Reader Jered asked how many elite members of United’s MileagePlus program there are.

And the easy answer is I do not know precisely, these are closely-guarded numbers. But I do have some “bigger than a breadbox” sorts of estimates.

In other words, I have a general idea of the size of the elite pool, within a few hundred thousand members. It should give an idea of roughly what percentage of total members are elites, and how the relative size of each elite tier looks compared to each other.

I do have some knowledge of old numbers, but these are from when programs were much smaller — before United and Continental merged, before Delta and Northwest merged, before American and US Airways merged.

Roughly speaking, the combined American-US Airways program is about 100 million members. United’s program should be in the 80-90 million member range, and Delta SkyMiles should be in the 75-80 million member range.

Not all of these are active members of course, this is the size of the total member file, in rough ballpark numbers. We do know that, even after de-duping the US Airways and American member file that the program should be about 100 million strong — definitely the largest frequent flyer program in the world.

So how many are elites?

Taking United’s MileagePlus, there shouldn’t be more than about 2 million total elite members. I’d guess it’s less rather than more, closer to 1.5 million, but that’s just a guess.

  • Premier Silver, 25,000 mile flyers, represent the largest percentage of elites… in fact, they should be more than half.
  • Premier Gold members should be a bit under half the number of Silvers.
  • And 1Ks and Global Services members likely represent no more than about 10%, probably closer to 8%

These percentages should roughly hold across major carriers, in the limit. For instance I’d guess that American has 50,000 – 60,000 Executive Platinum members and maybe 15,000 Concierge Key members [I'm not sure whether these would be additive or not, Concierge Key members now receive Executive Platinum status as well].


Conde’ Nast‘s Barbara Peterson looks at the United MileagePlus option to redeem miles for meals at their Newark hub.

As part of an impressive re-do launching for United’s terminal at Newark, there are several top-end eateries going in. One feature that’s being played up is the ability to use miles for food as an instant redemption.

Peterson suggests that this could make sense if your miles have become so devalued that they are now less than a penny.

Roughly speaking it looks like the miles-for-food option gives you about 7/10ths of a penny per point. Which is pathetic. It’s a valuation at which MileagePlus ought to be ashamed of themselves. It’s as though they are telling members that their miles have been devalued to that point.

As much of a beating as United’s miles have taken over the past year, they’re still worth more than that. Don’t be a sucker. Read More…

Airlines are like politicians. If the claims they make are non-binding (and very few are binding, even more so in a post-Ginsberg world), and they want something — a merger, or just customers to swallow a change without defecting and pulling business — there’s little incentive to keep their word.

This is strange in a way. We expect that airline customers are repeat customers, especially an airline’s most valuable customers. So in this iterative game it would make sense to maintain trust.

But consumers overall buy on price, have a low opinion of airlines generously, and repeat customers behave like Charlie Brown to the airlines’ Lucy who keep putting the football in front of us, in a triumph of hope over experience.

The latest example comes from Delta, which committed in its merger with Northwest Airlines that it would keep Northwest’s Memphis hub. The merger was even supposed to bring more international flying to Memphis.

Delta has now announced that it is cutting the number of destinations it will serve from Memphis all the way down to 13. And three of those are seasonal.

Memphis was once a busy hub for Delta, which inherited the base via its 2008 merger with Northwest. Delta flew as many as 240 flights per day out of Memphis in June 2009, including a flight to Amsterdam. But the company has been ratcheting that number down ever since, culminating in a decision to “de-hub” Memphis in 2013.

Conditions change, and Delta would certainly continue flying out of Memphis if they found it profitable to do so. I don’t blame them for taking this decision.

But it was entirely predictable when Delta and Northwest merged. The striking thing is that they pretended otherwise, and some people believed them.

United eliminated its Cleveland hub this year despite merger promises it would not do so. Although they maintain their relationship with the Cleveland Browns…


Joe Brancatelli asks a simple questions about minimum revenue requirements for earning elite status:

Airlines have the right to create the terms of their programs as they see fit. But if they now base their programs on revenue instead of miles, why do they continue to demand a minimum number of flights and/or miles flown in addition to the dollar spend? After all, if the revenue you contribute to an airline’s bottom line is what counts, why does it matter how many miles or flights you fly?

