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David Chandler's Journal of Java Web and Mobile Development

  • David M. Chandler


    Web app developer since 1994 and former Developer Advocate with Google now residing in Colorado. Besides tech, I enjoy landscape photography and share my work at ColoradoPhoto.gallery.

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Why United Premier 1K status is basically worthless

Posted by David Chandler on September 11, 2018

This post is a gripe, and a very intentional one. It’s no way to start blogging again after years of not writing. Nevertheless it needs to get indexed in Google so when people search for info on United status they can learn the hard truths before committing to United. These are things I wish I’d known.

I have been a Premier 1K flyer for a year now. I live in Denver and fly mostly to major United cities (SFO, Chicago, DC, Seattle). As a Premier 1K, I’m eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs). I’ve received 3 out of 70 some flights I have made, and those were only when not flying between hubs (OKC, anyone?). As a Premier 1K, I almost never get a complimentary upgrade when flying from Denver to a hub unless it’s Saturday at 6am. The official rules say that CPUs can be confirmed as early as 96 hours in advance. That has happened only twice. Usually I wait at the airport to find out I receive no upgrade. I’m often #1 on the upgrade list, but it doesn’t matter–they sell any remaining seats at the last minute via kiosk discount at checkin rather than give it to a Premier 1K.

I finished last year with 8 Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs). I thought this would allow me to upgrade any domestic flight in advance. Wrong again. Regional upgrades are  waitlisted, so you don’t know if you actually get your upgrade until an hour before the flight or even on the plane! Starting with 8 RPUs, I’ve tried to use them on my last 30 flights or so. So far, my upgrade has been confirmed only 3x using an RPU. So they’re pretty much worthless, too. United doesn’t open up the upgrade seats until a few days or even hours before the flight. If there is any chance somebody might buy the first class seat, they’re not going to let you have it with an upgrade. Which shows how much they really appreciate your business as a Premier flier with over 100k miles per year. They’ll give you the seat if it costs them exactly nothing.

Global upgrades (GPUs) are likewise near worthless. They are waitlisted until 4-6 days before the flight on the routes I fly, so I can’t know until it’s too late whether I have a lie-flat seat for those long-haul overnight trips. Worse, upgrades for an international flight with a connection are restricted by the domestic leg. So while Houston to Lima might have 9 upgrades available, Denver to Lima has only 2 available, even though the IAH-LIM leg is the very same flight. Maddening.

Premier 1Ks are supposed be able to get “instant upgrades” on Y-, B-, and even M-class fares. But guess what? When you read the fine print, instant upgrades are subject to capacity controls. And only eligible for domestic flights. That don’t have a lie-flat seat. And every time I’ve looked, the M-class fare is higher than the discount first-class fare. So this benefit, too, is a lie.

What about miles? Don’t Premier 1K members get better availability on MilleagePlus award tickets? Yes, and credit card members, and…? My experience is that you can almost never use the saver awards (25k miles) in advance to popular destinations. They seem to open them up at the last minute, so I have been able to use miles to attend a funeral, for example, which would have otherwise been an $800 ticket. But for vacation planning more than a couple weeks in advance, forget it. If you want a red-eye flight or multiple stops, sure, you can find those, and maybe even a relatively out-of-the-way place. I took my family to Toronto in June using miles and we really enjoyed the time, so maybe try to use your miles to Toronto.

In my experience, the only United benefit actually worth something is the ability to book Premium Economy seats for free at time of booking with Gold status, and this I do value greatly. If they ever take that away, I might as well fly Southwest. At least that way, I would get to choose the size of people I sit next to. Also it’s nice that Premier 1K members get Group 1 boarding so you don’t have to wait for your carryon on the other end. Otherwise, “priority” boarding is a joke. Groups 1 and 2 are typically more than half the plane in Denver.

There is one more Premier 1K benefit that’s worth a few pennies: you get a drink (alas, I don’t drink) and an overpriced snack box for free. Twice I got a hamburger, the rest of the time beef jerky or the variety box. It’s something, but not definitely not worth my airline loyalty.

The crazy thing is, United service hasn’t been that bad. The flight attendants are usually friendly. The Premium Economy seats allow me enough room to open my laptop, and on Airbus aircraft, they’re actually comfortable (Boeing not so much). Every third flight or so is delayed, but usually I still arrive the same day. And they’ve lost my bag only when I’ve checked it up front, but they always get it back to me within a couple days. I could actually tolerate these things. But the promise of benefits like RPUs and GPUs only to find out I can’t actually use them except at the last minute–that makes me feel I’ve been cheated every single time I book a ticket.

So forget about your upgrades, and enjoy your snack box.

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