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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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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

When frequent travel points (including United) ARE worth something

Posted by David Chandler on October 1, 2018

Having griped about United previously, I think it’s only fair to pass on the positives, as well. My wife, daughter, and I just got back from a trip to visit our son in college near Oklahoma City. We booked the trip on less than a week’s notice, found United award tickets to nearby Wichita, KS (where it was also cheaper for us to rendezvous with our daughter) for the minimum 20k miles, rented a car from National, and got a free upgrade to a RAV4 with my status (I love the Emerald Aisle, and although Wichita is too small to have one, they still gave me a choice of cars). I could have used free rental credits but decided to save them for a more expensive city later. We stayed two nights at Hyatt Regency Wichita using the minimum number of points and as a Hyatt Globalist, received parking and a very nice breakfast buffet with made-to-order omelet for free. As an aside, we were quite impressed with Wichita hospitality generally. Growing up in Kansas City, I generally believed Kansans were friendly. Even so, the folks at the Wichita Hyatt Regency, National Car Rental, United, and Hog Wild BBQ were especially helpful and friendly (and the BBQ was great).

Our return trip today was remarkably smooth. We got to the Wichita airport at 7:20am for an 8:25 flight. There was no traffic. National car return at the counter (haven’t done that for a while!) was the fastest ever, and they swapped my business credit card for personal credit card in <30s. United checked us and our bags (for free, Silver and up) in record time, there was literally no one in line at security, and the flight left on time. We sat in Premium Economy (book for free with Gold status up), which on the ERJ175 is quite roomy. They served coffee on board even though the flight was only an hour, and a friendly flight attendant presented my snack box on request with a sincere “thank you for being a Premier 1K member.” Our bags were waiting for us on the carrousel by the time we arrived. Back home in Denver, Canopy Airport Parking picked us up within 5 minutes. Indoor valet parking was free thanks to frequent parker points.

When it all works, it can be quite smooth, and I am thankful to be able to earn status and points on my employer’s nickel, then cash them in on my own. I find that travel points and status are not worth pursuing for their own sake–there are usually cheaper travel alternatives–but they do reduce the inconveniences of frequent business travel. And occasionally, they enable me to do things that otherwise would be prohibitively expensive or time-consuming, such as a last-minute trip to a smaller city with less competitive airfares.

On the whole, I’ve been very well treated as a frequent customer with United, Hyatt, Hilton, National, and Canopy. In my experience (50+ trips over the last couple years), most of the customer-facing people in these organizations truly value the customer and provide efficient service, and the rewards programs really are rewarding. Per my previous post, Premier 1K has not been as rewarding as I had hoped in terms of upgrades (certainly in part because I fly mostly congested hub routes). However, United rewards Gold members and up with the ability to book Premium Economy for free (including companions), which I tremendously appreciate, and I likewise appreciate free checked bags for the whole family when on vacation. Also the Premier 1K One Call number is great–I’ve never waited more than a minute to make or change a reservation, etc. On the whole, I expected to be burnt out from ~50% travel after a year, but after almost two years, I still mostly enjoy my travels. Major inconveniences have been rare and trips like this one have indeed made it worthwhile to maintain brand loyalty.

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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.

Posted in Travel | Leave a Comment »

 
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