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Platinum status, and since upgrades are prioritized based on prior 12 months of activity a lifetime Platinum who is no longer active is at the bottom of the platinum tier even.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 »

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  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.

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