How I qualified for 1K this year, and why I probably never will again


The news out yesterday about United Airlines adding a dollar spend requirement to their elite status qualification process had me note that it was likely my last year with 1K elite status. That raised some questions from readers based on how much I fly about how much I spend to get the status I’m at. The numbers actually came in a bit higher than I expected but I was definitely correct that I don’t pay enough to rate 1K. Not even Platinum, actually, and that’s at 150K PQMs booked this year (and 100K already flown).

I don’t often review my travel history in detail like this so it was an interesting exercise for me. I had seven "trips" which involved earning points in some form or another. Some trips involved more than one ticket or fare but I look at them as blocks of travel like that. Three of the trips were specific events where I wanted or needed to be at a particular place at a particular time. The cost of those trips is, not surprisingly, higher than for the other flights which were quite a bit more discretionary. The truly discretionary trips average out to ~4.5cpPQM while the less discretionary (they all are really discretionary, quite frankly) trips cost me ~7.5cpPQM. Yes, there are some mistake fares and sales in there, fares which I took advantage of in volume. I’m not ashamed of that at all.

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Looking at future booked travel the numbers actually get cheaper, mostly because the future bookings right now are all very discretionary and purchased mostly because they were cheap.

Based on the numbers above I would not even qualify as a Premier Platinum under the PQD scheme. Even more interesting, however, is that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even qualify as a Premier Gold. Several of the flights I took, while on partners, were not on 016 ticket stock. Based on that aspect I would not receive credit for them under the new program. Adding up already taken travel AND future travel my 016 spend looks to be $5,792. Back out the taxes on those tickets and I’m actually not sure I’d make the $5,000 cut.

There are a number of people talking about just increasing their travel budget, earning the miles and flying even more to hit 1K with the new spend threshold. I suppose I could do that, too. I can probably spend a few grand more on trips and I definitely love the travel experience. But I don’t only every fly on United and I don’t want to only ever fly on United. I don’t want to only ever buy my flights through United. And I don’t really know that the benefits are worth it to my personal budget to do so.

I get why the airlines are going down this path and I actually don’t disagree with the reasoning. It sucks for me personally but such is life when playing in the margins.

If you want to see the full set of numbers I put it in a shared doc here.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

27 Comments

  1. I wonder what in the end has motivated this change in reward plans. Are the gamers/hobbyists such a large portion of the elite ranks now that the airlines felt they had to act? Was it a sense the best customers (revenue) were not being adequately rewarded? Was it a sense there were too many elites?

    I’m sure DL/UA know what each elite customer is worth to them in revenue. As someone who flies largely on discount fares, but rarely for less than 10c/mile, it does frustrate me to compete for upgrades with someone who barely spends anything via mistake fares and six connection mileage runs. Someone for whom all travel is discretionary and fun.

    I assume the full fare traveler doesn’t resent me, because he is rewarded for fare paid in the upgrade queue, etc.

    Everyone is wondering, though, when these plans are going to get around to tightening the screws on premium class award travel.

  2. How did you ever qualify for GS woth a buget like this? None of my business I suppose, just interesting.

  3. I was wondering about your response, when I saw the proposed changes on FT. I was pretty sure most of the bloggers were not going to be in the GS territory. The issue was if it is still worth even trying for Plat to get free changes, and what lifetime status will soon mean.

    Luckily we got AA 2MM so we are OK for a while, but soon there will be a lot less “elites” than before. Lucky had a post 2 years ago about proposed changes and they had a pure PQD 5k/10k/15k/20k requirement, which I felt would have been fair to keep as well.

    Also if you are going the PQM way, the best is DL with its MQMs from cards that ADD to the flown MQMs

  4. why noit future Plat with move to Canada or $25k on United cards for min 35k RDM via manu spend?

  5. I might calculate my own as well… In your numbers did you just include base fare + fuel surcharges, or the ai price?

    1. These prices are all-in, Jon, mostly because those are much easier to get from the email receipts from my trips. I know that ~$40-50 of each domestic trip is taxes and probably $100-200 for the internationals. Then again, most of my international spend was partner-plated so a moot point to back out the taxes there.

