Last week I wrote about the need for a status run on United to maintain my 1K status. It’s clear that Premium Economy is the best way to re-qualify on seemingly any US airline.
United Premium Economy Earns More than Star Business Class
For the first time ever, I will re-qualify for United 1K without needing a status to increase Premier Qualifying Dollars… unfortunately, I will not have enough miles for the status. My current trend line indicates I will exceed the 1K monetary requirement of $15,000 in airfare but will end with 59,000 PQMs.
I have argued in the past that there’s no good reason why one shouldn’t qualify for their tier based on their spending as long as they have flown a fair amount of miles in the year (one very expensive trip shouldn’t give a random customer status.)
Regardless, I am looking for about 40,000 PQMs for as cheap and comfortable as possible. I usually pick one business class fare per year for a run, a cheap one to Asia, and I utilize bumps occasionally to reduce my cost. This year, I was exploring a trip from Newark to Hong Kong in the fall for about $2900 from Air China (can’t use vouchers, but it’s a lot less expensive than previous years.)
This has been the only year where I did not need to be on a United joint venture partner, as the PQMs will not matter. I enjoyed my ANA status run last year to Manila. However, Air China doesn’t earn much for any fare really.
United commands a premium of about 40% on the route and for Polaris, frankly, it’s worth it. But since I would have to fly two this year, I need to look elsewhere. So, I did. Flying United’s Premium Economy earns 150% of the miles needed, the same as their discount business class tickets.
I understand the concept: reward customers for booking a Premium Economy ticket on your metal where you keep all the money, as opposed to encouraging loyalists to fly partners – I just don’t like it. I also don’t understand why United would so closely bridge the gap between their own Polaris product and their Premium Plus product, especially where mileage earning is concerned.
However, in this case, the differentiation worked. Had Air China Business Class earned at least the same amount of PQMs as United Premium Economy, I would have likely booked Air China even though it was more expensive for the added comfort.
Global Premier Upgrades Are Eligible
My biggest complaint about United is that they do not incentivize flying on partners, United has a US-focused network but their customers may need to travel outside of that network as well, why push them to a non-partner?
My second biggest complaint is that their GPUs (Global Premier Upgrades) while perfect for my family of three (1K members are given six annually) require a W fare or higher which may add hundreds of dollars to the same coach seat.
However, according to the fare class hierarchy, Premium Economy fares are eligible for GPU upgrades. That’s fantastic because it gives me a middle ground between cramped economy hell for 16 hours from Newark to Hong Kong and the prize that true Polaris really is.
For the dates I am currently shopping, availability in Polaris Business Class is good, though it won’t likely remain this good as my departure date nears.
More Comfortable Than Coach, Less than Business
I wouldn’t dare pay a premium for “just an economy seat with more legroom;” my status will ensure I get that seat anyhow. However, for a differentiated product, it makes sense to pay more and the PQMs help push me over the edge. United’s Premium Economy customers receive a better hard product, soft product, and mileage/elite qualification benefits.
United’s Premium Economy vs. Economy offers:
- Greater seat width (19″ – two more inches than standard economy)
- Greater seat pitch (38″ – the same as domestic first class)
- Increased recline (6″ – double standard economy)
- In-seat power
- Larger IFE (“13” screen)
- Noise Cancelling headphones
- Premium bedding (Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow)
- Improved dining options with booze
- The same earning as a Business Class ticket
- The ability to use GPUs
- Two included checked bags
- Guaranteed overhead bin space
- Priority boarding
But let’s be honest… I really don’t want to sit in that seat, I want to sit in this one instead.
Polaris really is a world-class hard product, their ground service in the Polaris lounge is as good as the Middle East carriers and only available if my upgrade clears. At least I have a fighting chance, the minimum upgradable fare class (W) would be 17th in the pecking order compared to 8th for (R) Premium Economy fare.
Other Carriers Are Similar
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have highly selective true Premium Economy options, but upgrades ability varies. Both American and Delta will apply elite earning to partners in a way that United does not. Partners flying Cathay Pacific Premium Economy fares crediting to American Airlines will earn 20-22% of the distance flown as Elite Qualifying Dollars.
On a $1699 Cathay Pacific Toronto-Hong Kong direct flight, one would earn 20% of 15,580 miles in the roundtrip journey as EQDs, or $3,116 EQDs, 15,580 RDMs (redeemable award miles), 23,370 EQMs and 2 EQS (segments). For those who want to earn Executive Platinum status from scratch, they would be just 7,000 EQMs and $2500 short after four of these trips cutting the cost in half.
Will you qualify or re-qualify for status this year? Have you utilized increased Premium Economy earning rates to your advantage?