A few miles short of elite status on United Airlines — now what?

No one likes to start the New Year on the wrong foot, especially if it means you’ll be treated a little bit less special by your preferred airline. But that’s exactly what Matin Nazir is facing.

He didn’t qualify for Premier status with United Airlines for 2012, after five straight years of elite-ness.

Perhaps most frustrating, he’s only a few miles — and a few hours — from renewing his Mileage Plus status.

“I’ve fallen short by a mere 617 miles,” he told me.

He adds,

I have called United Airlines and begged them to extend the deadline to two more days. I have a return flight on Jan. 2 for 2,565 miles, which will put me over the threshold they require.

But they are not budging.

Instead, they are asking for 20,000 hard-earned miles so they can convert it to 2,000 Elite Qualifying Miles which will meet the gap. I find that excessive and somewhat unnecessary.

Is Mileage Plus status something worth fighting for? Sure.

Premier members can check two bags “for free,” pay reduced award ticket fees and enjoy early boarding privileges in exchange for their loyalty, plus many other benefits.

Despite my often harsh criticism of airline loyalty programs, I can understand why Nazir would want to keep his Premier status.

I suggested he send a brief, polite appeal to a United manager, asking the airline to take another look at his request. United can pull up Nazir’s award program information and determine exactly how valuable he is to United. Based on that, I thought he stood a pretty good chance of having an exception made.

Here’s the response:

As Customer Care Representatives, we are the ears of United’s senior leadership team when it comes to our guest’s post travel experiences. Based on your letters to both Customer Relations and Premier Mileage Plus, it is clear that you’ve noticed a decline in our overall service as an airline. While hearing these types of comments are regrettable, I know it is necessary to identify areas of improvement in our business.

I can understand your concern regarding your elite status request with United. We regret to hear that our Mileageplus agents are not being more supportive and attentive to your request. Unfortunately, Customer Care is dedicated to assist passenger with past date travel concerns and do not have access to modify or authorize your United MileagePlus account. We appreciate your efforts in seeking assistance thru our Customer Care department.

Moving forward, we will not be able to grant your request to extend your status into 2012 without meeting the published criteria. Please understand that doing so will make the Mileage Plus program lose its integrity of something that is truly earned. Because your concerns have been escalated to United’s highest level of Customer Care and Mileage Plus, we have reached an impasse and are firm with our decision to deny your request. I recognize that this is not the resolution you were expecting and I apologize that I could not honor your requests.

As you are a Premier member of our MileagePlus program, your business and goodwill are especially important to us. It is always a privilege to serve you.

Reading between the lines on this reply, it seems United Airlines did check Nazir’s file, and apparently found that he had complained about United’s service several times before. Curiously, although the form response says he contacted the wrong place, the second pasted paragraph suggests he did, in fact, reach the correct department — because it turned down his appeal.

My takeaway is that when United considers a special request to waive its rules, it takes a hard look at your history to see if you’re worth it. In Nazir’s case, the little zinger (“your business and goodwill are especially important to us”) says to me that its determination is “no” he is not.

United Airlines was basically telling him to get lost.

“I have essentially reached the end of the road,” Nazir says.

Maybe it’s time to switch airlines.

(Photo: Skinny Lawyer/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://camelsandchocolate.com/ CamelsAndChocolate

    I was a couple hundred miles off the mark on renewing my United Premier status a year or two back, and they did the same to me…even worse, I had paid MORE to fly San Francisco to Jo’burg via Dubai on Emirates because I knew the airline was a United partner (at the time…this was pre-2011)–then only found out later, they were indeed a partner but not a member of Star Alliance, so while the 24,000 miles were credited to my United account, they didn’t count as EQM. That made my falling short by so few miles even more annoying–and just like Nazir, I tried to appeal to Customer Care’s “caring” side and was only met with rudeness in return.

    I promptly switched my loyalty back to Delta, who gave me 70,000 miles when I had to miss a leg of an awards-mile flight due to my own mistakes. That’s customer service right there.

  • Caitlin Fitzsimmons

    Another airline may offer to match his status. I know that in Australia, V Australia will match points and status for Qantas customers with premier frequent flyer status, as long as they actually close the Qantas account.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe it’s time to get real. Begging to make a 25K EQM? How pitiful can that be? A roundtrip to the Far East can earn almost 20k and lots of folks do that regularly. Why expect an airline to go out of their way for someone who can’t make the minimum? I guess if you have to beg then you ain’t Elite or Premier.

  • y_p_w

    If it was that important to him, then why not just use the miles?  I’m not sure why they didn’t offer to accept fewer points (maybe 12,000) for maybe 1,000 miles, but I guess they have discrete levels.