      As for manufactured spending, it is rather more a PITA in NYC. Yeah, I may end up there eventually anyways, but I’m not happy about it. Either way, definitely no 1K for me with the current rules and my current patterns.

  6. Seth, thanks for sharing and for putting all your info in perspective. I agree w/you that if anything I may also make gold next time around, especially since my travel pattern focuses on overseas trips. And in some routes other airlines offer a better product for the money. So, congrats on becoming a MM soon!

  7. And then there are some of us who have marveled at how others have the time and flexibility to game the system. Hats off to you all, but as I look at $15K spend this year but only 75K in PQMs, the “game” feels a bit more fair now.

  8. @PittDoc: I agree that this is probably more fair on average, though fair is often in the eye of the beholder.

    @Joey: AA is almost certainly going to follow suit soon enough. Making that change is unlikely to do me much good.

    I don’t have much of a plan for 2014 yet. Lots of time before I have to make decisions like that.

  9. I suspect they are going to jettison some otherwise loyal customers. The Premier Silvers who travel lightly domestically for work and then choose United to take to Hawaii for their annual vacation or occasionally Europe. Definitely going to be less of that sort of loyalty. Yeah you can get a credit card etc, but there will still be less inclination towards loyalty. I think very few leisure travelers will reach these spend goals. Which is obviously what they want…

  10. My issue is this:

    I may spend 7,500 for 100,000 miles flown and I travel with lots of people, so w/o 1K I leave for AA. UA loses my $7500+ my friends $45,000 they are net minus $52,000

    Now, for all the people saying when they thin out the ranks I will get an upgrade. A former 1K on FT said he was flying LAX-IAH at $0.14/mile and was number 4 on the upgrade list and if they thinned the heard he’d have a better chance of getting an upgrade.

    What he fails to see is that the people above him on the upgrade list probably will still be flying UA as they were averaging more than $0.14/m most likely, it would be some Plats that would see more upgrades, but 1Ks probably would not see much of a difference.

  11. Also as a 1K if I was at $9,000 spend to hit 1K, I wouldn’t spend a $1,000 more, I’d look at ways of dropping my flying and spend to hit Plat at $7,500 spend so UA would be out net $1,500 now with this change and since I can never use any of the instruments anyway they lose my money and sooner or later I just realize that with on-line check-in and elite security lines that are as long as regular lines I should stop being loyal to 1 airline and just Kayak.

    I mean I have paid $300 more to fly UA on a ticket to get lounge access etc., and I realize for $300 I can eat really well at the airport each way and still have $200 in my pocket.

  12. I curious as to why taxes have to be backed out. Isn’t United counting as spend on the total amount paid and not the net ticket cost?

  13. thanks for this post Seth. I will watch what you do. I expect to make 1k next year as I fly for work and easily meet the spend. Thst may change though in the future and so am stsrting to plan alternatives. If I make 1MM in the next short while then I will be happy with that and drop out of UA if not 1K. If not paying more for the chance of an upgrade on TALT or TPAC then why not fly better airlines? A free drink makes me happy. For the TCON and west coast there is VX, AS and WN, all better airlines. Thanks for leading the way – look forward to tracking your next steps.

  14. I was reading somewhere about Ron Paul flying in Biz on CO Y fares.
    I initially thought that this would at least get rid of the govt Y fare guys ahead of me. After some reflection, I realize that yes they may not make 1k (except the air marshals perhaps).

    BUT, even if they just make Silver, due to the CO (sorry new UA) rules, even a Silver with a Y fare will still get auto upgraded at once. Although I guess some of the current Govt Silvers will not make anything perhaps after 2014.

    I am not sure AA will follow just yet if they are smart, perhaps they will do better to wait a year or two to drive more flyers their way.

  15. What is so hard about a paltry $25K spend on MP cards? You should be able to that in your sleep.

    1. The $25k spend only exempts customers up to Platinum. Getting to 1K requires the PQDs. And I don’t expect that I will get there, especially not only on UA spend alone.

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