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Are United 1K benefits that much better than Platinum?

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When it comes to airline travelers achieving and maintaining elite status on United or any other carrier, the higher you earn, the better the perks. United’s Premier 1K is the highest published Premier tier in MileagePlus, though the unpublished Global Services program, which requires tens of thousands of dollars a year in spending, trumps it.

If you’re teetering on the edge between Premier Platinum and Premier 1K, you may ask: Is it worth booking extra flights to hit the next level? The short answer is no, as it can be quite expensive to book the longer-haul domestic and international flights needed to bump you up to 1K.

But if you’re really, really close to reaching that next level, it may be worth making a push to upgrade. We’ll compare MileagePlus 1K to Platinum so you can decide if you want to make the effort to hit that next elite status level.

How to qualify for 1K status

Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) are based on the number of paid flight miles traveled and the fare purchased. Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) are a ticket’s base fare plus carrier-imposed surcharges on eligible flights. And Premier Qualifying Segments (PQSs) are based on the number of paid flown segments traveled and the fare class purchased.

Premier level PQM and PQS requirement (and PQD requirement for U.S. residents)
Premier Silver 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS (and $3,000)
Premier Gold 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS (and $6,000)
Premier Platinum 75,000 PQM or 90 PQS (and $9,000)
Premier 1K 100,000 PQM or 120 PQS (and $15,000))

The level below 1K, Premier Platinum, can be reached by flying 75,000 PQMs, 90 PQSs and spending $9,000 a year on airfare. That’s a difference of 25,000 PQMs and $6,000 in airfare from Premier 1K.

United made changes in 2019 to qualifications to achieve 1K status. There are now two ways to reach it:

  • Fly 100,000 PQMs in a calendar year and spend $15,000 PQDs on United flights, or partner flights booked on United ticket stock (up from $12,000 and effective in 2020).
  • Fly 120 PQSs in a calendar year and spend $15,000 PQDs on United flights, or partner flights booked on United ticket stock (up from $12,000 and effective in 2020).

There is no way around the $15,000 spending requirement since it’s United’s attempt at making 1K status more exclusive and harder to attain. The spending increase unveiled in 2019 is designed to keep the program’s exclusivity.

What you get with 1K status

The perks that come with Premier 1K include:

  • Six Global Premier Upgrades. You can use these to upgrade on any United flight worldwide from economy to business/first class on two-cabin planes, and from business to first class on three-cabin planes — but only if you’ve booked a full Economy fare. Fare classes S, T, L, K and G can only be upgraded on flights to select regions. Basic Economy fares or lower Economy (first bag charge/no changes allowed) fares aren’t eligible for upgrades.
  • Two additional Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs). Platinum status includes 2 RPUs, and 1K earns you another two. They cover travel in the continental U.S., Central America, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Alaska, South America (on Copa Airlines flights only), Canada, Oceania and Mexico. They’re also good on all premium transcontinental routes.
  • Instant upgrades on specific fares. Flights eligible for complimentary upgrades happen instantly, if space is available, if you bought a Y, B or M class coach fare, the airline’s top three economy fares.
  • Higher upgrade priority. For free upgrades on a domestic flight, you get priority ahead of Platinum, Gold and Silver Premier members.
  • Free food and a drink in coach. You’ll get a free ‘Choice’ menu item and drink when you’re sitting in coach if your upgrade doesn’t clear.
  • Automatic Economy Plus seat. 1K members receive an automatic upgrade to Economy Plus, which offers more legroom when they book a flight in Economy or their upgrades to first or business class don’t clear.

The only benefits Platinum members don’t receive are instant upgrades on M-class coach fares and eligibility for Global Premier upgrades.

What are they worth?

In theory, the six Global Premier Upgrades are the most valuable part of the 1K package. But the challenge for travelers is finding space to confirm an upgrade. If you’re flexible with booking far in advance for the few flights that have upgrade space open, then the upgrades can be valuable.

If you’re able to hold off booking until close to the last minute when it’s more clear which flights are less full than others, you can also get good use out of the upgrades and the extra effort could be worth the spending.

But if you’re like most people and tend to book international flights about two or three months in advance, you might find it hard to use your upgrades. And if you have to wait-list, you’ll be stuck paying a higher fare than you otherwise would. And there’s no refund of that higher fare if you don’t clear the upgrade.

As for domestic upgrade priority, don’t expect miracles, even after United raised the requirements for 1K to make them more easily available. There are usually more MileagePlus members vying for fewer business/first-class seats.

But you’ll definitely clear more upgrades as a 1K than as a Platinum. And using Global or Regional upgrades gives you priority on the waitlist ahead of everyone else hoping for free upgrades.

So our final take is you don’t need to book a bunch of extra flights just to hit 1K status. But if you’re going to hit it naturally, that’s fine, since the benefits that come with it are worth having.