A reader — and industry insider — copies me on a complaint to United Chairman and CEO Jeff Smisek.
Dear Mr. Smisek,
I am very dissatisfied with United Airlines Mileage Plus & its credit card partner, Chase, as I believe United has been unfaithful to the terms & conditions of the Chase Presidential Plus Credit Card, which I hold.
In 2012, I used a combination of Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM’s) earned from flying on United Airlines and PQM’s earned from my Chase Presidential Plus Credit Card to achieve United Airlines Premier Platinum Status (75,000 PQM’s earned in a calendar year). I earned 38,000 PQM’s from my Chase credit card, as this card rewards its holders with 1,000 PQM’s for each $5,000 in spend on the card. The rest of my PQM’s were earned from flying.
After achieving Premier Platinum Status, I then flew 27,284 miles on United Airlines to have a total of 102,284 PQM’s in 2012, which I believe should entitle me to Premier 1K Status.
Except that changes to the card were announced in July 2011. At the time it was stated that elite qualifying miles earned from spending on the Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard could not be used towards status above Platinum (75,000 qualifying miles).
The idea was that Continental had a 75,000 mile status level as top tier. You could earn that with spending on this credit card. And you would still be able to.
But United had a 100,000 mile status level, and the combined airline would as well. That new, higher level wouldn’t be something you could achieve through spend on this card.
The author of this email acknowledges this.
I was informed by the MileagePlus Service Center that I do not qualify for Premier 1K Status, as PQM’s earned by the United Mileage Plus Credit Card only count towards Platinum Status. The Terms & Conditions for the United MileagePlus Credit Card do state:
“Flex PQM can only be converted into PQM for attaining levels, up to and including Premier Platinum status only, that are explained and defined in the Premier Qualification Requirements section of united.com, and as such may be amended from time to time with or without notice.”
However, these terms do not state that PQM’s earned from the United Mileage Plus Credit Card can not be combined with miles flown on United Airlines to obtain Premier 1K Status.
The author of the email and I disagree on what United’s terms and conditions mean. To him, he should be able to earn Platinum with credit card qualifying miles, and then earn more miles towards 1K status (with the credit card status miles counting).
But I read the terms and conditions clearly stating that you cannot use credit card qualifying miles towards a status level higher than Platinum. Which is also how United sees it, and what they intend.
The only thing is, though? United’s IT is bad. Very bad. Everywhere and for virtually everything that they do.
And so credit card-sourced elite qualifying miles show up on a member’s elite qualifying mileage total when they log into their United account. And it combines with miles from other sources such that their mileage balance reflects over 100,000 elite qualifying miles, only they haven’t earned the 1K status that normally comes from 100,000 miles flown.
And though this change has been made, it didn’t quite penetrate the understanding of someone who organizes conferences year-round for the loyalty industry. I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for him but it does tell me that if he didn’t realize the change then it’s likely United and Chase didn’t do enough to make cardholders aware that they could no longer earn top tier elite status by putting heavy spend on this card.
Further, one wonders whether they even had an incentive to make cardholders aware, since folks continuing to think they would get this benefit would induce them towards higher and higher spend on the co-branded card that they might not make otherwise.
Indeed, this correspondent indicates they put over $1 million per year (conferences) on their card that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and no longer intend to do.
Given that it’s no longer possible to earn top tier elite status through credit card spend alone or predominantly with United, what should this person consider?
- This is hotel spend. Consider putting the spending on a card that’s going to bonus this spend more than the United Visa. Chase Sapphire Preferred gives 2.14 points per dollar that are transferrable to United for hotel spend. It does so outside the U.S., too, with no foreign currency conversion fees. Spend at Starwood properties on the Starwood Amex generates two points per dollar. The Citi Hilton Reserve Visa provided 10 Hilton HHonors points per dollar on Hilton spend..
- This is meeting spend. Starwood and Marriott both will let meeting planners earn top tier elite status based on meeting spend (Marriott awarding nights towards status with each meeting, Starwood awarding Platinum after $100,000 spend). Top tier hotel status, entirely apart from the credit card spend.
- Hilton awards top tier status after $40,000 spend in a year on the American Express Hilton Surpass card and the Citi Hilton Reserve card.
- You can spend your way to top tier status with Delta still.
With a million dollars in hotel spending available to divide up, and no ability to earn top tier status with United through such spend, there’s a whole lot of other status I might focus on instead.