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Should I Switch From United Premier 1K for More Upgrades?

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TPG Reader Kyle tweeted me to ask:

“@thepointsguy I’m a United Premier 1K based in San Francisco (SFO). There are too many 1K members in San Francisco, meaning I miss too many upgrades. Does it make sense to switch airlines?”

A lot of things are happening for elite flyers this year. First off, United and Delta started implementing revenue requirements, so not only do you have to fly to earn or maintain elite status, but also you have to spend a certain amount on ticketed flights with those airlines. Many of the partner ticketed flights won’t count. I’ve written extensively about what will and what won’t count in the past.

TPG reader Kyle is based in San Francisco and is a United 1K. He often misses upgrades because there are so many other 1K elites in the area. He’s wondering if it would be a better decision to switch to another airline where his status might give him a better chance of getting upgraded out of SFO.

Being a United Airlines flyer myself, there’s a lot to take into consideration here. First, I suspect that when elite status runs out on February 1, 2015, many current elites may be unable to re-qualify because they couldn’t hit the $10,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars requirement. I predict that the number of flyers with elite status will drop dramatically due to these spending requirements, possibly opening up more upgrade opportunities. There are a lot of premium flyers in the San Francisco market, so the numbers might not drop as much as in other markets, but you may notice an increase in upgrades next year.

The second thing to note is what routes you fly. You can switch to Virgin America, but you’ll be really limited if you value non-stop service to smaller markets. The same goes for American Airlines. You also have to take into account not just where the other carriers fly, but where their partners fly. For example, American teams up with Alaska Airlines to offer several routes within the Northwest. That could be a really smart choice depending on where you need to go.

I personally feel that the best top tier elite status is American Airlines Executive Platinum. I think that the miles are worth a lot, and after United’s big devaluation on February 1, even flying first class on partners, you really get penalized. This is not the case (at least for now) with American Airlines, though a lot could change with the US Airways merger.

Make sure to hit your $10,000 PQD requirement for United. Shutterstock.
Make sure to hit your $10,000 PQD requirement for United. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

For now, my recommendation is to hang tight and stick with United. Continue to re-qualify this year, make sure to hit your Premier Qualifying Dollars requirement, because you aren’t exempt from this for spending on a United credit card. (In contrast, Delta waives there revenue requirements for all elite tiers if you spend at least $25,000 on a co-branded card.) United does not exempt 1Ks from this rule–you have to spend your $10,000 to qualify (and of course fly as well).

Once 2015 rolls around, we’ll see what changes come to American Airlines and whether the United revenue requirements have an effect on upgrade availability, and then you re-evaluate.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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