With its 2023 program changes, United MileagePlus will be the most difficult of the big three U.S. legacy airlines to earn elite status on. Will status become more valuable or will the value be limited to the attrition of existing elite members?
United Airlines Will Make Elite Status More Exclusive…But Will It Make Elite Status More Valuable?
Next year if you want top-tier (published) 1K status, you will need to spend over $18,000 on flights (since government taxes do not count) and fly 54 segments or spend $24,000 outright. Even with more co-branded credit card spending and some award travel counting, this remains quite an obstacle. Unlike on American or Delta, there is no easy backdoor via flying partners and crediting it to United.
United awards credit via a complicated formula of distance and fare class on partner flights. But United caps partner business or first class flights at 1,500 PQP (essentially $1500 in spending) per flight for “preferred partners” and 1,000 PQP for other partners. Economy class and premium economy are capped at half of that.
So for example, I spent $2,000 on a one-way Turkish Airlines ticket earlier this year and only earned 1,000 PQPs with United. The point is, there is no easy way to earn status.
Even so, and this is why United is making the changes in the first place, 1K upgrades are not clearing. I’ve resorted to buying business class tickets on the flights that matter most and accepting coach on the others because nothing has cleared lately, let alone cleared in advance.
For years, the value of 1K status was the ability to confirm upgrades in advance on trips that mattered and not have to sweat it out. While upgrade space has always been capacity controlled, in my experience it is far more tightly controlled these days.
One reason is that United Airlines has successfully monetized upsells to first class, such that it really does not have to give away many upgrades. Of course, this is confounding to United elites who offer long-term loyalty at least for the premise that they will be upgraded on a space-available basis on domestic and select international flights.
But again, upgrades are simply not happening for me. Domestic upgrades seem like a distant memory.
For that reason, I would not expect any improvements to the 1K experience (i.e. new perks), despite the dramatically higher qualification thresholds. While I would love for United to make it easier for 1Ks to clear upgrades in advance (by requiring double the Plus Points, for example), I just do not see that happening.
I’d say the best you can hope for is that the higher rates will lead to far fewer members qualifying for that status, leading to less competition on the upgrade list (United clears upgrades based on MileagePlus status). Then again, United may more aggressively hawk upgrades during booking and check-in if there are fewer upgrades on the list.
That could change if we enter a recession, but I am not so sure that will be the case…
Earning elite status on United Airlines will become much more difficult next year. But beyond the diminished competition that will come from fewer elite members, I would not expect much else to change concerning the availability of confirmed upgrades or aspects of the onboard experience. At least as United sees it now, it does not have to make any changes…
TL; DR: Don’t expect your upgrades to clear next year either…
image: United Airlines