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Platinum status, and since upgrades are prioritized based on prior 12 months of activity a lifetime Platinum who is no longer active is at the bottom of the platinum tier even.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.
— Michael Granoff (@mikejgr) February 2, 2023
Happy to represent @sfoinflight with our amazing crew in celebrating our @united customer’s one million mile achievement and birthday! Thank you for your loyalty and wishing you many more miles and smiles! #UnitedAirlines #MyUnitedJourney #BeingUnited https://t.co/2WApnyg6dq
— David Ishmael (Aviator Dave) 🇺🇦 (@AviatorDave) March 3, 2022
Congratulations @tonylyle for reaching your 1 Million Mile status @united!
✈🌟✈ Thank you for flying with us and hope to see you again very soon! 💙 #beingunited@weareunited @ammyheathrow @CarlaOReillyUA @vjpassa @UALondonLegends pic.twitter.com/ps0dLDMZr0
— Sradha Sahota (@SradhaSahota) October 30, 2021
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.