    I’m not sure what it gets you anyways.  My wife and I pooled our MileagePlus miles from one international trip.  I found that all 5,000 miles got us one inter-island flight on (partner airline) Hawaiian Airlines with a $25 fee on top of that.  What can 20,000 miles really get?

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe I am wrong but I thought you could also BUY MILES from UA to make up the shortage to Premier Status. Maybe he could have done it that way.

    I don’t think the OP was necessarily gunning for an award ticket. He probably wanted free check-in baggage and upgrades given to Premier members.

  • y_p_w

    Chris’s piece seems to indicate that United offered to add 2,000 Elite Qualifying Miles in exchange for those 20,000 points that he could have otherwise used on award tickets.

    I’m still a MileagePlus member, but I’ve got so few points that I don’t think there’s much I can do with what I’ve got (if they haven’t expired yet).  I used up most of it for that inter-island flight I mentioned.  They also offered Restaurant.com “gift certificates”, but those are more a “spend at least $50 and you get $25 off your bill but you’re still paying sales tax on the full amount”.

  • http://jpportz.livejournal.com/ Jeremy

    Miles that you buy are not elite-qualfiying.  But perhaps they can be converted to elite-qualifying via the 10:1 ratio that’s mentioned in the article?  However that seems unlikely as I thought the whole point of elite-qualifying miles is they had to be actual flying, not bought – but I haven’t checked United’s rules recently.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I voted yes, but I made an assumption that Premier was a top level elite.  Realizing now that Premier is the lowest tier of elite makes United’s stance much more understandable.

    If the OP is truly a chronic complainer, and doesn’t generate that much revenue for United then United has little incentive to bend the rules for the OP.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Those types of frequent flyer programs are for… get this… FREQUENT FLYERS. The OP didn’t fly enough to qualify. It doesn’t affect the miles he earned towards award tickets. I have tons of miles via credit cards and other means, but as I’m often reminded when I request to fly standby on an earlier flight or whatever, I’m not an “elite” flyer or whatever term other carriers use. That’s the system. Learn to deal. If status was that important to him, he shoulda flown a cheap last-minute flight somewhere close which would’ve worked out to be less than the value of a free domestic ticket / 20,000 mile award…


  • TonyA_says

    If he only needs 617 miles then he can exchange 10,000 earned miles (i.e. from his credit card) to get 1,000 EQMs.

    Why should UA bend the rules for him and not for everybody?

  • $16635417

    If the benefits are worth having, they must be worth earning. Don’t put yourself in a position to come up short. It also sounds like United was willing to part with an unhappy customer. That’s their choice. 

    There are sites devoted to people who post “Mileage Run” suggestions throughout the year. If you are finding that you may come up short, this is a good way to pad your account.

    OP should try to take his Premier statement to another airline and status match, perhaps he can get a year of status elsewhere. If he fails to qualify again at he end of the year, remember, a frequent flyer is just that…a program designed to benefit frequent fliers, not almost frequent fliers.

  • Raven_Altosk

    No, it shouldn’t bend the rules. The OP needs to learn to stay on top of his mileage. If he had been paying attention, he might notice he’d be a bit short. Buy a cheap-o ticket to Vegas, fly in, have a little fun, and fly back. Problem solved.

    I’ve done that when I’ve had a feeling I might not make the level I have…the extra 1,000ish miles as a buffer is a good “safety net.”

  • sirwired

    They have to draw the line somewhere, and they’ve drawn the line at 25,000 miles.  He isn’t exactly a fanatically loyal road warrior, and he apparently didn’t like them that much to begin with.  What possible incentive has he given them for doing what he asks?

    I’m with UA; the only consequence of turning him down is that he’ll just have one more thing to complain about.  But that hasn’t stopped him from taking his trivial amount of business elsewhere before, why should it now?

  • sirwired

    He needed a measly 200 miles; he didn’t exactly need to book a mileage run to Guam here…  A one-way to the nearest Podunk would have done the trick.

    I don’t see another airline going out of their way to capture somebody that flies so infrequently… he’s got nothing to “match.”

    He simply doesn’t fly that often, but wants to be treated like he does.

  • john4868

    Elites, in general, have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement (Yes, I’m one and I have to shake my head at some of the stunts people pull). This guy takes the cake. Here’s the short version buddy … You didn’t fly enough to make the cut. It doesn’t matter if you were 600 or 6000 miles short. You didn’t fly enough. It doesn’t matter that you have another flight in another year. You DIDN’T fly enough.
    If it was that important to make your status, you would have watched it like a hawk and done a mileage run to qualify. Based on the wording of the note, you sent it to Chris before the end of the year meaning you could have still done one. You chose not to and that isn’t UA or Chris’s fault. You didn’t fly enough.
    And UA did give you an option. They were going to allow you to trade FF miles for flex elite miles (which would give you 1300+ for the next time that this happens) but that wasn’t good enough for you. Somehow its UA’s fault that you didn’t fly enough.
    Sorry… I might be upset if I fell short. I might ask for UA to take another look and make an exception. I don’t think I would ever ask a Consumer Advocate to take a case based solely on the fact that I didn’t do what I was supposed to and didn’t like the options presented. That, my friends, is an truly overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

  • An Even Newer Alan Gore

    Don’t most airlines give you the ability to buy additional miles if you come up a few short?

