United’s missing a big opportunity to drum up more business in 2020

Apr 24, 2020

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When United extended elite status for another year, I called it great news for the carrier’s Premier members. UA’s announcement was quite generous across the board, both by extending current status and making it easier to earn new or requalifying status in 2020.

As part of the news, United also extended the validity of PlusPoints — the carrier’s new currency for upgrades — to Jul. 31, 2021 for PlusPoints issued based on flying in 2019, and Oct. 31, 2020 for PlusPoints previously extended to Apr. 30, 2020.

Well, this week the carrier updated the Premier status tracker based on the reduced thresholds, extended existing PlusPoints and issued new ones to those who’ve already qualified for status.

Related: United rolls out new elite status based on lower 2020 requirements

Personally, I’ve already requalified for top-tier Premier 1K status this year by earning 12,630 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) in just three months of flying. As such, my fresh set of PlusPoints posted today, but I didn’t get as many as I had expected. Here’s why.

Premier 1Ks who earn more PQPs after qualifying for top-tier status have traditionally received additional upgrades at regular intervals. As United explained when introducing the PlusPoints program late last year:

After meeting the 18,000 PQP and 54 PQF required to reach 1K status, 1K members will receive an additional 20 PlusPoints for every 3,000 PQP they earn. Members meeting the higher 24,000 PQP goal for 1K will receive 40 additional PlusPoints after reaching 1K for having earned 6,000 PQP beyond the lower 18,000 PQP requirement.

So, when United halved the Premier qualification requirements, I expected it to do the same with earning incremental PlusPoints. Well, as confirmed by a United spokesperson, that’s not the case.

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Specifically, after qualifying for 1K in 2020, you need to hit 21,000 PQP before earning 20 additional PlusPoints. For every additional 3,000 PQP earned above 21,000 PQP, you’ll receive another 20 PlusPoints.

Considering that 1K requires either 9,000 or 12,000 PQP depending on the track you choose, that’s a massive lift for most top-tier elites, and certainly doesn’t incentivize flying with the airline after crossing the 1K threshold.

To be clear, I’m quite perplexed by this move. The airline is bleeding cash and will need to do whatever it can to convince passengers to take to the skies in the latter half of the year. Plus, with last year’s extended, there’s a good chance fliers won’t be able to use all their new PlusPoints anyway.

American Airlines offers a similar program to its top-tier Executive Platinum elites who over-qualify for status. Fortunately, AA made sure to reduce the thresholds to earn those rewards as part of its elite status extension announcement.

As a 1K who’s already requalified for status this year, there’s little reason for me to continue flying with the airline on paid tickets (once it’s safe to do so). Sure, I’d probably score a few complimentary upgrades and earn some extra redeemable miles, but with the unprecedented amounts of award space we’ve seen, the rest of my United flying in 2020 will now be on award tickets.

All photos by the author. 

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