United Copies and Pastes Delta’s New Elite Revenue Hurdle

You guys love your elite status with United, don’t you? When the airline started sending emails about new spending requirements to earn elite status every year, I started to get emails from a lot of you with the news. And I’m not even a miles and points blogger. I can’t imagine how many notes guys like Gary Leff and Lucky got. Nobody should be surprised at what happened. In fact, if you saw what Delta did back in January, this is virtually identical with a couple of minor tweaks.

The basic premise here is that you no longer need to just earn a certain number of miles or fly a certain number of segments to get elite status. You now need to spend a certain amount of money as well. Here’s United’s chart:

United Revenue Qualifying

This new plan begins in 2014 for people earning their 2015 status. Oh, and it’s only for those in the US. Everyone else sees no change. These PQM (Premier Qualifying Miles) and PQS (Premier Qualifying Segments) requirements don’t change at all. It’s just that new PQD (Premier Qualifying Dollar) requirement that gets added. As Delta does with its Amex, if you have the MileagePlus Visa and spend $25,000 in the year, the PQD requirement gets waived. The one tweak on this is for 1K, you can’t waive the spend requirement. You really have to earn it.

And the spend requirement forces you to give your money to United and not to partners, just as Delta has done. Base fares (no taxes) as well as Economy Plus purchases count toward the requirement only if travel is on United or Copa. (Copa is included because MileagePlus is the loyalty program for Copa as well as United.) It will count on other airlines as well but only if issued on a United ticket. So if you fly United to, say, Frankfurt, and then connect on Lufthansa to some small city, that would count as long as the ticket is issued by United (or a travel agent tickets it using United ticket stock).

The spend requirement here has certainly rubbed some of you the wrong way, and I get it. United continues to suffer right now with customer service and IT problems that I experience first hand with Cranky Concierge every day. (Canceled upgrades, incorrect pricing, long lags in mileage deposits, and that’s just what we’ve dealt with in the last week.) So until United can start delivering on a better product, you would think the airline might want to hold off on implementing more restrictive rules that deter loyalty. But then again, who is really impacted here?

If you’re actually earning 25,000 miles from flying and haven’t spent $2,500 on United, then United might not consider you to be worth trying to keep in the program. Either you’re trying to game the system through a really cheap mileage run, or you’re getting incredibly lucky with low fares since those are pretty tough to find these days. Or maybe you’re just flying a lot on partner airlines. I do think it’s odd that joint venture revenue on Lufthansa/Air Canada over the Atlantic or ANA over the Pacific doesn’t count, because United should view that to be the same as revenue on its airplanes. But my guess is that it’s simply a tracking problem. Either way, if you’re really flying that much on joint venture partners and not on United, then you should probably join the other airline frequent flier programs anyway.

On the whole, I don’t have a problem with this move. In fact, I applaud United as I did Delta for trying to tweak these programs to reward the kind of behavior United wants to encourage (spending money and flying a lot instead of just flying a lot). But unlike Delta, which is in a position of strength right now, United’s timing leaves something to be desired.

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