’m probably a bit biased, but I think American has a higher percentage of crew members that care versus United and Delta. Yes, even Delta.  I tried a status challenge on American last year and it just didn’t go well.  Without a reliable way to get to the middle of the country, they’re just not a viable option for me from IAD.  That being said, they did work out for a few connecting flights where I chose them over United due to greater Wi-Fi reliability.

Delta Air Lines

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Yup.  Delta ended up on my radar more frequently in 2019.  Even more than American.  That was due to two factors.  First, Delta’s Wi-Fi is much better than United’s.  It’s not even close.  And, they have multiple connection points in the middle of the country to help me get home (versus American).  So, they were my first choice for any connecting itineraries.  I have Platinum status on Delta due to holding the American Express Centurion card for business purposes.  I’ve thought about trying to push for Delta Diamond.  I’ll have some more thoughts on this in a future post.

Southwest Airlines

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Southwest continues to play a bit part in my annual flying.  They’re a solid airline if you live West of the Mississippi. I don’t, but I do use them to connect between cities on multi-city itineraries.

Looking Forward to 2020

United’s new elite requirements are $18,000 in spending and 54 flights on United to earn 1K status in 2020. I’m pretty sure I can hit 54 flights over the course of the year if I try.  I guess that will depend on how good their Wi-Fi is.  I plan to fly Delta more this year, essentially all my connecting flights.  And, their decision to run nonstop flights from Dulles to Las Vegas during CES got me started on them this year.  So, a week into the new year, I have more flights on Delta than United.  That may not last.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

I think it’s worth noting that pretty much all my travel with Delta and American was due to horrible Wi-Fi on United.  That’s $5,000 in lost revenue because they can’t get this issue fixed.

United’s other change this year was to their upgrade system, introducing PlusPoints in the place of RPUs and GPUs.  I said then that we should expect more, and that was before I knew they were going to require another $3,000 in spending to hit 1K status.  I got a chance to catch up with Zach Honig, United guru from TPG on this topic as well:

You can hear our entire discussion on my podcast:

It’s nowhere near a meaningful enough change to justify the increase in spending. And, first class upgrades don’t come as often as they used to be, not to mention United is still stingy with inventory for RPUs and GPUs, er, PlusPoints.

I want to fly other airlines more this year, but it’ll ultimately depend on who can get me home to my family.  United moved their flight schedule around a bit for some key routes I fly often, making them less convenient.  If that stays the course, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Delta number grows.  At this point, it’s a two horse race for my airline loyalty.

Are you staying loyal to an airline in 2020?  If so, who and why?

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  1. Living in San Francisco, United was a logical airline to fly. After 2 million miles on United, I switched to Delta. By this time I would have been approaching 3 million miles on United. 1-K for life. 6 Global Upgrades every year even if I rarely fly. I sometimes wonder about my decision but then I fly United and know my decision was the correct choice. Fly the convenient airline or fly the best airline? For me the answer is to fly the best airline, Delta.

    1. David, I agree they’re tough choices. They’re very dependent on what your travel patterns are as well. If you don’t plan a lot of long-haul travel, then PlusPoints/GPU have less value. The rest of the benefits are pretty watered down.

  2. Based in Massachusetts, I dumped AA for B6 in 2016 after 9 years of EXP. For domestic flying, I’m pretty happy with JetBlue and they go most places nonstop from Boston (and the awesome ORH-JFK), which is convenient. I easily requalified for Mosaic. That leaves the europe travel that I had previously tried to keep on AA metal where I’m now a free agent, flying Aer Lingus, Norwegian, Primera, and Iceland Air in the last two years. I got spoiled by being able to use my SWU’s in years past, but the extra legroom seats are usually affordable, and the coach experience isn’t that bad. I’m looking forward to JetBlue to London, but I am skeptical that Mint will be competitively priced. Maybe a small increment under BA/Virgin Business, but there’s not much of a reason for them to discount further than that.

    1. Corey, there’s enough premium demand to London that I don’t think you’ll find terribly affordable Mint pricing unless you have flexibility on when you travel.

      I was EXP for essentially a decade as well. In some ways, I miss it. In other ways, the shortest flight is frequently the best one now.

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