Other questions that are rarely asked:


News and notes from around the interweb:


Korean Air Skypass has disappeared off of the Chase website as a points transfer partner.

Here are the airlines I currently see listed:

Friday night is the worst time for this, for me, since I can’t reach anyone at Chase in real-time to confirm the meaning of the change.

Korean Air has been one of my favorite uses of Chase points.

Although they are of course very Korean and their processes for redeeming awards are unique.

If Korean is indeed gone as a Chase transfer partner, I’m personally frustrated. I have 185,000 miles in my Skypass account, and likely need 190,000 for what I’d do with the points (2 one-ways between the US and Southeast Asia in first class).

With additional notice of the change I would have transferred 5000 Chsae points into my Korean account. I should have done that anyway. I don’t usually think of credit card programs devaluing especially without notice, but it certainly happens and has happened and it’s always best to be prepared.

I can use my points for first class to, say, Hong Kong (160,000 miles roundtrip) of course. But getting those 5000 more miles isn’t actually easy. I can credit some Delta flying or some car rentals. I can transfer Hyatt Points over to Korean (ratio is 2.5 to 1, although with a transfer bonus 50,000 Hyatt points nets 25,000 miles). I recently gave up my Korean Air Visa from US Bank.

Regardless, Chase points at a minimum still transfer to:

  • United: Star Alliance awards without fuel surcharges
  • Singapore Airlines: Much better availability for premium cabin award travel when using Krisflyer miles on Singapore than using miles from partner airline programs. Great for US domestic awards on United as well.
  • British Airways: Excellent non-stop short distance awards, such as on American, US Airways, and Alaska — starting at just 4500 points each way.
  • Southwest Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, two transfer partners I don’t see myself using but that are strategically useful to some.
  • Hyatt: Good hotel value, I’ve transferred here to top off my account for redemptions in the Maldives and Paris and for suite upgrade awards.
  • Marriott and Ritz-Carlton and IHG Rewards: These programs tend to be too expensive for redemptions to tempt me to make transfers.
  • Amtrak Northeast corridor awards have been useful to me in the past

Though a personal favorite of mine, Korean Air isn’t how most people use their points. United and British Airways and even Hyatt transfers are much more common. I’d probably rather have Singapore than Korean. But it’s a blow, for me, if they’re indeed gone rather than this being a temporary sort of website change. (It’s this uncertainty that holds back harsher words at this point — especially over lack of notice — I do not yet know if this is an actual change.)


A commenter who appears to work for Copa suggests that the new program will add fuel surcharges to awards. Miguel writes,

Gary, my comments dont reflect COPA Holdings, or my superiors or companywide opinions or statements.

All tickets currently purchased from any venue are broken down with a fuel surcharge, future awards and tickets will also include a standard fuel surcharge.

On tickets issued to depart the USA will have the regular taxes and fees.
Average fuel surcharge of $160.00
Average Taces of $105.00

I will find it surprising if Copa were to add fuel surcharges to award tickets. This practice isn’t common in Central or South America. Lifemiles doesn’t do it. LAN doesn’t do it.

Miguel may or may not have knowledge of internal discussions, and I’m not suggesting at all that it isn’t possible… just that I wouldn’t expect it.

Nonetheless, since I made the projection that Copa’s new frequent flyer program wouldn’t add fuel surcharges onto award tickets, I thought it was important to share this contrary view.

And on the subject of the program’s pedigree with leadeship from the former Northwest and US Airways programs, it’s also worth noting something that I had forgotten, that Northwest (and Delta) imposed – admittedly modest – fuel surcharges on award tickets even for travel originating in the U.S. back in 2008.


This month China has started issuing visas valid for multiple entry over 10 years to US passport holders for tourism and short-term business visits.

