United Airlines Has Gotten Really Good At Celebrating Customer Milestones Inflight

United’s MileagePlus program offers the most generous lifetime elite benefits. At one million lifetime miles you earn Gold status – mid-tier, which is Star Alliance Gold and comes with lounge access – not merely silver like competitors do. Moreover,

  • You can keep going, since two million, three million and four million miles earns Platinum, 1K, and Global Services status for life.

  • The partner of a lifetime elite gets the same status as the lifetime elite. So a 1 million miler earning 1K status gifts their spouse or partner 1K as well.

This is more generous than what other airlines do. At Delta it takes 6 million lifetime miles to hit Diamond (1K equivalent) and there’s no million mile threshold that awards 360 status (Global services equivalent). At American there’s no way to go higher than Platinum status, and since upgrades are prioritized based on prior 12 months of activity a lifetime Platinum who is no longer active is at the bottom of the platinum tier even.

But what United has gotten really good at in the past couple of years is recognizing lifetime achievement in the moment and making it special.

The most frequent things you see on airline twitter are damaged checked bags and passengers who were forced to gate check their bags despite plenty of overhead bin space available on their flight. Then digging down into what’s unique about each airline’s twitter account, and at Southwest it’s the fun hijinks of cabin crew – whether joke-telling, singing, or sending rolls of toilet paper down the aisle. At United, it’s thanking them for the recognition of customer achievements.

So it didn’t surprise me, but it did impress me, when a former boss texted with how United acknowledged him for crossing two million miles. Kevin Gentry shared, “I became a two-million miler today. The pilot on my United flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids gave me his flight plan.”

Acknowledgment from the captain always means a lot, but Kevin continued later. They didn’t just recognize him once.

And then the next day, “So, they recognized me a third time. This was probably the coolest.”

The recognition was across multiple flights on his trip and “in Denver their head of operations came on board and made a really big deal about it, announcing to the passengers.”

Airlines have tremendous data about their customers, but rarely make use of it. They put tablets in the hands of their crew, and talk about ‘being able to know a customer’s favorite drink before they ask’ but usually the data just sits on a shelf (or inside a CRM). United has brought it front and center in crew devices and managed to get their employees to use it.

And that’s huge. Because in Kevin Gentry’s words, “The authenticity and thoughtfulness — and improvisations — made it really special and appreciated. And of course, I’ve been telling everyone!”

IN 2009’s Up In The Air George Clooney is on a quest to cross 10 million miles. The first class seat beside him is kept empty on the flight where he does so, and the airline’s chief pilot joins him for the celebration.

To me, in-person recognition is more valuable than Delta’s million mile gifts. United isn’t spending money, but their employees are spending time. They’re noticing, and customers feel ‘seen’ at the moments that matter most in the brand relationship.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. follow up on united I received my million mile reward, a business card in a plastic case and that was it nothing about thank you or any other notes, big deal. after 21 years of flying with these folks you would think you get something a little more personal.

  2. MP member for 38 years, joining in 1985 early in my military career. 2MMer and currently at 2.8+M towards next level. Got the same card in plastic at 1MM. Got gift offer of previous year’s model of HD 7″ Fire tablet for 2MM. NEVER publically recognized even once for any of my milestones. Have been a 1K every year since 2012, including 2023. Sometimes I get a thank you for being a 1K, but not always. I was a Premier Exec for the 9 years leading up to United/Continental merge. Less than a year after merge, my added Continental miles got me to 1MM. Made me Gold with no recognition of my loyality. Hit 2MM about 5 years ago. Not holding my breath waiting for acknowledgement from United when I hit 3MM.

    @alan, you are wrong about current loyality. In 2019 United went away from flight miles (except for MM status) and turned to money.and number of flight segments to determine status. 1K takes $18,000 spend and 54 flight segments to earn it, or spend $24,000 with just 4 flights. Any credit you might get from other sources like CC only count to Platinum, so 1K is all ticket spend. They have given some perks during pandemic and lowered qual levels, but have gone back to 2019 qual of $18,000/54. They did give a spend bonus for $2,500 this year towards 2024 qual, but I doubt there will ever be any others in the future. It is all about the money now.