  • whatup123

    if you want to play this game, you have to understand that it involves active management.  i had over 260k EQM on delta and 51,364 on Continental to maintain star alliance gold (for international lounge access, short lines, etc).  That was not by accident…it was by careful managment involving checking which fare codes i booked for which trip, when i flew one carrier vs another, etc.  If I came up at 49,999 or less, I wouldn’t blame anyone but myself. 
    PS One year, when I was still learning this game I received 25% EQM on a flight from CDG-DKR because it was operated by AF and I was collecting on NWA.  On December 23rd, I still had 74,311 or so EQM. I got myself on a flight to Ohare in the middle of huge snow storm and back for 300 to make plat status (this allowed me lounge access internationally).  The OP could have done this as well…but was too lazy. 
    Chris, if you mediate things like this–you will change the whole dynamic of FF and miles.  And I am glad that UA didnt budge, or I would fly 49k next year and ask them to upgrade me.  As would 20k other people.  And they might even do it, as I don’t write complaint letters for free miles unless something is seriously wrong.

  • SoBeSparky

    The airline was not telling him to get lost.  He told the airline he was not a highly valuable elite-level passenger by failing to plan and fly the required miles.  A frequent traveler is saavy enough to know better. 

  • MarkKelling

    This would require he has a United affiliated credit card.  If he is barely flying enough to make the bottom tier, I doubt he either has the card or the points/miles.

  • TonyA_says

    When I read this…

     Instead, they are asking for 20,000 hard-earned miles so they can convert it to 2,000 Elite Qualifying Miles  which will meet the gap. 

    I assumed these were not butt in seat points, since if they were, then he would be elite.

    He was probably earning mileage using a UA credit card.

  • savtaro

    Interestingly, and also enlightening, I received an incorrectly addressed email from Continental (aka United) this week addressed to someone else whose request was very similar to Matin Nazir’s. He was a very few miles away from 1K status and couldn’t get there on his own so he was seeking an exception.  Also turned down.  I was not happy to get the email since it shows a certain casualness towards addressing and sending these things out which makes me fear that my emails may be similarly treated.  However, the point of the discussion is exceptions and, as someone who is diligent about reaching Platinum and often has to take a paid mileage run to do it, I would resent those asking for “handouts” getting the perks that others are, in fact, paying for. Others meaning me!

  • MarkKelling

    There are many ways to get Elite status miles on United/Continental including buying miles for your flight that count toward Elite status or spending enough on flying where they give you some.  The OP could have used any of these options through the year to make up the gap and chose not to.  The offer made by United seems reasonable (and I didn’t even know they had that option available).  After all, they could have just said no and made no offer at all.

    There are too many United Elites to start with.  In some airports, it seems like every flyer is an Elite and they clog up the special security lines.  They also ruin my chances at getting a free upgrade.  I say United should be even more strict to weed out a few hundred more.  (This paragraph was sarcasm in case you missed it.) 

  • MarkKelling

    I agree, but it could also be leftover miles from the 5 years he made elite. Hence the comment about hard earned.

  • TonyA_says

    You’re probably right. In that case, he really should be embarrassed he even asked C. Elliott to help.

    Maybe the folks in flyertalk can assist him.

  • othermike27

    Active management – you got that right! And it’s pretty easy to do too. Every time I log on to United’s website, they make a point of showing my current status for next year’s EQMs.  It’s up to the individual to pay attention to the balance to go, which partner airlines qualify, etc.

    I use elite status to select seats I like and to upgrade when possible. For me, these are creature comforts that make flying a little less painful, so I am willing to spend the time to manage the account. If you can’t be bothered tending to your own issues, why should anyone else worry about them?

    And if that’s too much for the OP, UA offers options to buy your way in to elite status with miles and/or dollars.  So why is he bothering Chris about this?

  • MarkKelling

    Most have mileage purchase options but those are so you can get enough miles to trade for the reward ticket you want and don’t count toward status.

    Continental did offer the option in 2011 to purchase status miles tied to your actual flights so you could fly 800 miles (which counts toward status) and purchase up to 2 times the flown miles as status qualifying miles giving you up to 2400 status miles in this example.  They were not cheap and could cost nearly as much as the actual flight, but did offer the option to the flyer if they were short of the elite level they were aiming for to get there.

