Shifting Airline Loyalty

Why I’m Shifting from United and airline elite status in 2020.

United First Class Cabin SFO-HNL

Based out of San Francisco, the majority of my travel over the past 10 plus years have been on United Airlines. With their recent change last year, attaining elite status just got tougher. While I was never crazy about earning status, I was able to qualify for United Silver and was just a tad shy of hitting United Gold. I don’t care much about airline loyalty as most of larger trips come via points, but I do have the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card.

At one point in 2019, I had almost 400k United Miles., which were spent on Business Class from SFO – MKE via EWR to move my younger brother into college. For Business Class from SFO – EWR for a quick getaway and finally for treating my mom on an amazing trip to Hong Kong in October 2019. United Miles are extremely easy to earn and I can easily earn 20-30k a month without much effort. I still enjoy collecting United miles and using them towards treating my parents on wonderful business class flights, but I don’t see myself flying them much going forward. Here are several reasons why.

Using United miles, I was able to fly my mother to Hong Kong in United Polaris
  1. New Mileage Plus Program and Award Availability

With their recent shift to a dynamic award chart, coupled with new methods of reaching elite status, I don’t have much reason to stick with the airline other than San Francisco being a United hub. United saver availability has gotten much harder to find. I was looking for saver awards to from SFO to NY and other places in April, and there were 0, I repeat 0 saver awards for both April and May. This may change as it gets closer to April, but so far no luck. A round trip fare is actually nearly the same price as booking two standard first class domestic awards.

2. Elite Status Changes

United Gold and Platinum were both on my radar in 2019, but I decided last minute to try China Airlines on my trip to Bali throwing my plans completely off. With this year’s shift to a revenue based elite system, it cost 5k of spend to get silver. Last year I was able to get a spend waiver with credit card spending, but this year that is no longer the case. I don’t tend to spend as much on flights, but I do travel international or longer domestic routes throughout the year. With this shift, I am better off traveling on Skyteam or Oneworld for international flights, where the distance traveled still counts towards Elite Status.

3. No More PQD Waiver

In prior years, spending $25k on a United credit card netted a premier qualifying dollar waiver for United Silve, Gold, and Platinum. While spending $25k was not too challenging, the waiver came in handy since most of my paid travel was short domestic flights and one or two long haul international flights. My flights are typically on the cheaper so meeting the spend requirement for United Silver Status is going to be a challenge. As someone who travels mainly for leisure, it almost impossible to meet the spend thresholds for United Gold and above, status levels that actually matter with United.

My Conclusion

Overall, the new changes to the Mileage Plus program negatively impact me. As a long time United flyer and recent loyalist, the sudden change makes it rather difficult to continue flying them. Although the airline has a large hub in San Francisco, Alaska Airlines and others have started entering the market. I think Alaska has one of the best domestic products available even if their first class seats pale in comparison to United, as their staff is amazing. While this doesn’t mean the end of flying United, I am going to scale back and look for new planes/airlines to try. Being based in San Francisco, I will still fly United, but when possible I will definitely evaluate my options.

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