  3. @vegasmike Good plan about not holding your breath for 3MM accolades from United. I hit it in October and while the flight was amazing (DEN-LHR) with a crew who celebrated the entire way (announcements, champagne, photos in cockpit, coin from pilot, etc.) Mileage Plus was abysmal. Five months later and I still have NOT received any communication from them (I still have my 1MM and 2MM emails so I know they do it). I made Global Services this year and have leveraged the fact that their customer care has to listen to me so I have complained on what a miss it is that they have ignored my lifetime status. For 2MM I got the plaque and a gift (iPod) so I assumed that would apply for 3MM (at minimum) but today my 3MM plaque arrived (after multiple calls and emails to customer care) and that was it. No gift and still not a word from MP. Delta does a great job of recognizing MM flyers with a unique luggage tag at each MM level but not UA. Small things go a long way when you are trying to nurture a loyal customer base but I guess United’s Mileage Plus team doesn’t understand that. Safe travels getting to 3MM!

  4. I also have to disagree on the article. Just got Million Miler and nothing happened. In fact, it’s been probably one of the few flights where no FA came to thank for being a 1K customer. And I was flying Polaris. Nothing at all, and not great service either. I would have not wanted anything but a simple “thank you for your business”.

  5. I had the same experience when surpassing the 1 Million mile mark…not even a mention. Personally, I’m not worried about the in the moment recognition. I’d prefer some ongoing value…e.g. having a Million Miler 1K automatically be elevated on the upgrade list above the 1K’s that have yet to cross that threshold..

  6. Same here, 1mm met with nothing. I am approaching 2mm and doubt United will do anything. You would think an automatic upgrade on a milestone flight like that would be appropriate.

  7. I am over 2mm. Traveling since 1998 (took a long flight in 1976, but didn’t have a frequent flier number then). I never got any on-board announcement from 1mm or 2 mm. I wonder how many 2mm they have? Maybe there are more and more approaching over 2mm, but it takes a lot of travel and a lot of years. Lover to hear if anyone has a guess of 1mm, 2mm and 3mm???

  8. Several years ago I was on a flight out of DTW. A manager of some kind for UA came on the plane and loudly announced that they wanted to thank me for 30 years of loyalty. She then handed me one of United’s plastic pens as a token of their appreciation. Maybe since it wasn’t a miles milestone they felt like this was an appropriate way to honor my loyalty. It would have been better just to not delay the flight and thank me by email or text.
    This year my wife’s and my flight DEN-IAD on United was cancelled at the airport. We had to wait an additional 3+ hours for the next flight and were no longer in 1st class. I got economy plus and they stuck my wife in one of the middle seats in a 4-across economy configuration. When I wrote them, they offered us $200 each, but only in vouchers, as compensation for the whole experience, even after I pointed out the fare difference. They stuck to this, so rather than fight them in court we accepted the offer, but now I feel less loyal. We are traveling QR to Asia on our next international flight.

  9. Same thing here.. Passed 1 million flying from EWR to LIS in Polaris. Nothing, Earlier in the day, a lady came to the gate at MCO, where I originated, and said “Is xxxxx xxxxxxxxx here?” I raise my hand, she walked over, handed me a pen and a card, and said “Happy Anniversary with United”. It was not my anniversary, and the card also had the error. She said it and walked away.

    On the International leg a few hours later, when we landed I spoke to the purser about dubious service, like not coming around with any drinks for 4 hours. He said “Oh, you crossed a million today. Congrats” as am walking out and we’re speaking in the galley,. Had the same purser twice on LIS-EWR later that year.. Always a disaster with this one man. Lazy, and doesn’t push the FA’s to do a good job, either.

    90% of my Untied flights area great, and on my 30th anniversary with UA, the pilot did come back, hand me a card, shake my hand and say thanks.

    Scott Kirby won’t solve these issues, either. He’s a total disaster. Should have followed in Oscar’s footsteps in hiring, but did not. Huge mistake.

Comments are closed.