    But do we really need airline elite level frequent flyers who don’t actually fly?  While selling miles means the airline makes money for not flying the passenger (saving them lots of money on their various costs) and the flyer gets closer to top tier elite, doesn’t this dilute the true value of the frequent flyer program?

  • http://www.pipdigital.com Nancy Dickinson

    I think what hurt him too was the complaints he made.  The airlines track these things.  

    I am a loyal Delta flyer.  I made the switch to Southwest when they bought Airtran because more routes opened up out of Tucson.  However, it was such a nightmare trip I actually wrote a letter of apology to Delta (I used the words “Cheated on you”).  They thanked me with 500 miles and said, “Welcome back.  We missed you.”

    I’m sure they had a smile when they read my letter and we both feel better about the relationship.  Airline loyalty programs are a symbiotic relationship.  You can’t use them, complain about it ad nauseum and then expect them to come running when you need them for something like this.

    I’m with you, Raven.  He should have planned a quick weekend jaunt to put him over the top.  600 miles?  I can do that in my sleep.

  • http://twitter.com/ExhibitBabe Katharine Chestnut

    As a Platinum flyer with Delta, I watch closely at the end of the year to make sure I’m going to come within the required MQMs to maintain that status. The past two years, I’ve booked a short flight during December to ensure I keep it.
    He should have been watching and done what he could to get those miles in by 12/31. 
    I’m sure if he was a higher level elite flyer, they MAY have decided to bend the rules but my experiences with UA have always been terrible. I haven’t even considered them for years (even though I live in Boulder and fly out of the the UA hub of DEN).

  • Bernard Rappoport

    Airlines have to look at the dynamics of one’s past patronage, as does any company with a viable CRM system.  A couple of years back, when swine flu was ripe in Mexico, or so it seemed, and the Canadian government warned against travel there, my buddy canceled 2 trips he had planned for there…and came up just short of requalifying for AC’s Aeroplan Super Elite level.  A politely worded email to the CEO…a personal response (a lesson from Canada to those US carriers and their CEOs)…the account’s history was reviewed for past travel patterns, and they could see that he had planned to travel to MEX but canceled when the government advisory came out…and they granted him his request to stay as Super Elite…and since then he has been as loyal to Star Alliance as he can be. Loyalty is a two-way street….he had a pattern of past patronage, the cancellation of these trips based on world events was what caused him to fall short…and he has honoured their faith in him on the return edge by sticking with *A.

  • Chasmosaur

    My husband – after several business trips were cancelled at the last minute in Q4 – realized he was going to come up just a little bit short on moving back up a tier to Gold Medallion with Delta.  (Depending upon the year and projects he serves, he bounces between Silver and Gold.)

    Did he call Delta and complain that it wasn’t his fault that his reservations had been cancelled, and he had a trip next week that would push him over?  No.  He ended up buying the small amount of necessary qualifying miles.

    He’s not pushy about his Elite status, and we’ve long given up on using the miles for anything but upgrades.  (Even in the middle of non-peak, non-blackout periods, it’s amazing how you can’t redeem those miles for anything but crappy middle economy seats, no matter how far you book ahead.) But the perqs of moving up a tier – like earlier boarding and pushed up the first-class upgrade list – do make his frequent flying more comfortable and less stressful, and worth paying the small amount.

  • y_p_w

    There wasn’t any clarification that it was miles that were bought or earned through a credit card that they offered to take in exchange for the 2,000 Elite Qualifying Miles to bump him to Premier status.

    So he was required to have 25,000 miles of EQMs from Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2011 and he’s 617 miles short.  I would guess those 20,000 mileage points they wanted from him could have been accrued from the 24K+ miles he traveled last year, although they probably don’t do any kind of specific bookkeeping of where the miles come from for booking award tickets.

    What they were saying was that they’d toss him a bone to bump him up to the Premier status he wanted as long as he’d give up those miles which he could have used to travel somewhere on an award ticket.  I’m still wondering why the number was 20K and not maybe 10K.  They seem to be big on round numbers.

    By the way, here’s the new list that takes effect later this year:


    The 25K would be “Premier Silver” with 25% bonus reward miles, no international lounge access, and 1 free checked bag up to 50 lbs.

  • AirlineEmployee

    As someone already said;  if one persons asks and gets it, 20,000 others will want the same “exception”.   You’re playing the game ?, play by the rules.

  • y_p_w

    I don’t think that what was meant.  As far as I can tell, the Elite Qualifying Miles aren’t miles that can be used per se.  They’re miles actually flown within a calendar year, but not anything that’s cashed in for an award ticket.

