How United’s Status Names Have Evolved Over 20 Years

When United and Continental merged, each airline had 3 status levels:

United:

  • 1K: 100,000 miles flown
  • Premier Executive: 50,000 miles flown
  • Premier: 25,000 miles flown

Continental:

  • Platinum: 75,000 miles flown
  • Gold: 50,000 miles flown
  • Silver: 25,000 miles flown

These levels could also be earned on segments.

United and Continental combined these status levels, creating four tiers (excluding United’s revenue-based Global Services). Thus, they offered status at the 25,000; 50,000; 75,000; and 100,000 mile levels.

And they just combined the names as well — taking ‘Premier’ from the United side and the metallic name from Continental. So Premier Silver, Premier Gold, etc.

US Airways and America West had combined three tier offerings that topped out at 100,000 and 75,000 miles respectively by creating four tiers at the same mileage levels. Northwest and Delta combined their tier offerings and created a four tier program with the highest qualification level at 125,000 miles.

But these aren’t the only status levels that United has ever offered.

  • Over a decade ago United used to offer ‘soft landings’ to elites that didn’t requalify for status, and had a level called ‘Premier Emeritus’ which was for elite members who didn’t requalify for status. It continued to get them priority services like a first-tier elite but didn’t include domestic upgrades on any fare (with 500 mile upgrade certificates). It meant using premier phone lines, getting elite check-in and boarding, and in fact did include upgrades at the gate at one point in the late 1990s. The code for this level was ‘3P’… one below Premier (2P) and two below Premier Executive (1P).

  • Between 2006 and 2010 United offered ‘Premier Associate’ status — a level that elites who reached certain mileage thresholds during the year could gift to others. It was like Premier Emeritus, more or less the first tier of status excluding upgrades.

But where does the 1K name come from? And those two-character designators for Premier and Premier Executive?

United wanted a system flag for their best customers, to identify them to agents as deserving of special attention.

As I relayed the story a month ago from Adam Aron, Starwood’s CEO who was once United’s Chief Marketing Officer,

He shared the story of how United’s top tier elite level became 1K — they ran a database query for all of their 100,000 mile flyers and wanted to offer them additional recognition (“If an employee was only going to smile once a day, it should be for them”). So they created a system tag to identify these customers to employees, and the space used had room for only 2 characters — it was meant as an internal tag, not to be public with customers, but it eventually stuck.

You’d think it would have been “100K” but they only had two characters to use. It wasn’t thought through as a customer moniker because it wasn’t originally intended for customers to see. But loyal members figure things out, they talk to agents, and they talk amongst themselves. It gained a currency, so they simply went with it.

It’s interesting that you could once gift status (Premier Associate), that with the merger between United and Continental when you redeemed miles for someone else as an elite they got treated as an elite, and now United has eliminated that. I’ve gotten several e-mails during the past week from members just realizing this as they have redeemed miles for others and were asked to buy up to economy plus.

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. I had United Premier Associate thanks to someone gifting it to me. It really was all I needed since I only flew a few times a year. I really enjoyed it. I think you got free E+, but I don’t really remember. The free bag was sure nice!

  2. Gary, you forgot to mention the story (there’s a leaked document on FT somewhere) that UA was going to call the new post-merger 100,000 level “Diamond” (no doubt to further wipe away more linkages to PMUA, and make the airline increasingly generic). Yet that plan bit the dust somehow…

  3. Many gate agents are still using CO elite titles at boarding time, even after all these years. Even at stations that were not originally dominant CO stations.

  4. Simply put, nobody smiles at United anymore.. not employees to customers, nor employees alone.

    Having been a 1K for about 8 of the years from 1996-2007, I’ve now managed to get lifetime 1P (Executive Platinum, AKA Gold, AKA Premier Gold, AKA nothing much at all), falling about 400K short of 2MM lifetime on UA (BIS mind you). I most likely won’t make any effort to get to Executive Platinum as it too really isn’t worth much and by the time I get there it too will be worth less.

    Shouda, coulda, woulda, put all my eggs and $$$$ into AA, having lifetime platinum what with CC spend and all would have been a no brainer

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