United Announces Elite Status: Qualification, Upgrades, and Baggage Allowances

United is making elite status harder to get, especially top tier elite status. They’re changing the upgrades top elites earn when they keep flying United beyond what it takes to earn their status. And they’re adjusting checked baggage allowances that many elites receive when they travel.

Customers who continue to earn 1K (100,000 mile flyer status) under more stringent rules will have fewer people to compete with for upgrades, those who drop down a status level will hate these changes.

Two Changes to Qualifying for Elite Status

United is increasing the amount of spending required to earn the top elite tier, 1K, that you can qualify for based on spending and miles. (Their revenue-based Global Services level doesn’t have a specific, published criteria.)

  • Instead of spending $12,000 for 1K status (12 cents per mile average for 100,000 miles) they’ll require $15,000 spend (15 cents per mile).

  • Premium cabin fares will no longer give as much of a boost towards status.

United added a spending requirement for elite status, copying Delta almost exactly, starting in 2014.

Shortly thereafter Delta increased the spending requirement for elite status. Now United is matching the spend per dollar that Delta requires for top tier for their own 1K status.

Three years ago American started generous bonuses to make premium cabin fares qualify for elite status faster. United quickly copied. However effective January 1 “P-class fares will earn 150% Premier qualifying miles (PQM), reduced from 200%.”

Why United is Making Elite Status Harder to Earn

Two years ago I wrote that United would make it tougher to qualify for their top tier 1K elite status. With status easier to earn, more people flying, and fewer airlines in the market there are more elites than ever.

Airlines need to balance the number of elites in each tier with their ability to deliver benefits. Too many 1Ks means not enough upgrades to go around, for instance. Increasing the requirements for top tier status redistributes benefits to customers spending more.

In addition raising the bar will encourage some customers to give United more money. A customer earning top tier status with $12,000 spend, who gives business to some other airlines, may shift additional business at the margin to ensure they keep earning status. On the other hand some customers barely qualifying before may become less loyal. United’s bet here is that they will earn additional revenue that outweighs losses.

United’s changes are hardly original. They couldn’t match Delta’s higher spend requirement earlier because they have a different business than Delta. They haven’t been earning the revenue premium that Delta has.


United Domestic First Class

Upgrade Changes For ‘Overpeforming’ Elites

Effective January 1, 2019 once members qualify for 1K they will earn an additional confirmed international upgrade every 25,000 qualifying miles or 30 qualifying segments. These ‘Global Premier Upgrades’ will be earned for going ‘above and beyond’ qualifying, and serve to incentivize additional flying.

United will no longer award additional confirmed regional upgrades for flying beyond 1K status requirements.


United’s New Polaris Business Class

That means instead of 2 regional upgrades every 25,000 qualifying miles or 30 segments, members will get an international upgrade. That’s better. But before they also received two international upgrades every 50,000 qualifying miles or 60 segments beyond 1K. Some will prefer these changes, and some will dislike them.

Notably nothing changes about how upgrades are earned upon qualifying for status. United gives 2 regional confirmed upgrades upon earning Platinum and 2 more upon earning 1K plus 6 confirmed international upgrades.

American has a similar program, formally capped at earning 8 confirmed systemwide though they’ve allowed members to earn more.

Of course United’s international upgrades have minimum fare requirements. You spend more to use them, even to waitlist with them, so it’s legalized gambling — give United more money to maybe fly business class and if they don’t clear you then you lose that money. American’s and Delta’s do not have minimum fares required.

Changes to Checked Bag Allowances

United became the first big US airline to raise checked bag fees. Now they’re adjusting elite checked bag allowances as well.

Effective September 28 the standard elite baggage allowance changes to 70 pounds. That is the same for all elites.

Additionally,

  • Flying premium cabin: up to three bags 70 pounds each
  • Golds flying coach to Europe: get three bags 70 pounds each
  • Silvers flying coach to Europe: get 2 bags 70 pounds each

This is a 20 pound baggage benefit increase for Silvers. And Golds flying to Europe get an additional bag. However elites broadly will not be happy with this change. Update: United clarifies that by moving to 70 pounds that means per bag and not total. Nonetheless I do not like midyear changes.

Where I’m unhappy is less the particulars, though the idea that 1Ks traveling domestically in coach don’t get two checked bags strikes me as absurd, than I am with making this change without notice.

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. This is not really matching DL’s spending requirements per-se. DL requires 125K EQMs for Diamonds so the $15K spend requirement is proportional. UA’s new spend requirement isn’t, so in my book they didn’t really follow DL – they actually one-upped DL.

