Elite Status Series: United Premier 1K

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So far in our Elite Status Series, we’ve covered American, Delta and Southwest. TPG contributor Jason Steele has taken us through the basics of United Premier Silver, Gold and Platinum status, and today he discusses the next tier, 1K – how you can qualify for it and maximize the benefits once you earn it.

United MileagePlus Premier

In the last post in this series, I looked at what it takes to earn Premier Platinum the third tier in United’s (published) 4-tier elite status program. Now let’s look at Premier 1K status, the highest of the four tiers. Like each level before it, this top level of the MileagePlus elite status program also requires earning an additional 25,000 Premier-qualifying miles (EQM) or 30 Premier-qualifying segments (EQS) beyond the previous level Premier Platinum.

Qualification with Miles or Segments

Earning Premier 1K status requires flying either 100,000 EQM or 120 EQS within a calendar year. If it makes you feel any better, that is only 33% more flying than the qualifications for Premier Platinum.

Realistically, this can only be achieved by traveling long distances or on several flights nearly every week. Alternatively, those who are regularly purchasing paid first or business class tickets, or full fare economy  tickets will have an easier time as those fare classes earn 150% of the Premier-qualifying miles or segments than discounted economy class.

United Premier Earnings

When it comes to flying partner airlines, the PQM and PQS earned will vary based on the airline flown and the purchased fare class. Mileage-earning airline partners include all members of the Star Alliance, plus Aer Lingus, Aeromar, Cape Air, Germanwings, Copa, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines (inter-island flights only), Island Air, Jet Airways, and Sliver Airways. Travelers will want to consult this page on United’s web site in order to learn how many base miles, PQM, and PQS they will earn with each partner airline and each fare class.

Other ways to Earn Premier-Qualifying miles

There are a few additional ways to earn PQMs, other than flying. The United MileagePlus Presidential Plus card from Chase offers cardholders 1,000 Flex PQM per $5,000 spent. The interesting thing is that you can apply these Flex PQMs to your account in the calendar year earned, or in any of the three following calendar years. This can be a great way to insure against missing out on the next level of Premier status, or retaining Premier status in a year when you don’t travel as much.

Another way to earn PQMs is to use the Premier Accelerator option when purchasing a ticket. Customers are frequently presented with the option to purchase base miles, or PQMs when before they complete a ticket purchase on United’s web site. Sadly, these PQMs can cost upwards of 20 cents each! As TPG concluded, this option is rarely worth the expense.

Premier-Qualifying Dollars

To satisfy the new Premier-qualifying dollars (PQD) requirement for earning status in 2014 (for the 2015 calendar year) travelers will need to spend $10,000 PQD to earn Premier 1K status. Unlike all of the lower levels of Premier status, you can’t receive a waiver by spending at least $25,000 in net purchases using a Chase MileagePlus credit card issued in the US. Therefore, you have to spend 10 cents in ticket value per Premier-qualifying mile earned in order to earn Premier 1K elite status.

Starting in 2014, United will institute Premier Qualifying Dollars.
Starting in 2014, United will institute Premier Qualifying Dollars.

Charges eligible for Premier-qualifying dollars include:

  • Base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges.
  • Flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines.
  • Flights operated by a Star Alliance or a MileagePlus partner airline and issued on a United ticket (ticket number starting with 016).
  • Economy Plus purchases.

See: Determining What Spending Counts Toward United’s Premier Qualifying Dollars.

Those who satisfy the PQM or PQS requirements of Premier 1K status, but don’t spend the required $10,000 PQD will be awarded the next highest status that they qualified for. If they spend $25,000 on a MileagePlus credit card from Chase, or spent $7,500, that will be Premier Platinum.

Benefits of Premier 1K

1. Economy Plus seating benefits. Like Premier Platinum elites, Premier 1K members enjoy complimentary upgrades to United’s Economy Plus seating, which offers additional legroom in coach. While Premier Silver and Gold elites can add a single companion traveling on the same itinerary, Premier 1K (and Platinum) members can add up to eight additional passengers, so long as they are booked with the same passenger name record (PNR).

Screen shot 2013-12-21 at 6.32.36 PM
Premiers get access to Economy Plus seating for free.

Like Premier Gold  and Platinum elites, Premier 1K members can access Economy Plus seats when they book their flight. In contrast, Premier Silver elites can only switch their seats to the Economy Plus section at check in, while those without status must pay an upgrade fee. For example, a one-way upgrade to economy plus seating on a flight from LAX to Chicago would be $66 at the time of booking.

