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Will United offer elite shortcuts again? MileagePlus exec tells TPG what to look for in 2022

Oct. 23, 2021
5 min read
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Will United offer elite shortcuts again? MileagePlus exec tells TPG what to look for in 2022
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Though travel may be returning, some flyers are still grounded and others are taking just a few limited leisure trips.

A recovery in business travel still lags well behind those flying to visit family and friends. Yet, despite the demand downtown, United's MileagePlus program has already had more elites requalify for Premier status this year than in 2019, well before the pandemic started.

That's according to TPG's recent conversation with Michael Covey, managing director of the MileagePlus loyalty program — or as many loyalists know him as "MileagePlus Mike" on his active Twitter account.

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"That's a huge kudos to the team, not my team or other teams, just the whole airline as a whole, we're attracting our Premiers back, and they're coming back in record numbers. And that's really something that makes me extremely proud," Covey said.

Of course, that figure can largely be attributed to the program's limited-time quarterly promotions that have made status easier to achieve. With global travel still down considerably compared to pre-pandemic levels, Covey and the team introduced multiple accelerators and lowered thresholds to help elites cross the finish line, and that seems to have done the trick.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

It's about "responding to the demand environment," according to Covey. Now that we're just about two months away from another Premier requalification year, it's time for Covey and the team to start planning adjustments for 2022 status.

"I can't give you those details yet," he said during the interview. However, Covey continued to reassure flyers that United would approach 2022 through the same lens that it did in 2020 and 2021. "You will see that same thing for 2022. We're gonna work with our customers. We understand the demand. We understand the cyclical nature of this demand, and we're gonna make the 2022 program in concert with those demand shifts," he added.

For now, United loyalists will need to hold their breath, but if the airline's track record is any indication, it seems like the program is gearing up for some adjustments.

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Perhaps the hardest hit Premier members have been business travelers, who've been banned by their companies from inter-office visits, offsite client meetings and other in-person conferences and events. This population has historically driven much of the program's and airline's bottom line, though Covey isn't worried about those travelers defecting to other airlines.

In fact, most of them have already requalified this year despite a significant reduction in business demand, according to Covey. Most have either traveled for leisure, spent money on their cobranded credit cards (which earns additional Premier qualifying points this year) or traveled to meet clients at outdoor dining venues or similar safer mid-pandemic meeting spots away from the office.

"I cannot tell you the number of members that have said, 'I'm going to do this, and I'm going to meet United halfway' and we're gonna meet you halfway, too," he added.

While many members have already requalified, some top-tier Premier Platinums and 1Ks haven't been able to use their confirmed upgrades, called PlusPoints, on long-haul flights due to border restrictions and other pandemic-related closures. As such, United has already extended the validity of these upgrades, giving members into 2022 to use them (either January or July, depending on when they were first issued).

Is another extension in the cards? Possibly, said Covey.

"Right now, we're in the point in time where international markets are just starting to open up. So we've got about two or three good months of international traffic. We want to see what the environment looks like, and we'll make a decision," he added.

It'll be interesting to follow what happens next, but if you feel like your voice as a Premier member isn't being heard, Covey encouraged you to fill out the airline's surveys.

After you purchase an award ticket on United.com, the website asks you to "please tell us about your experience." Guess who reads those responses? Covey himself. "I read that every day, every single one of those come to my inbox and I read it every day," he proudly told TPG.

"We're going to listen and we're going to make changes where we can to make it better for our Premiers and make it better for everybody," he said.

Turns out, he already has some proof points. Covey cited customer feedback as the reason for the introduction of United's PlusPoints program. "We heard members saying, 'why am I using a Global Premier Upgrade [United's old upgrade certificates] to go from Seattle to San Francisco?'"

That's when he decided to explore possible replacement options, and ultimately landed on PlusPoints.

United Club in Newark (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Last year, the airline added a brand-new benefit for its invite-only Global Services members. They can now access the United Club on any domestic flight.

That improvement came from a listening session with the airline's top spenders. "Global Services members say 'when I travel domestically, I get to the airport 45 minutes in advance. I don't really need the lounge, but when there's a delay, I need that lounge."'

So, according to Covey, "that's where I said, 'let's figure out how to do this.' And we figured out a policy that works both for United and for our customers."

Featured image by United will brand the first-class cabin on its 737 MAX 8 as United Premium Plus for its new flight to Ponta Delgada. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Recommended Credit

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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023