Your passport must be valid for at least a year, and you can continue to use your 10 year visa even when your passport expires and you get a new one. (You carry the old passport with you to prove the visa.)

This makes things a whole lot easier, since the Chinese visa can be expensive and it can be a pain to get, so not having to get one each time you visit is a real boon for travelers.

With the new 10 year China Visas, Allied Passport & Visa is offering View from the Wing readers 50% off service fees for a Chinese visa requested by the end of the year.

When I’ve done visas for China I’ve done them myself, I always found living in DC to be good at least for easy access to the embassies and consulates of many countries. But having someone else do it is easier, of course, and for much of the country – new 10 year validity notwithstanding – it’s still inconvenient to process these yourself.

Now, you’ll still pay China Embassy fees of $140 – $160, and you’ll pay the fee to have Allied FedEx your materials back to you ($22 – $45 depending on the priority you request). But you’ll get 50% off of their service fees.

  • Standard processing (10+ business days), normally $45, with this offer $22.50
  • Expedited processing (4-9 business days), normally $100, with this offer $50
  • Emergency processing (0-3 business days), normally $200, with this offer $100

To qualify for this offer just indicate “ViewFromTheWing” referred you on your Allied Order Form.

For avoidance of doubt, I do not get anything at all for the referral. When i highlighted an offer from Allied in the past, readers had universally positive things to say about the experience. So when China started offering 10 year visas, I decided to reach out to them to see if they’d offer a special discount. They were willing to, so I figured I’d pass the savings opportunity along to readers.

For those of you that make use of it, I’m thrilled, please feel free to share your stories in the comments.

And I’d love to hear from anyone that has used a visa processing service in the past, why did you and how did it go? Or do you prefer to do it yourself, and if so why?


News and notes from around the interweb:


I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, and other banks are advertising partners of this site. I do not write about all credit cards that are available — instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

As I told you to expect last week, the spending requirement to earn a signup bonus with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has gone up — but fortunately not by much, just from $3000 within 3 months of account opening to $4000. No other changes have been made at this time.

Fortunately that leaves the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card as the best all-around, most rewarding personal credit card.

It has one of the best signup bonuses, has strong benefits, and is a great card that rewards ongoing spending (because it has flexible points that transfer to a variety of airlines and hotels, and because it earns double points on all travel and dining).

  • Bonus: 40,000 points after $4000 in spending within 3 months plus 5000 more points for adding a free authorized user to the account and making a purchase within that same time frame
  • Valuable points: Chase points are among the two best currencies of any loyalty program. They transfer to United, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Hyatt, Marriott, and more.
  • Strong earning: Double points on travel and dining, useful all over the world with no foreign transaction fees, and Visa acceptance.
  • Good benefits: Like primary collision damage coverage on rental cars.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in my view continues to be the all-around most lucrative credit card in the market as it has been for the past 3 years. There’s no annual fee the first year, then it has a $95 annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.


Emirates has a lot of Airbus A380s. Those are big planes, with a lot of seats, and they need to send them somewhere. Like Dallas.

Emirates wasn’t selling the bulk of their premium seats when they were flying a Boeing 777 on the route. Now they have even more premium seats.

And they’re facing competition to and through the Middle East from both Eithad (which is an American partner, and that helps a great deal in the Dallas market) and Qatar (which as a oneworld alliance member is an American partner, and that helps a great deal in Dallas).

Unsurprisingly, Emirates A380 first class award space is pretty darned wide open. A booked some seats a couple of weeks ago myself using Alaska Airlines miles.

As a result, Emirates is getting aggressive and generous. Here’s what they are offering folks booking their Dallas flight:

  • If you have American AAdvantage elite status, and buy a ticket for their Dallas – Dubai flight, they’ll give you a status match.

  • If you don’t have elite status with anyone, but buy a premium cabin ticket on their Dallas – Dubai flight, they’ll give you elite status in their Skywards program. (Interesting, it’s not clear that they would take the status away if you refunded the ticket after purchase and tier upgrade.)

