Frequent Flyer

United Copycats Delta’s Higher Elite Requirements

Following Delta’s lead, United has increased by 20 percent the amount MileagePlus members must spend during 2015 to earn elite status in 2016.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Delta must be positively blushing at United’s recent mileage-program moves.

First, there was United’s wholesale copying of Delta’s new-for-2015 spend-based program. Apparently, when it comes to the design of loyalty programs, intellectual property rights don’t apply. If they did, Delta would have a strong case against United for copying, detail for detail, Delta’s new scheme.

And now, on a smaller scale, United has cut-and-pasted into MileagePlus Delta’s upcoming change to its elite-qualification requirements, announced last month.

As with Delta, United will require 20 percent more spending during 2015 to qualify for elite status in 2016. The elite-qualifying revenue (PQDs, or Premier-qualifying dollars in United’s terminology) requirements will increase as follows:

  • Silver – Increase from $2,500 to $3,000
  • Gold – Increase from $5,000 to $6,000
  • Platinum – Increase from $7,500 to $9,000
  • 1K – Increase from $10,000 to $12,000

The current elite-qualifying mile and segment requirements will remain unchanged.

A company’s best moves are often mimicked by other companies operating in the same space. That’s the nature of competition. But United’s shameless imitation of Delta’s loyalty marketing is eye-popping in its brazenness. And it raises the question of customer focus: Where is United’s, on its customers or on its competitors?

At least for the time being, American will not be copying Delta and United’s move to revenue-based programs, or adding a spend requirement to qualify for elite status. So there is an alternative. There’s a novel idea!

Reader Reality Check

Next year, travelers will face a clear choice, between the revenue-based programs of Delta and United, on the one hand, and American’s traditional mileage-based program, on the other. Which side will you be on?

This article originally appeared on

By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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