    UA already has the most difficult requirement as they do not allow earning PQDs on non-016 ticket stock. However, I think UA is the only hold out not requiring spend for international customers, which I think before making these changes they should impose the PQD requirement on international customers.

  2. Will GS also be limited to 1 checked bag domestically? That would be enough for me to shift to booking family travel on WN.

  3. Just a matter of time until AA follows suit. I’ve never been so happy turning my back on them (or any of the US3).

  4. Gary.

    UA has been trimming the elite ranks since 2012. I still haven’t noticed any positive changes for the elites that remain ie upgrades.

    My question > who’s left? I’d love to know how the ranks of each elite level has trimmed.

  5. If there are too many elites competing for too few upgrades, isn’t the better approach the one used by AA (well, by US). Upgrade list tiebreak is EQD spend. This still benefits the flyers as it gives the upgrade to the higher spend elites, but doesn’t deny the lower spend elites the other benefits of the status level that aren’t capacity controlled, like fee waivers and lounge access. And it benefits the airlines as it incentivizes additional spend no matter threshold you’ve achiened – the more you spend, the better your upgrade chances.

  6. @ivk5 – No, my literal reading of United’s release was not correct, everyone gets 70 pounds and unstated was that the number of pieces is largely unchanged

  7. @UA-NYC UA had initially told me all elites get a 70 pound bag allowance. What they *meant* was that each checked bag could be 70 pounds. Many airlines around the world use a weight concept rather than a piece concept, but that turns out not to be what United is doing.

  8. @AlliW : the card one goes against the same base quota – they aren’t additive.

    On Separate note, not overly surprised about bring P-fare PQM back from the stratosphere. They apply discounts against any of your P-fare PQD when coming up with the list to qualify for GS, so it’s not surprising either them (or some GSes) wish for them to be more aligned.

    And even then, they’re still more generous than AA and DL in the discounted J front (just gonna use the some of the JV allies plus occasional desirable products) :

    DL – AF is 150% MQM for CDIZ, only 200% for pure full fare J, exact same story at KL, VS, KE, as well as DL itself.

    AA – BA is flat 150% EQM for any J bucket, same story at JAL and CX

    UA – LH is 300% at full J, CDZP are all 200%. Ditto Swiss, ANA, and AC. So the only thing UA is changing for themselves instead of harmonized approach is

    300% J
    200% CDZ
    150% P <—-

    The grass is *definitely* not greener on the other pasture.

  9. UA has made is another race to crappiness. It won’t reduce the number of 1Ks by much. If you hit 100k EQMs, there’s almost no way you won’t try to find a way to get some EQDs, so yes, definitely more revenue for UA. Just can’t wait till my AA does the same.

  10. ahhh the good old days
    So glad I left them years ago
    No matter who gets dragged off their flights in blood or how expensive they make it
    There will always be the foolish that follow this horrible airline
    Very grateful they pull some of the masses off my preferred carriers

  11. henry LAX conveniently leaves out the fact that UA gives you no PQDs if not on UA ticket stock (even if on the JV partners) – not the same for AA/DL. This is a massive competitive weakness.

    It also lacks logic to assume that OAL P fares will still get 200% PQMs when UA metal only gets you 150%.

    “Flyer Friendly” indeed.

  12. Two weeks ago I bought a P Fare for April of next year that said both during the booking process and in the receipt that it would earn around 20,000 EQM.

    Announcing this program change now means they lied because there was no way to know these changes were coming

    This feels worse than a bait and switch and United should know that every year I have moved more of my spend to other airlines as I simply hunt for the best deal and stop caring about these frequent flyer programs as at every turn the lesson is that they can’t be believed to deliver the product they promise at the terms when a ticket is purchased.

  13. Gary – regarding your statement, “That means instead of 2 regional upgrades every 25,000 qualifying miles or 30 segments, members will get an international upgrade. That’s BETTER [emphasis added].” NO, it is not better. While earning (1) GPU at 125K, another at 150K, etc. is better for than having to wait for (2) GPUs at 150K, at the same time, one is losing (2) RPUs at 125K and another (2) RPUs at 150K, etc. In other words, if one flies 150K, they still get (2) GPUs, but lose out on (4) RPUs. Not a great trade. But perhaps in the end, it really doesn’t matter much at all, since GPUs and RPUs rarely clear on the premium transcon and international routes anyway…

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