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.
- 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.