    What they were offering was to allow him to cash in 20,000 of his accrued miles (of which he had over 24,000 in 2011) to add 2,000 EQMs to his total for 2011.  So that’s maybe 20,000 miles that he no longer can use (an an example) for a flight to Honolulu or whatever he can get for 20,000 miles.

    And from a reading of the rules, it looks like being at that level probably got him a 25% bonus on mileage that can go towards an award ticket.

  • y_p_w

    I thought it was exactly 617 short.

  • Kotch11

    I’m with the person suggesting buying miles.  Another thing I have done is switch points from hotel programs to airline miles.  Has he thought of that?

  • sirwired

    Whoops, you are right; I don’t know where I got 200-ish from.  A roundtrip to Podunk would have been necessary instead.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve mentioned the previous king of mileage runs, which was the SFO-OAK (and maybe back) flight.  It was once the shortest scheduled commercial jet flight anywhere at 13 miles.  The plane didn’t break 3,000 ft.

    It was considered a mileage run because it could be used as a segment and they also had a minimum mileage accrued of 400 miles per segment.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Rule are rules. I am 10 mailes, 1000 miles, 10,000 miles off. What is the cutoff. United has said 0. They did make am unheard of offer; status for miles. If you have Elite status, you fly alot and 20,000 miles is nothing to surrender for services gained. United did take the inititive to make an offer. Good job United.

  • 219kimrod

    Voted “no” because he failed to meet the well known criteria. He can purchase the extra miles as others have to do.

  • ClareClare

    Gee, I was just thinking I should contact United, because all my ff miles expired completely recently since I hadn’t flown them in some time (was too busy racking up miles on Delta in the interim instead) … and yet I did fly United TWO DAYS after the expiration deadline.  I was thinking that maybe they would give me a break and not make me lose all those miles… but I now get the distinct impression that asking United for a break is a complete waste of time. 

    Back to racking up miles on Delta, I guess!

  • Miami510

    Before we get tied up in the rules, let’s move back a step and realize what the mileage game is all about.
    I believe that most airlines would like to get rid of the frequent flyer programs.  Most of them initiated such programs because their competition did. 
    These programs, while engendering loyalty, also cause a lot of animosity for the airlines and this animosity is usually from their best customers. 
    When I go to make a reservation 300 days earlier than my trip, I find that I must adjust the days one way or the other because the few seats dedicated to frequent flyers have already been claimed.  So here I am, a customer who has collected many miles on their airline… aka “good customer,” now angry.  Although I’ve not personally experienced it, miles that expire are clearly a rip-off.  Those unclaimed miles have monetary value, which the airlines just confiscate. If this were a banking situation and I abandoned money in an account, the bank would be required to turn that money over to a public authority. 

  • john4868

    Flex elite miles don’t qualify for travel only status and they don’t have to be used in the year they are earned. Instead, they allow you to apply them toward elite status at any point. So in the OP’s case, he would need to burn 617 to qualify for this year but he would have 1383 to use in the future toward status

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    When I started my new job that has virtually no travel I lost my elite status, it happens. I did recently get the new credit card (offered on UAL’s website) that gives me many of the same benefits for a small increase in my card’s annual fee. I get a couple club passes a year, first checked bag free and priority boarding and some other perks. I do fly enough to make the benefits worthwhile for the price. 

    I did travel about 23k miles this year but would never dream of calling UAL and asking for an extension or giving me status I didn’t earn. 

  • y_p_w

    I was a bit unclear on that.  However, it doesn’t sound as if he would be too keen on giving up 20,000 miles, so I’m wondering why they didn’t offer a smaller amount.

    It sounds to me as if he planned on trying to another 25K miles by flying.

  • bodega3

    This person wrote Chris for this?  How embarrassing.

  • y_p_w

    Apparently you can get lifetime elite status with United if you can document at least 1 million lifetime miles traveled. I could easily imagine this happening in a few years for someone who travels internationally as part of a job.

  • emanon256

    I was 400 miles short of 125,000 EQMs this year where I would get 2 extra upgrade certificates.  It’s a published guideline, why should United give it to me when I didn’t fly enough to earn it? Right on United’s website it says you can turn redeemable miles into elite qualifying miles in 1,000EQM increments for 10,000 miles each, for a maximum of 5,000 EQM, for not fee.  I used 10,000 miles to get my EQMs above 125,000, and got my 2 extra certificates.
    This is cut and dry to me.  It’s a published guideline.  Follow it.  If you don’t, then too bad, so sad.  You didn’t earn it.  They even give you the opportunity to get extra EQMs if you are close at the expense of miles.  If he really wanted it, he should have used the miles.  I have no sympathy for the OP.  Why should United bend the rules for him?  I agree with United, it would devalue the program.

