Revisiting my Star Alliance Identity Crisis: United Airlines


Last week, I wrote about the particular problem I have with Star Alliance. After having Aegean Airlines Gold Status for the past two years, I’m disappointed to find out that it will probably come to an end in 2015 thanks to higher requalification requirements. And I’m not sure that flying nearly 50,000 miles is worth it to justify my status on an airline I will most likely never fly.

In that spirit, I’ve begun investigating different options to help me retain some semblance of status when I fly Star Alliance – because when the choices from your home airport are the “Big Four” airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, and United), you need all the help you can get. This week, I’ll investigate the pros and cons of going for status from scratch on United Airlines.

Come fly the friendly skies?

According to Wikipedia, United directly flies to 78 airlines across the United States, and over 100 more around the world – not that you would want to fly United internationally, but you could. Once a leader in air travel, United serves more destinations than American Airlines, but less than Delta Air Lines. None the less, United offers a healthy mix of destinations and air routes that will allow me to get to where I’m going with relative ease.

As published earlier this year, the same 48,000 miles I would have to fly on United to requalify for Aegean Miles and Bonus Gold would get me most of the way to United Premier Gold Status. As a Premier Gold, I would benefit from many of the elite benefits that I enjoy today, including priority check-in and boarding, free checked luggage, and same-day flight changes. In addition, I would get the added perk of qualifying for upgrades – something that I don’t get as a Aegean elite.

Out of my home base of Port Columbus International Airport, discount award seats are often plentiful on United, allowing me to fly on miles nearly at will. With all of these perks, making United my new Star Alliance partner seems to be the best route.

Or is it?

But are they that friendly?

As I outlined in my previous post, there are several inherent flaws with United that I find frustrating – to the point where I’m not sure that United is the best partner for my flying habits. To begin, the new mileage earning system has lost all semblance of generosity. Instead of earning award miles based on actual air distance, I’m earning based on the amount spent on my ticket…with limitations. Let’s take this example fare for example:


If I were to buy this ticket as a mileage run with no status, I would earn 4,730 Premiere Qualifying Miles, but only 1,825 award miles. Makes perfect sense, right? Flying that route and price combination 11 times a year (roughly once a month) would get me to my Premier Gold mileage, but only earn me just 20,075 miles – which may not be enough for an award ticket.

On top of this is the minor detail known as Elite Qualifying Dollars – which you probably know about by now. In the same scenario outlined above, I would have spent an estimated total of $4,015 Elite Qualifying Dollars, leaving me $1,000 short of reaching Premier Gold Status. This now turns my planned 11 flights into 15, just to make status for 2016.

But, as always, there are ways around the system.

Are there alternatives to United elite status?

There are many alternatives that I can use to either help my quest to elite status, or simulate the benefits of being an elite. Let’s start with the credit card route.

In 2015, United is continuing the Elite Qualifying Dollars waiver for Chase United credit card holders who spend at least $25,000 in a year. Though creative manufactured spending, I can probably make that threshold without many problems. This solves two problems: allowing me to make up for the missing elite miles that I would have earned from flying and gives me some elite benefits (like a free checked bag and priority boarding) until I hit Premier Gold.

But this still doesn’t solve my problem of domestic lounge access – because who wants to sit among the hoi polloi? This can be solved by upgrading to the Chase United Club card, which comes with a 50% spending bonus and United Club membership. The card also comes with a $395 fee, which is less than the American Express Platinum, but more than I’m paying now for access to the United Club.

The Verdict: Pass (for now)

If I was convinced that I would be flying exclusively on United, then this plan could work to solve my Star Alliance identity crisis. The problem that I’m facing is that I’m spending more money annually for the same benefits I receive now, with no consistency in my product or experience. Not to mention that the price of award redemption- especially on premium products to international destinations – is going up. For now, it’s time to pass over this plan to see what else is available for my flying dollar.

Next time on Tagging Miles: solving my Star Alliance Identity Crisis with international partners – is it possible??? Stay tuned!

One thought on “Revisiting my Star Alliance Identity Crisis: United Airlines

  1. I must say, I’ve flown United business class a couple of times now, and I thought it was fine. I preferred it to Lufthansa with the older seats.

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