I don’t normally think of United Airlines as being generous about offering elite status matches, trials, or challenges — at least not in recent years. Almost anyone can request a status challenge, but that’s no guarantee you’ll get one, nor is it the same as publicly reaching out to customers and trying to encourage them with a specific offer.
Earning status in the first place is sometimes the hardest part, but once obtained it can be more comfortable (upgrades and shorter lines) as well as lucrative (fee waivers and bonus miles).
A couple weeks ago American Airlines targeted some customers for Gold and Platinum status trials: get some status up front along with 500-mile upgrades and keep it for the year if you earn a certain number of miles in a couple of months. The idea is that if these customers get status once, they may learn to love it and do what it takes to keep it. It is a useful tool for improving the loyalty of one’s own customers as well as poaching from a competitor.
United has just this week started two efforts to encourage such loyalty, and the fact that it has done this at all with no recent history (to my recollection) leads me speculate they may be worried about losing business to competitors.
20,000 Bonus PQMs and 4 Regional Upgrades
First, edsh shared on FlyerTalk that he was sent a targeted offer from United Airlines telling him they would provide 20,000 Premier Qualifying Miles and 4 Regional Premier Upgrades just for kicks. Really?! I’ve never heard of such generosity from United. I can’t even get a proactive apology email when my flight is delayed 3+ hours, yet here they’re giving away miles and upgrades.
My guess is that these people are high value customers. Some bonus PQMs won’t help much for earning elite status this year without also earning sufficient Premier Qualifying Dollars. But for some, the PQMs are a bigger issue than the amount spent.
If a business traveler is paying on average 20 cents per mile flown, that means he or she might reach the $10,000 PQD requirement for Premier 1K status but earn only ~55,000 PQMs (remember, some taxes and fees aren’t included in PQD calculations). Additional bonus PQMs in this case would vault the customer from mere Premier Gold status to at least Premier Platinum.
The RPUs are also helpful as they place a customer at the top of the upgrade queue before any complimentary upgrades. Sometimes last-minute customers have difficulty obtaining an upgrade even though they buy expensive tickets because the upgrade window opens as early as five days before departure.
Premier 1K Status Trial
Second, I’ve seen some tweets reporting that United is targeting Premier 1K status trials to some customers. I don’t know the details so I can only assume it’s a trial (which means you still have to fly some to keep it), but the fact they are proactively contacting customers at all is interesting.
American Airlines offered outright matches to Executive Platinum status two years ago — no requirement that those people fly at all to obtain the status for the rest of the year — but since then has been dialing down the frequency of such offers while also requiring a little more commitment. I recently obtained a trial that involves earning 25,000 elite-qualifying points (equivalent to 50,000 miles using deep-discount fares) and had to request it myself.
Before now, United’s new PQD requirements and occasional dilution of lower tier benefits pointed toward a renewed focus on high-value customers. These two offers reinforce that message. Is that a good or bad thing? Airlines need to make money, so I don’t begrudge them keeping an eye on the bottom line. But I do wonder about the future of those who will still be stuck in the middle tiers of MileagePlus.