Skift Take

New qualification standards for elite status at American and Delta seem to be working as intended: Business travelers are looking forward to better exclusivity while budget travelers are giving up.

Early this fall, Chicago-based United Airlines quietly updated its MileagePlus loyalty program to change the way that some loyalty members will earn elite status.

To qualify for top-tier 1K elite status in 2018, passengers are required to fly 100,000 miles and spend at least $12,000 with the carrier. Starting in 2019, that spend component is moving up 25% to $15,000. Six weeks later, American Airlines made an identical change for the top Executive Platinum tier in its AAdvantage program.

Moving the goal posts for elite status qualification will help put United and American on more of a competitive playing field with Delta, which requires $15,000 in spend and 125,000 flown miles for its top Diamond tier. But it will also make it harder for some travelers on the two carriers to earn elite status.

Many business travelers, however, don’t see the new status requirements as an issue. That seemed to be the consensus when Skift sought opinions from flyers on the internet.

Tim Stevens, the editor-in-chief of The Roadshow on CNET travels exclusively for work — largely as a 1K on United, said: “I tend to make a lot of international business flights booked on relatively short notice, and because of that I usually hit the qualifying spend requirement well before hitting the mileage threshold,” he said. “I don’t anticipate any impact and I don’t believe it’ll affect my carrier preference next year.”

Others agree. “I welcome the changes,” said Jim Anderson, a business and regulatory consultant based on the West Coast who flies regularly on United Airlines. “There seemingly are too many elites, so I support efforts to help thin the herd so to speak. For myself, the additional spend is not an issue as we already spend in excess of $15,000 annually.”

Indeed, for those traveling on the company dime, the move between requiring $12,000 and $15,000 each year doesn’t seem to be a major hurdle. “If I wanted to put my 2019 spend on United, I’d make 1K by March or April under the new requirements,” said David Huberman, a senior specialist at ICANN who regularly flies internationally in business class.

As Anderson points out, high-spend travelers also see a hidden upside when the cost of qualification goes up: with fewer top tier elites in the pool, it’s easier for the airline to recognize its best customers with upgrades and other high-end perks. Lounges and boarding zones also become less congested with fewer passengers vying for access.

One segment that’s not happy with the new status requirements is the group that travels on a budget, whether that’s through purely recreational means or corporate policy. That segment, which is used to planning ahead and buying the cheapest fare on the market, will have a harder time trying to earn top-tier status in 2019 — even if it flies well over 100,000 miles.

“It’s seems the airlines don’t care about those who don’t pay for business class tickets anymore,” said Tomi Pierucci, who used to run a startup between Buenos Aires and San Francisco and who flew on American as an Executive Platinum member. “I’m one of those passengers who will pay for the cheapest ticket – but who will always book American in order to maintain status,” he explains. “It seems that next year it won’t be possible.”


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Tags: aadvantage, loyalty, mileageplus

Photo credit: FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015 file photo, travelers walk to their gates at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. For those who travel frequently on business, New Year’s resolutions for include finding ways to stay fit, keep calm and build in time for leisure outings on business trips in 2016. Nam Y. Huh / (AP Photo, File)

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