Here’s How It Works

From the material for travel agents:

Issue an Emirates ticket and register the customer to the Skywards Program
Send the ticket number and the Skywards member number to DFWsales@emirates.com
The passenger will receive the Skywards membership card to the mailing address.
Please contact DFWsales@emirates.com if you have any questions about this promotion.

(HT: Hopwise)


American Express has long offered upscale and luxury hotels through their Fine Hotels and Resorts program — booking through them gets you benefits like a room upgrade if available, late checkout, breakfast, and another benefit like a meal or spa credit.

This is offered to Platinum and to Centurion cardmembers (the Centurion version usually comes with an additional benefit for bookings as well), and reservations made through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts are generally eligible for elite status benefits and stay credit, as well as points-earning in the relevant hotel loyalty program.

American Express now appears to be rolling out a new hotel program The Hotel Collection. This one tells you to “Log in or register your Gold or Platinum Card®” so appears to be available for a broader array of cardmembers.

The benefits they advertise:

  • Room upgrade, if available
  • $75 room folio credit on stays of 2 nights or more

You can book up to 3 rooms and receive benefits for each – you aren’t limited to your own room. And they’re clearly focusing on a less upscale lodging demographic than the Fine Hotels and Resorts program, with a marketing point being that they have hotels that start at $150 per night.

One more site for the arsenal, especially for non-elite members booking rooms at regular price and for everyone in that position staying 2 nights or more.


News and notes from around the interweb:


Last month Virgin America offered an 80% bonus on purchased miles for 8 hours only.

There’s a little bit more time, this time (up through December 12), to take advantage of an ‘up to 70% bonus’ for mileage purchases.

You have to log into your account to see the offer.

Virgin American points normally cost 5.2 cents apiece. This offer, maxed out at the top bonus tier, lets you buy them at ~ 3 cents (last month’s short-term offer was 2.9 cents).

That’s not a good deal for Virgin America flights, where points are worth about 2.2 cents in airfare.

For partner awards, which have award charts rather than pricing awards based on ticket cost, this can make some sense for a subset of folks who will have a specific use right away.

For instance, 30,000 miles is enough for a one-way San Francisco – London award in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic, but that purchase will need to be paired with $600 in taxes and fees.

Still, less than $1500 all-in for a one-way Virgin Atlantic business class flight isn’t bad as far as those things go.

And it can also be useful for short haul Singapore Airlines awards, although note that Virgin America has access to limited Singapore partner inventory and not Singapore’s generous offerings for its own members.

Point purchases are processed by points.com, so to answer a common question about such transactions they do not post as travel or airfare to the credit card used for the purchase (and thus won’t earn applicable category bonuses).

(HT: Frequent Flyer Bonuses)


JetBlue announced on Wednesday that it will add 15 seats to its 150-seat Airbus A320s in 2016. That will reduce average seat pitch from 34.7 inches to 33.1 inches, which is still more generous than the 31 – 32 inch average across the industry.

In addition, JetBlue’s cheapest fares will no longer include first checked bag free.

We don’t know yet which seats JetBlue will be reducing legroom for to accommodate additional seating (reducing their extra legroom seats, or squeezing all seats, or in what proportion a combination of the two). And we don’t know how much JetBlue’s check bag feels will be. But it’s a clear sign that being more generous to customers in economy isn’t a business model that works, which is unfortunate but probably true.

People say they want better seating, but most of them won’t pay for it. Spirit Airlines performs well financially with the least comfortable seats (they don’t even recline, they sit upright, or as Spirit says they are ‘pre-reclined’). There’s a difference between stated preference and revealed preference.

American Airlines tried to give everyone better legroom in the early past of the last decade. It was “More Room Throughout Coach” and everyone got a couple of extra inches of legroom on every aircraft. Customers didn’t choose American over their competitors even at a similar price point. Because revealed preference is that people choose on schedule and price and not comfort. So American killed the plan and put the seats back in.

When planes are full, as they are now, pulling out seats means the airlines have to raise price (to break even, even). And that’s not what consumers want. The point here is that consumers say legroom is what they want, but they don’t actually make decisions that way.