2. Upgrades to first class. Premier Silver members must wait until the day of departure to received an upgrade, Premier Gold’s at 48 hours, and Platinums at 72 hours, but Premier 1K elites can get the highest priority by receiving upgrades as early as 96 hours (4 days) in advance.

Upgrades are available on most domestic flights, but exclusions include Premier Service (p.s.) flights from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), and long-haul flights between Honolulu (HNL) to Houston (IAH), Newark (EWR) or Washington (IAD).

In addition, Premier members are eligible for upgrades on some international flights to Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean,  Southern South America (Copa flights only), and Oceana.

One of the key benefits that Premier 1K elites receive over all others is the ability to receive instant (at the time of purchase) upgrades on M-class economy tickets. M class fares fall between a full fare ticket and a “discounted” fare class.

Another benefit that is exclusive to Premier 1K elites are Global Premier Upgrades. Premier members earn six Global Premier Upgrades when they achieve Premier 1K status, and two more upgrades are awarded for each 50,000 Premier-qualifying miles or 60 Premier-qualifying segments earned after that.

These are one-cabin upgrades that can be confirmed at ticketing for  all United and Copa flights around the world. Think of it as un upgrade when you need it most, like on that 15 hour flight from Chicago to Dehli. Just be sure to note that you can’t use them on fare classes Z, P, S, T, K, L, G or N for most flights outside of North America and Northern South America. These upgrades are valid through the end of the following Premier program year. Furthermore, these upgrades can be used to “sponsor” another traveler, even one that is not traveling with you.

In addition, Premier 1K elites also receive two Regional Premier upgrades. Travelers receive two upgrades upon reaching Premier 1K status and another two for each 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS earned after that.

When used, these upgrades are confirmable as early as time of ticketing on eligible United, United Express, and Copa Airlines-operated flights in the following regions: Continental U.S., Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, Southern South America (Copa flights only), and Oceania. Like the Global Premier upgrades, these upgrades are valid through the end of the following Premier program year and you can “sponsor” another traveler.

Also, those who hold both Premier status and a Chase MileagePlus credit card will be eligible for upgrades on award tickets on United-operated flights. This benefit does not extend to companions, and award travelers will be upgrade only after the lowest paid fare class within each Premier status level.

Finally, Premier members also receive instant upgrades when purchasing Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets if space is available. Just as with Economy Plus upgrades, MileagePlus members with Premier 1K status receive priority over Premier Platinum members, and those without status may receive an offer to pay for the upgrade with cash and/or miles.

3. Premier mileage bonuses and minimum mileage granted. Like all elite members, Premier 1K elites earn a minimum of 500 award miles which count as PQMs, no matter how short the flight is. This is important for those who fly short-haul routes. Additionally, Premier 1Kmembers also earn a 100% bonus on top of the base miles that they would otherwise fly. For example, the flight from LAX to San Diego is only 109 miles, but Premier 1K elites will be credited with the full 500 miles plus another 500 miles for a total of 1,000.

4. Premier priority travel services. Premier 1K elites also receive all of the same priority services on the ground that other Premier members receive. These include check-in lines, security screening lines, boarding, and baggage handling. Premier 1K elites are also supposed to receive a dedicated 1K call line, staffed with more senior agents. Unfortunately, there are reports that United has begun routing these calls to the next available agent when there is a wait on the 1K call line. Although United feels that it is better to have the call answered by someone, many 1K elites feel that they now have to call back frequently to get a highly qualified agent who can complete a complicated task.

United also offers Premier members access to most sold-out flights. This means that United will overbook a flight for a Premier member purchasing a full fare (unrestricted Y class) ticket more than 24 hours in advance. This can only mean that United is willing to oversell these flights when all cabins are sold out, potentially bumping other customers. This could be a valuable benefit when other customers are being told that “all flights are full.”

Like Premier Gold and Platinum elites, Premier 1K members are offered access United Club lounges, and any other Star Alliance Gold lounges when traveling internationally. This benefit is offered regardless of class flown and travelers are allowed one guest.

Like Premier Platinum elites, United will pay for travelers to join the Global Entry program offered by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. This program allows travelers expedited processing when arriving in the United States. In addition, Global Entry members can access TSA Pre-Check lines when clearing security within the United States. The application fee is normally $100.

The credit is issued as a single-use code that you receive at this web site. If you already have Global Entry, you cannot use this code for another person (according to their terms and conditions), but you can use it to renew your membership, which is required every five years.

