Funny how some P&M (pissing and moaning) gets you traffic.
Soon after writing about my United Airlines encounter, when I was told by a UA employee the criteria for getting Global Services status on UA were unknown to him, I've received a whole lotta support from readers, helping me to find out. What surprised me were emails from frequent fliers, even a reporter covering the airline beat, asking me to share if I found out how to get into this exclusive loyalty program. Could this info really be THAT proprietary?I was enlightened by Nicole Simon's suggestion to go check out FlyerTalk, an online community for frequent fliers, where many of the deep mysteries of loyalty programs are discussed and sometimes even unearthed. I was somewhat shocked by the fury with which some of these members respond to people like myself and John Battelle, who like to P&M about their airline loyalty programs. Apparently, there is a class of people much more sophisticated and informed in the ways of the Mileage Plus Program than us mere mortals. Those of us who resist the force are struck down with their unintelligible abbreviations and acronyms. One example of a question posed by a 1K member:
It seems amazingly difficult for me to get a confirmed SWU upgrade seat on international flights at booking time. Since S, T,K, and L seats can't upgrade on SWUs to use them you have to buy a more expensive ticket ... I wonder if UAs fuller flights will make up for the loss of revenue from people like me who may be paying less than before to get STKL tickets since I can't confirm the upgrade and don't want to take the chance of paying a high fare and still ending up in Y.
And some answers:
United inventory is not trying to get you to buy a W instead of an S. They are trying to get you to buy a C instead of a W and hoping for an upgrade ... Based on my limited experience, I would say that experimenting with other airlines is not going to increase your chances of upgrades from Y to C.
With all of the problems with UA and their product, the only thing they really have going for them is the liberal upgrade policy. I can't think of any other airline that hands out upgrades on intl'l flights like UA - certainly no foreign carrier...Having said that, yes things have gotten tighter. A lot of it is due to higher paid loads in intl C cabins. I tried to buy a seat BKK-LAX on 11/18, but it wasl all zeroed out in C/D/Z buckets from BKK to NRT. I was also looking at LAX-NRT on 12/7. Same thing. Go figure...
But there is no doubt that UA IM is getting more stingy when there are fairly light loads also...I guess they have figured out that a large percentage of 1K's are willing to wait up until the gate for their Y>C upgrade...Now, if only they had a C/F product worth paying for.
One user lauds the receipt of his 2010 "GS Packet" in the mail with such pride you'd think he/she got into Harvard. Lordy I'm afraid to go back and see if I've sullied my name in the bowels of the discussion threads. There seems to be a particular disdain for people with delusions of grandeur who blog their discontent hoping the airlines will treat them better than everyone else. One thing is clear to me here. The "real" MP members know the rules and take their lumps when they don't get upgraded. Money talks.
What also surprised me is that while I consider myself a fairly particular and oftentimes petty frequent flier, I'm virginesque. New to this world of openly discussing my frequent flyer status, which I may not do until I speak Mileage Plus (MP). Consider me a permanent lurker.My husband scoured a few websites and found some educated conjecture that GS membership was likely the result of purchasing many full-freight business or first-class fares. Or just spending a whole lotta money with United. So OK, I'm the coach upgrade Queen. When I recently sat in business class next to a woman who insisted her seat be changed because she was sitting too close to a loud food heater and "paid $1,500 for this seat!" I thought to myself, SUCK-AAAAHHHH!" OK so maybe I get the crappiest seats in business, but I paid a third of the price for them. I suppose I do not fit the profile of the "fit to be in Global Services" customer.
Still, I spoke with someone I know who has been a Global Services member on and off for years. "Some years I'm in, and some I'm not," he said. "I think this year I was downgraded to 1K." He shared that one year he appealed to United, when it became clear that his firm's senior partners' frequent flying, often at full-freight rates, still wasn't tipping the balance into Global Services membership. For his efforts his partners were upgraded, but he was not.
I am particularly grateful for this note by a United Airlines employee, who shared with me the goods:
The short of it is, you have to spend a lot of money on United. Roughly the top 1% of elites in a given year are invited to become a GS. Since what it takes to be in the top 1% changes from year to year, that's why the criteria aren't published and why it's considered "invite only". Occasionally, other people who are very important to United are given GS status, but that's only a few, probably a couple hundred at most. The other few thousand spent their way there. The GS qualification standards also "mileage run proof" in that you can't game the system by taking a bunch of long cheap trips to get GS status.
Why does this level exist? It provides services above and beyond 1K. 1K's are mainly concerned with upgrades. However, to get to be a GS, you have to BUY first or business class on a regular basis (usually on international flights), therefore, upgrades are less important. GS's have a "concierge" service that they can call at any time. They also have special lounges and check-in areas in United hubs.
How much do you have to spend to be a GS? Well, like I said it changes from year to year and I'm not allowed to tell you anyway, but look up what a first class ticket to Asia costs and do a couple of those, then you're in the ballpark of what it takes.
So now I really know that I'm not GS material.
Ironically I am writing this en route to JFK on a Virgin America flight. I had to book last-minute and the United fares were cost-prohibitive. I am loving the wireless, the food on demand, and the general lack of administrative baggage associated with this airline.
I'm told wireless is FINALLY available on all JFK/SFO United flights. Hallelujah! But given my start-up travel budget, I might have to stray a bit more.