Airlines

United Status Match Challenge: Going for Premier 1K

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At the beginning of this year, I thought United elite status was in my cards, but not United 1K. Since the majority of my travel in recent years has been for fun and not for work, the airlines’ move towards revenue based loyalty programs has not boded well for me. The value of American Airlines Executive Platinum status has been decreasing and there was no way I could hit $12,000 in spend (EQDs) to requalify, nor could I manage $50,000 on my Aviator Mastercard to get $6,000 in EQDs.

It looked like earning top status on any of the major airlines was out. Then it was a matter of figuring out which airline had the best options for my anticipated destinations, and what it would take to hit a mid-tier elite status that would at least get me better seats. With a lot of California travel in my future, United seemed my best bet.

Yikes! I’d left United as a 1K in 2013 because my elite status was increasingly worthless. I doubted things would have gotten better, but a status match challenge with them was my best bet. If I couldn’t hit the spend requirements in subsequent years, $25,000 on my United Mileage Plus credit card to waive the requirement was a lot more doable.

I decided to go for Premier Platinum in the second half of the year, which would give me status through January 2019. To get meet the challenge I just needed to fly 18,000 miles on United metal in the next 3 months. As I had 3 West Coast trips already in the works during that time period, this wouldn’t be hard.

Imagine my surprise when I received the email informing me my request had been approved, for Premier 1K! When I applied, I didn’t even know that was an option. And suddenly I’d need to fly 35,000 miles in 90 days, almost double what I had planned. A lesser concern was that the trial had also been started about a week earlier than I had requested, shortening my time frame to qualify. One of the challenges of the status match is that if you have to meet the requirements for the status you request. If you earn more, they won’t upgrade you to higher level, and if you don’t earn enough miles they won’t give you a lesser status.

Decision time.

Did I go for 1K or write back requesting I only be considered for Platinum.

The difference in benefits would not be insignificant: a far better chance at upgrades, free meals and alcohol in coach, no fees for booking or changing award tickets, etc.

But was it worth the time and expense of flying 17,000 additional miles? On United planes! And of course this was a month or two before all those cheap United fares to Australia and Asia. Flying to Hong Kong from DC for $600-$700 would only net me 13,000 miles and require at least two days of travel. So I’d need to do that twice? Or go there once and then find time to take another trip out to the West Coast? It seemed like it just wasn’t worth it, until I remembered United flew to Singapore.

For ~$1000 I could get 21,000 miles in one trip, which combined with my other planned trips would squeak me over the edge of the 35,000 miles I needed. Thinking about all the benefits, I decided it was worth the cost.

So last month I flew to Singapore for just one night. Just enough time on the ground to get some work done and visit the Hawker Stalls for great food. Now that I’m in my 30s, it was not nearly as easy as when I flew to Australia for one night, twice, in order to make status. But I got lucky and on the 17.5 and 13 hour legs the middle seat, if not my whole row, was empty.

I’ve not regretted my decision. In the few months I’ve experienced Premier 1K status, I’ve had surprisingly great customer service. Everything from holding space on a later flight in case I missed my connection to moving heaven and earth to add a segment to an existing award ticket. My upgrade success is not so great — less than half the time, even when flying on non-peak days–but I can usually get an exit row and the flight attendants have all been incredibly nice.

We’ll see what 2018 brings and what my airline strategy will be.

 

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel

3 Comments

  1. Bob McGurty

    October 14, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Keri, I have been 1K for a few years now and, in my opinion, United is doing a better job than it has since I switched to them in 2009. Good decision. The $$$ qualification is the tough part, I don’t think there is any option to get a $$ waiver unless you have an overseas address.

    Bob

  2. Glenn

    October 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Great story and it seems doable given the very, very low first quarter fares I am seeing. Just booked EWR-KUL for $474 (20K PQM). You’ve inspired me to also go for 1K this winter. Thanks!

  3. MaxC

    October 15, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Keri, agreed that upgrades for 1K are scarce. However, I’ve found that this is a decent benefit for 1K’s when in economy: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/mileageplus/premier/inflight-economy-benefit.aspx

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