5. Travel benefits with Star Alliance members. Like Premier Platinum elites, 1K elites will be granted Star Alliance Gold status, which is the highest status offered by Star Alliance airlines to elites of other carriers.  Star Alliance Gold privileges include priority reservations waitlisting and priority airport standby on paid Star Alliance tickets. In addition, travelers with Star Alliance Gold status should also receive priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling as well as one additional free checked bag (or 44 pounds when the weight concept applies).

6. Fee waivers and discounts for revenue travel. Premier 1K elites receive the same huge baggage allowance that Gold and Platinum Elites do, three bags at 70 pounds each. That means that they can check three bags weighing up to 70 pounds each, which is more than three times the baggage allowance as Premier Silvers who only get one 50 pound bag. The checked bag waiver applies to the Premier 1K and up to 8 other travelers on the same reservation.

Like Premier Gold and Platinum elites, United waives the same-same day flight change fee for Premier 1Ks, which is $75 for Premier Silver and non-Premier members. To use this benefit, travelers can book a less convenient, but far less expensive flight, and simply change it in the morning on the day of travel. This can be a big money saver for elites. In contrast, Delta elites can only use their similar benefit for travel within the same fare class, so it is much harder for them to save money by using this trick. See TPG’s take on the most recent version of Delta’s policy.

Another little perk enjoyed by both Premier Platinum and Premier 1Ks is a 10% discount on in-flight duty-free purchases, making that bottle of scotch just a little bit more tempting.

Premier 1K elites also receive a $100 discount off of the $500 annual United Club memberships instead of the lesser discounts granted to those with lower elite status.

Finally, 1K elites receive a $60 statement credit for MileagePlus Chase card members, presumably to offset their annual fee. This benefit is not offered to those in lower elite tiers.

7. Award travel benefits and fee waivers. Like Premier Platinum elites, 1K members never have to pay close-in award booking fees, award redeposit fees, and  award change fees.

This allows 1K travelers to speculatively book awards as soon as they become available, knowing that they can be changed or canceled at no additional cost. Furthermore, it is much easier to take advantage of the free stopover on round-trip flights when travelers can turn a one way award into a round trip at no additional cost.

In addition, United offers better award availability for all Premier members economy, which includes the ability to book any unsold seat as an award at the “Standard” mileage rate, a benefit also offered to MileagePlus cardholders, but not normal members. While all Premier members also have better access to “Saver” awards in economy class, Premier Platinum and 1K elites receive greater access to “Saver” awards in select premium cabins. Sadly, the Flyertalk community seems to have concluded that this benefit is illusory.

Another benefit is priority waitlisting for award travel and standby for international awards. So if you are flying on a business or first class award, but that cabin is not available for one or more legs, you can standby to be upgraded. According to United’s web site:

Premier members who have used miles for award travel in United Global FirstSM, United First® or United Business®, but can only confirm seats on some segments in United Economy®, may stand by for the higher cabin at the airport within two hours of departure. Premier members should simply notify the airport agent upon check-in. For unused United Global First or United Business awards, the mileage difference between United Economy and the higher cabin may be re-deposited free of charge. This benefit only applies to United Airlines and Copa Airlines flights.

Premier Platinum and 1K members are also exempt from co-pays when booking upgrade awards using miles on some routes. For example, the standard co-pay is $75 each way for flights within the mainland U.S., Alaska, and Canada, while the co-pay for flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Hawai’i is $125 each way.

Eligible routes include the following flights:

  • Within the U.S. (excluding Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico) and Canada
  • From the U.S. and Canada to Hawaii (except between EWR/IAD/IAH and HNL)
  • From the U.S. (excluding Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico) and Canada to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean or Northern South America (except between EWR/IAH and LIM)1
  • Within Asia (except between NRT and BKK/SIN) and Oceania (except between HNL and GUM)

United Upgrades

Conclusions

I would say that the three major benefits of Premier 1K over Premier Platinum are the instant upgrades on M class fares, Global Premier upgrades, and having the highest priority for first class and Economy Plus upgrades. Less valuable benefits that 1Ks receive over platinum include the 100% mileage bonus and the $60 statement credit for MileagePlus Chase cardholders.Are there any MileagePlus Premier 1K readers out there who would like to share their experiences on their treatment, upgrades or general thoughts on this status level? How much better is it than Premier Platinum?

Please feel free to comment below, and look for the final post in this series on the unique aspects of the Unite MileagePlus program.

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