I would love it if the seats in back had more legroom. I hate that American has been adding seats back into aircraft even in 2014 (reducing the number of Main Cabin Extra seats). As an elite member I get these for free, but fewer of them means they’re harder to get. And I’d actually pay a premium for the comfort. But not enough customers will to sustain it throughout the cabin.

And that’s why JetBlue is moving to less comfortable seating, and why they won’t give customers for free the checked bag other airlines charge for. Remember as well that checked bag fees that are not part of a fare are not subject to the federal 7.5% excise tax on domestic airfare. By unbundling the ticket price, even if total revenue doesn’t rise they shield the portion of travel cost that’s categorized as a bag fee from this tax.


United has announced several minor program changes for 2015 — none of them are good, none of them are awful, but they combine to take away real value from United’s elite members and add nothing of value in return. That seems to be the overall deal in the current environment and a consistent message coming from the MileagePlus program.

I’ve already written about United elites losing benefits on Copa Airlines. That’s not United’s fault — Copa is launching their own frequent flyer program, which is great. They’ll no longer be a part of MileagePlus, so United’s members will only get the benefits offered to them as Star Alliance elites.

Here’s what else has changed. See what the changes are, and what they mean to you. And sound off!

Copa Airlines is launching their own frequent flyer program in July and will no longer be part of United’s MileagePlus.

Copa used to be majority-owned by Continental Airlines, and Copa took on a variant of the Continental logo and joined Onepass. Continental started selling their investment in 2005, and by 2006 was down to 10% ownership. The special relationship continued. Now the airline is grown up and moving forward on its own.

As a result, the airline will continue to offer United elites Star Alliance benefits but will not offer United elite members the unique benefits they’ve had as through Copa was an extension of United. But there’s also a big upside in this, a new Star Alliance frequent flyer program is coming — that has a chance to be really valuable for North American members.
I’m actually really excited. Continue reading to see why…

New York City booked 100 rooms at the Radisson JFK .. and didn’t tell the hotel that the rooms were for the homeless.

The hotel is furious and says they won’t rent rooms to the Departmnet of Homeless Services again at any price.

Pierre Merhej, the general manager of the Radisson Hotel on 145th Street in Jamaica, said a representative from the city called his hotel’s sales office last month and said the city would need dozens of rooms at the 385-room hotel for a “government group” in November, he said.

“When you say they have a government group, as hotel people we like government groups,” Merhej said, adding that November is usually a slow month for the hotel, which is a few blocks from John F. Kennedy Airport.

…“It really doesn’t have an impact on our regular guests,” he said.

The hotel apparently allowed DHS to cater outside food and drink, something large groups are frequently forbidden to do. The homeless have since moved out of the hotel.

The piece observes that the hotel is right next to what used to be a homeless shelter, so…

I’m very much not a connoisseur of homeless shelters, but the Radisson JFK has always struck me as likely around the upper range of what most homeless shelters are like. Which is really just saying it’s about average for a hotel near JFK airport.

So here’s the thing:

  • Would it bother you to stay in a hotel where the largest in-house group are homeless?
  • Don’t they have a right to stay on property if the going rate is being paid for their accommodations?

How do you come down, as a guest?

(HT: Alan H.)


Philippine Airlines flies non-stop from North America to Southeast Asia. You don’t hear about them often because they do not have any US frequent flyer partners, and no bank program transfers points to the Mabuhay Miles program.

And yet therein lies an opportunity.

  • Just like Chase transfers to Korean Air open up a world of availability to Asia because there’s very little competition for first class awards on Korean from US members, if you can get access to miles that can be redeemed on Philippine Airlines you’ve got a whole world of availability at your fingertips.
  • Citibank points transfer to Etihad Guest and Eithad’s miles can be used on Philippine Airlines.
  • ANA Mileage Club has a new partnership with Philippine Airlines. American Express Membership Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints transfer to ANA.