  • emanon256

    Its 10,000 miles for 1,000 EQMS up to 5,000 EQMS total.  It must be in 10,000 mile increments, and there is  no fee.

    You can buy miles, but they are redeemable, not EQM miles.

  • y_p_w

    That’s what I didn’t quite get. Their offer was for 2,000 EQMs at 20,000 miles, which he obviously didn’t want to give up. I’m wondering if he would have taken the offer had it been 1,000 EQMs for 10,000 miles.

  • Bill Armstrong

    The most surprising thing to me is that they actually read and understood a complaint letter.  When I write in, the response has little or nothing to do with what I’ve raised as a concern..which is frustrating.

  • Bill Armstrong

    They did offer him a way to do it, which was to cash in the 20,000 miles.  He should do it if he wants the status.

  • Karen Bordner

    If he’s that concerned about Elite status he should be watching his miles accrue during the year. That way he would know or at least estimate where his mileage will end up. He can then plan a quick trip near the end of the year that exceeds the mileage he needs. In the fall a few years ago I figured out, based on upcoming business trips through the end of the year I would be 400-ish miles short of 50K. I too called UA to ask about routes that were 500 miles that I could go out and back from Denver on the same day and told them why telling them, “I know this sounds crazy but…”  

    When I suggested Aspen the customer service rep told me I didn’t want that as that is one of the most expensive routes in United’s system.  The customers service representative told me it wasn’t “crazy” and that they “hear this a lot.” She then looked into the system to not only find me flights but flights on sale. She noticed I flew to Chicago a lot and asked if this was business, or personal. When I said both she told me there was a Thursday-Saturday coming up in 6 weeks that would be $109 round trip. I booked this and while the departure times weren’t the greatest I ended up having a fun weekend with friends and achieving the mileage status I wanted at the end of the year. 

    I’ve flown UA since living in Chicago since the late 1990’s and I now live in the Denver area. After some horrific experiences in poor customer service from Northwest while living in Detroit and Chicago I can say I’ve always had very good customer service from UA. Maybe it’s how this man asked. In the years I’ve seen a lot of frequent flyers be extremely demanding to the point of being rude. That will get you nowhere. Anyone reading this knows this man should have known what his status was. All frequent flyer program has websites with updated mileage, UA should not be responsible for his lack of planning. Also, even at the 25K status he should join their Red Carpet Club. I hate to say this but any airline sees their “club members” as more valuable and the customer service reps inside the clubs (I’ve used Delta’s, & Continental’s through the AmEx Platinum card) do a good job solving problems, changing seating arrangements, and upgrades when possible. But then again, it’s also how you approach them and ask. 

    Let’s put ourselves in UA shoes, they have a website where he can look at his miles and he didn’t plan? Seriously? And for 25K? I can’t even believe I’ve spent so much time writing about this as it’s just pathetic. Sorry but this is a rookie mistake and UA doesn’t have to cover for him.

  • Aaron Gold

    When I was an American FF, they reportedly had a “fudge factor” — 500 or 1000 miles, I think. One year I was about 200 miles short of my 50k status. They asked me to make a request after the new year. I did and they granted it. Granted, that was 200 miles on 50k status, a much slimmer margin than 600 miles on a 25k status, so maybe that makes a difference. I recently switched to United, and I would hate to think they’d bump me down to 25k status if I had 49,800 miles. I’ll be honest, the more experience I have with United, the more I’m wondering if I made the right decision by switching from American…

  • BillShepp

    You can also buy EQM’s through a roundabout method.  if you book a flight on Continental you are offered the option to buy RDM (regular) miles, similar to on United.  If you do this, you are then offered the chance to buy an equal quantity of EQM miles.  You can then cancel the original flight and you’ll keep the RDM and EQM miles you purchased (that won’t be refunded).  In past years the cost of these extra miles has started out the year around $0.07/mile, and rises in November/December to as much as $0.40/mile.  It’s too late for him now, but had he noticed this in early November he probably could have bought the extra 600 EQM’s for around $50 (which would be a much better deal than redeeming 10K miles).  No one knows if post-merger United will offer the ability to purchase EQM’s this way…

  • MarkKelling

    You can get your miles back.  For a fee.

  • y_p_w

    It would make a difference.

    I noticed that 25K miles will later this year only qualify for “Premier Silver”, which only yields one free check-in bag up to 50 lbs.  At 50K miles it increases to “Premier Gold” with 3 free check-in bags of up to 70 lbs each.  That seems like a really good deal if one brings along tons of stuff as gifts, although who knows what happens once the TSA opens it up.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I must disagree 100 percent

    I think the airlines love their programs.  The proof being that they are generally trying to bolster the programs.  Airlines make tons of money by sellingmiles to credit cards and other places.

