Airline Elite Beyond Elite

Chris Elliott’s latest column, published in today’s New York Times is on airline status beyond the published benefits of elite frequent flyer programs.

The gist is that high spenders receive rewards greater than those provided to an airline’s 100,000 mile flyers.

    On United and on other airlines, members of the secretive, invitation-only clubs are met at the airport by employees and whisked past the check-in line. They wait for their flights in unmarked V.I.P. lounges and are offered liberal upgrades and personalized attention by airline employees. And at a time when airlines are obsessed with improving their on-time records, it is not uncommon for a plane to be held for a super-elite member who is stuck in traffic.

Chris gets some of the details wrong. He says that the Global Services designation requires only $20,000 of spend in a year with United, but I know several flyers whose spending exceeded that amount but were not invited as UGS members.

He says that United Global Servics members get their upgrades confirmed at booking, which is only true when redeeming confirmable upgrade certificates or miles, a benefit no greater than that afforded to United’s 100,000 mile flyers. UGS members do see their upgrades using 500 mile domestic certificates clear at 120 hours before departure, 20 hours in advance of United’s 1K members.

He also mentions Continental’s Chairman’s Circle, but doesn’t mention the larger “Star” designation which is separate from Platinum elite.

This top tier status is compared to the American Express Centurion Card, though the piece incorrectly states:

    And, like the super-elite status conferred by the airlines, the American Express Card is granted to those deemed deserving – never in response to a customer’s request.

In fact, historically customers who have spent $150,000 in a year on their American Express Platinum card can request an invitation to Centurion. I understand that the required spend level is increasing to $250,000 in July.

Update: Christopher Elliott responds:

    Thanks for plugging today’s story about super-elites. I was a little surprised when I caught the line about inaccuracies in the story — until I read about my alleged errors.


    – “He says that the Global Services designation requires only $20,000 of spend in a year with United, but I know several flyers whose spending exceeded that amount but were not invited as UGS members.”


    Didn’t say that. I said “at least” $20,000 a year.


    – “He says that United Global Servics [sic] members get their upgrades confirmed at booking.”


    Straight from a high-level source at United. And since none of these rules are publicly available, a difficult point to argue.


    – “He also mentions Continental’s Chairman’s Circle, but doesn’t mention the larger “Star” designation which is separate from Platinum elite.”


    Reliable sources at Continental could only confirm the existence of Chairman’s Circle. Perhaps Star has faded?


    – “In fact, historically customers who have spent $150,000 in a year on their American Express Platinum card can request an invitation to Centurion.I understand that the required spend level is increasing to $250,000 in July.”


    I can only tell you what Amex tells me about the black card, on the record. It’s invitation-only.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Hi,

    Re UGS and the upgrade benefit..I’m sure if you are an UGS member and you get to know your UGS agent, they can upgrade anything for you at their discretion regardless of what the UGS program rules might say. I’m not UGS but on other airlines I’ve gotten change fees and upgrades for companions waived and done at no charge. Its most important what really happens out there, not what UA writes in its rules. So some UGS do probably get there upgrades confirmed at booking if they have a good rapport with an agent, and maybe some non UGS get that too :).

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