Here are the routes that Philippine Airlines flies daily:

  • Manila – Vancouver
  • Manila – San Francisco (plus a second flight once a week)
  • Manila – Los Angeles (plus a second flight four times a week)

Sure, you can try to redeem for United, Asiana, or ANA. But with Philippine Airlines the line is shorter.

Philippine Airlines awards can’t be searched for online that I’m aware of, so you have to call presently (in this case Etihad) to find the space as well as book.

With the ANA partnership I wouldn’t be surprised if Philippine Airlines space becomes bookable (and therefore seaerchable) on their website on or about November 26 when the new relationship takes flight.

    Even the Philippine Airlines website does not have online award search for the carrier’s seats — their members actually have to issue tickets in person!.

The Etihad Option…

The Etihad Guest program prices awards based on distance. For Philippine Airlines awards these flights fall within the 6001 – 8000 mileage band.

That means the price each way is:

  • 70,000 points for economy
  • 124,444 points for business class

Taxes and fees run a little over $250 each way. Awards must be booked at least 14 days prior to travel.

That’s a lot of points. And Philippine Airlines isn’t known for having the single best inflight product. But it’s a way to use Citibank Thank You Points for long haul business class, with very little competition (remember, until recently you could only use the points at a little over a penny apiece towards paid airfare so a business class roundtrip could cost 300,000 – 800,000 points — comparatively speaking this is a bargain!).

And unlike American Express or Chase points, Thank You Points may be transferred t anyone you wish

ANA Mileage Club Saves You Tons of Points

ANA current has a distance-based award chart which will last through mid-April.

Taking the Vancouver or San Francisco non-stops is less than 14,000 miles roundtrip so a business class award would cost just 90,000 miles. Taking the Los Angeles flight roundtrip would be 105,000 miles in business class. And you could tack additional flying beyond Manila on Philippine Airlines – as long as you stay under 18,000 total miles flown – for that same 105,000 miles.

Starting in mid-April ANA will be moving to a zone- or region-based award chart. Under this chart South Asia roundtrip in business class will cost 110,000 miles. ANA does add fuel surcharges to award tickets.


Delta’s new 2015 frequent flyer program is coming closer to fruition.

They’ve improved the award search calendar, though there are still bugs and glitches and it doesn’t support all of their airline partners (but at least the calendar now supports some!).

And as part of the introduction of one-way awards, I I told you to expect that stopovers would no longer be allowed on award tickets without spending additional miles.

If you’re flying New York – Paris – Prague, you can currently book a ticket that lets you stop for a few days in Paris on the way. The website already implemented a change where it charges more for that stopover. That turned out to be a change simply made early, that Delta didn’t plan to reverse, rather than a glitch.

Delta has now confirmed that there will no longer be stopovers allowed without additional miles as part of award tickets starting in 2015.

Delta let me know that they updated their website as follows:

For Award Travel booked prior to January 1, 2015, one stopover is allowed per roundtrip Award Ticket under certain circumstances. A stopover is defined as a stay of more than 4 hours between domestic flights and more than 24 hours between domestic and international or all international flights. The destination city is not considered a stopover. A stopover is allowed, provided there are no more than two connections between the origin and destination including any connections that are made while traveling to/from the stopover point. The stopover city must be located on a valid routing.

Stopovers will no longer be permitted for Award Travel booked on or after January 1, 2015.

This is a way to charge more miles for award tickets, without changing pricing on the award chart.

  • Some airlines like United allow one-way awards, and allow stopvoers when booking a roundtrip.
  • Some airlines like Alaska allow stopovers on one-way awards.

But Delta isn’t alone in this. American doesn’t allow stopovers on their awards, either.

Each program is different, with a varying mix of availability, rules, benefits. Delta was already less generous than its competitors. This is a stealth award price increase.


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View from the Wing is a project of Miles and Points Consulting, LLC. This site is for entertainment purpose only. The owner of this site is not an investment advisor, financial planner, nor legal or tax professional and articles here are of an opinion and general nature and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

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Editorial Note: The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine and not provided by any bank including (but not limited to) American Express, Chase, Citibank, US Bank, Barclaycard or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.