  • Carchar

    I voted no. If status is important, one has to be vigilant about one’s miles. I find it worth the annual fee to have the Presidential Plus credit card with Continental, which gives 1000 EQMs for every $5000 spent. I certainly needed it this year. Along with those, a Newark to Baltimore flight via Las Vegas, LA and Denver put me over the 75000 mark. If I hadn’t made it, there would have been no one to blame but me. I’m assuming UA will have a similar credit card once the merger is complete.

    Just one thing irks me about UA’s response as with most customer service negative responses. They say they “can’t” help you, when in reality, they won’t help you. 

  • jikinn

    I like the way Delta handles the mileage accounts for folks who have some miles but not enough to really use. They let you exchange the miles (which are about to expire anyway) for magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Twice, I got several months of the Wall Street Journal, which I cannot afford otherwise. I also received several magazine subscriptions that lasted several months. I was glad to get them, especially since I wasn’t going to be able to use the miles for travel.

  • y_p_w

    I had that option with MileagePlus.  I think I could also choose movie tickets.

    Still – my miles have probably already expired even though I still receive statements.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YPJVVGEGACHK2MWPQGRDRE2KU4 reynard

    I just got Elite status with UA, something I’d never thought I’d fly enough to get (must be those yearly trips to Mongolia ;0) ). I’m simply going to enjoy it while it lasts. I’ve survived quite a few years without it and it didn’t kill me. The big bennie will be the two free bags, plus the automatic upgrade to Economy Plus.

    The OP didn’t keep track of his miles and I fail to see how this is UA’s problem, especially since he had other options. It would be interesting to know what he complained about.

  • Ann Lamoy

    Delta’s miles expire yearly as far as qualifying for elite status but they don’t expire as far as building up to use for  applying towards a free ticket. Last year when I had to fly back East when my Dad was dying, I had 20,000 miles accumulated from about 3 years-I was able to take $200 off my ticket. And since it was a last minute ticket, it made that $500 ticket a little less painful.

    They allow you to use as little as 10,000 miles ($100 off) to apply to the ticket price on miles eligible flights. Then $150 off for 15,000 miles and so on. It is kind of nice that you don’t need to build up a huge amount to take some money off. And for me-someone that has to fly 6,000 miles round trip-to visit family, those miles can build up quickly.

  • sershev

    Stop crying about it. Rules are rules. You are responsible to track your miles and plan accordingly if you want Premier status. People do mile runs just to have the status or plan extra trip or look at different or extra connections that will put you to Elite status.

  • TouchyFeely

    What they “pulled up” was where he lived. He probably travels for biz a lot and lives in a United hub city. Thus , they do not care.

  • MarkKelling

    That’s a good deal.

    I used to think that Continental had the best one.  EFD to IAH = 40 miles actual air distance for which you got 500 EQM each way.  EFD is the airfield that NASA uses in south Houston and was also an Air National Guard base.  

    The runways between the two airports line up and depending on which way IAH was landing and taking off, the plane would lift off and land without ever even turning.  It was cool watching the F16s and strange NASA planes take off and land while waiting on your flight to board and then sitting next to astronauts on the short flight.  

    The best part of the deal was the free parking at EFD and the fact that CO didn’t charge extra for that segment if you booked it as part of a flight onward from IAH.  CO was the only commercial airline flying out of there and the deal was too good to last so they no longer operate from there.

  • MarkKelling

    Elite gives you automatic upgrades to 1st class too.  That is the upgrade to get excited about. Depending on where and when you fly, you might get to fly up front often for very low priced tickets.

  • MarkKelling

    More likely they looked at how much he spent with UA for the year.  If he is someone who always buys the lowest priced ticket they didn’t really make any profit off him and that’s is why they didn’t want to give him a bump up.  If he was someone who was in the top tier of spenders, belonged to the United Club, and sometimes flew a paid 1st ticket, they would have given him the needed miles no question.  But then if he was a big spender he probably would have made the top tier frequent flyer level already and we would not have been having this discussion.

  • y_p_w

    San Francisco to Oakland is somewhat of an extreme example.  At one time the entire flight was actually SFO-OAK-DEN from what I understand.  However, some people booked SFO-OAK just for the mileage runs.  When I was a kid in the 80s I remember ABC News doing a puff piece on it.  I seem to remember they showed a flight attendant assigned to that flight who was also a part time actress on a soap opera.

    Here are some discussions on the route:


    However, they don’t line up.  I think it’s about 11-13 miles in a straight line, but SFO runways  10L/28L and 10R/28R are roughly parallel with OAK runway 11/29.  Some talk about the route was that the flight path took an S pattern because of the way the runways lined up.  They might have used 1L/19L or 1R/19R at SFO to avoid an extreme S.

