I'm not sure what my total miles are for this year, but as of this date I've amassed about 240,000 miles and 40 upgrade segments. This is my balance after paying 45,000 miles for a Red Carpet Club membership and spending some of my segments on upgrades. If the demand for upgrades by other frequent fliers were not a factor, I would get to upgrade to business or first class every time I fly.
This year, despite my "1K" status, which I love to throw around when I want something from United (like a guaranteed upgrade) there are some things that still elude me. Even when I book well in advance, I get upgraded to business or first class maybe 50 percent of the time. And about 40 percent of the times that I do get upgraded, it's on a plane with what I call "lame first class"--an antiquated model that only affords bennies like a slightly wider seat and no charge for a snack box (the flight attendant even pre-opens it for me, so I don't break a nail trying to get the plastic off.) Despite the claims that some flights have wireless, I have yet to experience one, and only a handful of planes have charging outlets (and of the ones that do I need to contort myself like a Cirque du Soleil performer to reach it, feeling under my seat for the two indiscriminate holes where an outlet is rumored to be.)
Needless to say I have been disappointed in my United 1K membership, despite having flown with them an estimated 40 times this year (and about 120 times over the past 3 years), including international trips that required connecting legs on partner airlines that didn't always honor my miles (or made it difficult to redeem them), dinky puddle-jumping legs from one of their hub airports, and the standard flights to New York or Chicago.
I'll say upfront I'm not always loyal to United. Our office manager won't book me on it if I'm not flying their more common routes and have to pay a small salary to stick with them. I've flown Delta to Florida, Atlanta, and Cincinnati, which saved me time and money. I've flown Southwest to LA, San Diego, Phoenix, and Las Vegas and see no reason why I should pay more for these quick jaunts. But still, I would say I qualify as a loyal United customer because I fly them most often.
So imagine my surprise today, as I'm checking into my flight from JFK to SFO, when I ask the attendant at the check in counter what my chances are of getting upgraded:
"You are fourth on the list."
"Really. Do you think my chances are good?"
"Mmm depends. You have two other 1Ks and a Global Services member ahead of you."
I've heard of "Global Services" and see that these folks get preference over 1Ks, but I've never been sure why.
I ask the attendant, "What does it take to be a Global Services member?"
"You have to be invited."
"REALLY! And what does it take to be invited?"
"I really don't know, ma'am."
I could feel the surface of the soapbox materialize under my feet. You have to be INVITED into this club? And the criteria isn't public? Naturally, I don't take this as a final answer.
"C'mon, you must really know: Do I need a certain number of miles?"
"I don't know, ma'am."
"Do you need to spend a certain amount of money?"
"Again ma'am, I don't really know."
"Do you need to be deemed important somehow?"
The attendant shrugged his shoulders, and with this gesture I backed off. I told him,
"I'm going to find out why I haven't been invited to be a Global Services member. Mark my words."
And I say to all of you. A gal who has built a business grounded in meritocracy: Mark. My. Words.