PhoneBoy Speaks

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 703: Fly The Unfriendly Skies

Aside from a podcast where I talk about United Airlines declining service, I’ve also written a rather lengthy blog post, which is included bow the audio player.

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PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 703: Fly The Unfriendly Skies

I’ve been flying United Airlines for three decades now. When I was a kid it was to fly between San Francisco and Kona. Now it’s for business travel, which has taken me all over the globe. In all that time I’ve only managed Premier Gold twice–including this year–but at around 400k lifetime miles, I’ve given United (and Continental) quite a bit of business.

Over the years, I’ve noticed all US airlines–not just United–offer lower and lower levels of service. This includes removing meal service from transcontinental flights, eliminating routes, cramming more people into fewer planes (and adding “Economy Plus” seats), charging for checking bags (leading to more people carrying on too much stuff), and countless other ways of nickel and dining customers. And let’s not forget the fun that TSA adds to air travel these days.

Airline status, which you get for flying lots of miles on a particular airline, used to give you something of value. It still does but the value of that status, especially at the lower levels, has decreased steadily. You have to get to a Gold level status to get anything approaching appreciation for your business. With Silver, you might not get bumped from a flight if it’s full.

To add insult to injury, United is now making even those meager levels of status even harder to get by introducing an evil concept called Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD). That means your status on United is not merely a function of the number of miles you fly on United (including on Star Alliance airlines) but a function of how much money you give United in a calendar year.

The problem is: not everything you might give United money for is even included in that Premier Qualifying Dollars. You only get credit for:

  • Flight segments on United (only base fare and carrier imposed surcharges, taxes not included)
  • Flights flown on Star Alliance partners if and only if United issues the ticket (only base fare and carrier imposed surcharges, taxes not included)
  • Paid upgrades to Economy Plus seats, which I had to ask United to credit me on at least once this year.

The following items are not included in PQD:

  • Flights on Star Alliance partners where United did not issue the ticket.
  • Luggage fees
  • Paying for extra mileage (either accelerators or $X for Y miles)
  • Onboard purchases like meals, drinks, and WiFi
  • Any other reason you might give United money (Including United Club purchases)

The end result is that you now have to fly even more to get the same status level. For example, as I write this, I have flown more than 80,000 miles on United and Star Alliance partners this year, and didn’t even get credit for a couple of flights in Austrian Airlines. And yet, due to PQD, I just barely made Gold in time for a trip to South Africa where I flew 20,000+ miles, most of which was South African Airways (another Star Alliance partner). I will only see a fraction of what was spent on that ticket in terms of PQD.

For 2016, it’s even worse. You’ll need to spend $6,000 in PQD on United in 2015 to get Gold status. Which means I’ll have to endure even more of United’s declining service to achieve the same status I earned this year.

I won’t even get into the whole “level of status and amount paid for a ticket determines number of miles you get for credit” thing United is planning for 2015, which means I’ll likely earn even less miles as a result of flying.

Personally I think the whole PQD thing is dumb and is insulting to customers who actually do give United and Star Alliance partners their custom. At the very least, PQD should include any money given to United for any reason. This includes ticket change fees, Economy Club purchases, baggage fees, onboard purchases, and more. That way, at least, it accurately captures what you spend with United, which is the whole point of PQD, right?

While I’m hopeful someone in United will read this and either eliminate PQD or make their PQD policies more “Flier Friendly,” I fear United’s advertising slogan is little more than just that–a slogan.

#Cybersecurity Evangelist, Podcaster, #noagenda Producer, Frequenter of shiny metal tubes, Expressor of personal opinions, and of course, a coffee achiever.