    I mentioned this to a United flight attendant when I was on an international flight.  He didn’t believe that any airline would schedule a flight that short.  From what I’ve read, other airlines had that route on large equipment, including Alaska and Delta.  It was really just a “hop on board” flight even though some people did book it.  If traffic wasn’t bad, it would take less time to drive from San Francisco to Oakland, especially with SFO a good 10 miles from downtown San Francisco, and OAK maybe 6 miles from downtown Oakland. Check out the map:


  • Kairho

    Nothing really to say.  Just wondering how narrow this column can get.

  • y_p_w

    Yeah.  Strange how most Disqus comment sections right justify with a hard stop.  I’ve seen some comments software that only allow replies to a parent message on the left to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

    It’s looking pretty strange as I’m composing this.  I’ve got a box that’s about two characters wide, but the text is spreading out way beyond the box.

  • Steve_in_WI

    I don’t see why United should make an exception for him. It would be nice if they did, and I don’t blame him for asking politely, but I think he was out of line to ask Chris to intervene.

    I mean, this wasn’t a case where the customer was confused by an unclear policy or misled by United; I assume he knew how many miles he’d need to keep his status and when he needed to earn them by since he stated that in his letter to them. I see no obligation on the part of United to bend the rules for him. (And if they bend the rules for a customer who’s 600 miles short, what about one who’s 1500 miles short? Or 3000 miles short? Where do you draw the line?)

    Again, I see nothing wrong with asking for an exception in a case like this, but IMHO it’s not something to appeal.

  • y_p_w

    Not meaning to sound like an ad, but apparently United is partnering with a credit card issuer for a credit card that gives the first checked bag for free, priority boarding, a couple of United Club passes per year, and right now it’s 25,000 bonus miles just for using it the first time.  They do charge for it but will waive the first year’s annual fee (normally $95).  This seems almost like the same benefits that they offer for the Premier Silver status that takes effect later this year.

    However, I’m wondering what the “elite” travelers think when it’s this easy for someone to get the same benefits by signing up for a credit card with a fee that’s less than the typical cost of a round-trip SFO-LAX ticket

  • http://browneknows.com/ Kathi Browne

    A similar thing happened with my husband’s miles on Delta. He considered taking a one-day trip across country just to get the remaining miles, but our schedules just didn’t allow it.

    I wish I had known an appeal is possible. Maybe they would have seen he responded to an onboard medical need (not once, but twice) as a physician. But even then, they only sent him a certificate for 1000 points. 

  • Phillip Dugaw

    You don’t get automatic upgrades with the card.  I’m Star Alliance Gold and could care less if United Cardmembers board with me or stand in the premier security line or hang out with me in the United Club, the only thing I really care about is my upgrade priority, which they are not eligible for unless they reach Premier status by actually flying. That’s the real benefit of elite status.

  • TMMao

    Just received my new UA Premier card and it’s valid through January 2012.  All that work and flying for one month of elite status?

  • prinsez

    If your are that close to making status, you know it! Its up to you to complete the needed EQMS. If they give this guy status then what about the next guy who comes begging and the one after him? Soon you have a bunch of elite fliers who truely didnt earn it!

  • psteinmetz

    If somebody is close, they need to keep track and book an extra flight to get the miles before the deadline.  Hasn’t he heard of a mileage run?
    I thought it was generous of United to offer to convert 20K miles into the required status miles.  He should take that offer and pay more attention next year.

  • Poley King

    If he posted it on flyertalk  he would get flamed. Everyone else + me went on a mileage run to pick up the extra miles necessary.

  • Poley King

    where should the limit be? 1 mile? 10? 20? 200? 300? 1000? Short is short

  • Poley King

    US airlines don’t match status to those who are losing their status. At this time of year they will request a card with a much further out expiration date then 1/31/12 or 2/29/2012

  • flutiefan

    they didn’t tell him to “get lost”. they told him he wasn’t special and he needed to follow the rules like everyone else. good for them!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UXMZPQ4FW5NIVC526OBXHVUJBA Decent American

    He is NOT a customer UAL or any airline really wants. He barely reaches the lowest rung of the Elite Ladder. They would rather cut him loose than work to keep him especially since CO and UA have combined their FF awards program. Now if he was a few miles short of reaching Premiere ELITE, then I’m sure they would have worked hard to keep him. 

  • Bunny Faber

    Totally, it’s about the upgrades. The only benefit to having the card (and Silver status) is checked bag fee waived and walking on the blue carpet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SSRedG Red Guevarra

    Seriously, these United stories are making me vomit. I’m still a Delta Medallion, a KLM Silver and an Alaska MVP – because I stay away from United.