United Airlines Premier Tiers
United Airlines, one of the world's leading carriers and a valuable part of Star Alliance (*A), has frequently been ranked by Global Traveler magazine for having one of the world's Best Frequent Flyer Programs (FFPs): MileagePlus. MileagePlus is one of the around twenty FFPs under the Star Alliance brand; as such, certain levels of MileagePlus correspond with elite tiers of *A. However, flying on any of MileagePlus' partners as a Premier member allows you to take advantage of benefits that extend far beyond those that are offered to *A Silver and Gold members from other carriers.
MileagePlus' elite tiers include Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, and Global Services. Silver is MileagePlus' lowest premier tier, and thus, comes with the smallest range of benefits out of all the premier tiers. With each higher tier, more benefits are added on, including additional upgrade, mileage earning, and lounge access opportunities.
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Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K
Premier Qualifying Miles
Premier Qualifying Segments
Premier Qualifying Dollars (US Residents)
To reach a certain tier in the program, you must exercise a high degree of prudence in attainment of a certain number of either Premier Qualifying Miles or Premier Qualifying Segments, which are shown in the chart above. If you're a resident of the United States, you must meet an additional Premier Qualifying Dollars requirement on top of this. A minimum of four paid segments on United Airlines, United Express, and/or Copa Airlines in a calendar year (January 1 - December 31) is also required. After accumulating the necessary Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) or Premier Qualifying Segments and Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) within a calendar year, you will be upgraded to the appropriate status within MileagePlus and receive that status for the remainder of the year in which you earn it, all of the following year, and through the end of January for the year after (for example, if you earn Premier Silver status in May of 2014, you would receive status through January of 2016). As you can see from the charts below, the higher your status, the more benefits you receive when flying with United and their partner carriers.
Economy Plus Benefits
One of the advantages of being a Premier member of United Airlines is that you can take advantage of complimentary Economy Plus seating as long as seats are available. If you've ever felt cramped in a regular airplane seat, this upgrade will benefit you tremendously, providing you with some additional legroom so that you can relax and be more productive. While you may purchase available Economy Plus seats at any time after booking a flight, or subscribe for the perk here (starting at $499/year), Premier members receive this benefit at no additional cost. The different Premier tiers allow for extra flexibility with this perk. For instance, Premier 1K members can reserve seats in Economy Plus for up to eight companions, while Premier Silver members can only reserve a seat for one.
Complimentary Premier Upgrades
If there is space available in the next class of service, Premier members may enjoy Complimentary Premier Upgrades on select United Airlines flights. The time at which your premier upgrade may be confirmed depends on your Premier level. A passenger with a higher Premier status will clear before a passenger with a lower Premier status. Even on the day of departure, Premier members who have yet to clear an eligible flight will be ranked on a wait list based on their Premier status and fare class purchased.
Bonus Award Miles
The higher your Premier tier, the faster you can earn miles. As you can see in the chart above, if you're currently a Premier 1K member, you earn twice as many miles on each flight as someone without status.
Free Checked Baggage Allowance
And what about all those items you want to bring on your trip? With restrictive carry-on rules and excess baggage fees, extra free checked baggage allowances can save you a pretty penny. As a Premier member, you're in luck. If you're a Premier 1K member, you will most likely be able check in more than you can carry - three hefty suitcases of up to 70 pounds each, that is, unless you happen to be a typical amateur bodybuilder.
Other perks include complimentary upgrades and priority access throughout your trip. Should you have any questions or run into any problems, a simple phone call to the Premier line gets you direct priority access to senior staff to help resolve any issues. As a Premier 1K member, you'll receive even faster service, since there's a line that's exclusively dedicated to serving members like yourself!
Star Alliance Tier
Premier Silver status with MileagePlus translates into Star Alliance Silver status, while Premier Gold, Platinum, 1K, and Global Services are all considered Star Alliance Gold statuses. Please refer to this page here to learn more about the benefits of being a Star Alliance Elite member.
The secrecy that surrounds this invitation-only tier makes it a popular topic on frequent flyer forums on the web. (Speaking on invitation-only tiers, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on them here.) The little information that is known to the general public makes the service seem unreal and highly coveted. Originally created in an effort to compete with overseas carriers who have implemented exclusive programs in order to reward their best customers, Global Services has made quite a splash in travel industry. Unpublicized perks such as flying on fully-booked flights when you're re-routed (some unlucky coach passenger will have to wait until the next flight) and invitations to fine restaurants and professional sporting events are all aspects of this special program. Compared to the other United Premier fliers, Global Services members have the highest priority for seat upgrades, the ability to confirm upgrades earlier than any other tier (120 hours before departure vs. 96 hours for Premier 1K members), and early boarding with or before 1st Class passengers.
If those perks aren't enough to entice you, imagine never having to stand in line again to re-book a delayed/canceled flight. With Global Services and its dedicated team tracking your journey to pre-emptively take care of all disruptions before they happen, you can relax knowing that you're in good hands. Global Services' members get the absolute first priority in cases of delay, and any issues you may have will be attended to by specialized United Airlines staff. There are claims floating out there that United dedicates 400+ employees at 60 worldwide airports to Global Services members, so you can rest assured that your trip will run as smoothly as possible.
What can you do with all that extra time? If you're flying internationally on United BusinessFirst or trans-continental on either United Business or United BusinessFirst, you can take a load off and spend this time sipping on champagne in the Global First Lounge, which is typically reserved for only International First Class fliers.
By now, you must be wondering: how can I get this status? At this time, the only guaranteed way is to fly 4 million lifetime miles on United. For everyone else, every year, the "complex matrix" consisting of miles flown, destinations, and dollars spent is used to determine Global Services eligibility changes. Even the people who do receive an invitation to Global Services aren't quite sure of the formula behind their invitation. Re-qualification for the tier also varies, and has resulted in members losing the status the following year even though they flew the exact same amount each year. Though no official numbers have been released, it is estimated that the top 1% of elites in a given year are invited to become a Global Services member.
Because airlines are very secretive surrounding the numbers in their Frequent Flyer Programs for competitive reasons, we can only speculate on Global Services' membership numbers. The last mention of an estimate was in 2009, when the president of United Airlines MileagePlus divulged that approximately 54 million people were a part of MileagePlus. Approximately 3%-5% of participants in FFPs qualify for some elite status. With this math, one could deduce that there are approximately 16,000 to 27,000 members in Global Services, making this tier as exclusive as it seems.
Million Miler Program
Interested in lifetime premier status? Just fly a million miles, or more. Flying a million miles with United also comes with other benefits. According to United Airline's "top flier," Tom Stuker, who has flown more than 10 million miles with United and has his name printed on the side of a Boeing 747 plane, he gets a phone call or email from United every time he hits another million mile mark, asking him what kind of gift he would like. One of his gifts includes a generous gift card that allowed him to fill his house with wine.
All in all, it's easy to see why frequent fliers and travel enthusiasts partake in airline FFPs like United's MileagePlus. With so many benefits on the surface and underneath, frequent flyer programs often contain built-in aspects that make attaining higher and higher tiers of status something of a game, with greater rewards becoming available as you continue to make progress. The gamification of the process has interesting ramifications for the industry, and it will certainly be interesting to see how these developments will affect passenger loyalty in the long run.