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Overview

Note: An introductory overview of frequent flier programs is still needed.

United Airlines (UA; Star Alliance)

United Airlines (UA) is one of the major United States carriers. Its route map covers most of the US (though in varying density), and in combination with its Star Alliance partners (which collectively make up the largest of the three worldwide airline groups), it also provides international coverage for most of the world. The most significant advantage for UA is its "Economy Plus" section, which offers up to six inches of additional legroom for any frequent flier or for normal fliers who pay a fee. This feature is very important for tall fliers and for those who anticipate long flights. The most significant drawback for UA is that it has poor service to South America, and especially to Chile. Observers who anticipate significant travel to Chile should weigh the value of UA against its competitors, most notably American Airlines. The current United Airlines is based on a merger of the existing United Airlines and Continental Airlines, and many aspects are still being standardized between the two systems.

Domestic hub locations: San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Chicago (ORD), Cleveland (CLE), Washington DC (IAD), New York/Newark (EWR).

Major international destinations: Tokyo (NRT), Munchen (MUC), Frankfort (FRA), London (LHR).

Strong coverage in: Hawaii, Western United States, Midwestern United States, Europe, Asia, Australia.

Weaker coverage in: Eastern United states, South America, and especially Chile. The merger with Continental Airlines is helping with eastern coverage, adding hubs in New York and Cleveland. Chilean coverage is extremely poor; the impending membership of TAM (Brazil) in Star Alliance could help, but UA and Star Alliance appear unlikely to offer direct flights to Santiago in the near future.

Other features of note:

Economy Plus: All of the airplanes from the pre-merger United Airlines fleet (except those with 50 or fewer seats) have a section called "Economy Plus", typically the first 6-12 rows of economy. These seats are spaced 35-36 inches apart, versus 30-31 inches for normal Economy seats. By definition, all exit row seats with additional legroom are classified as Economy Plus, even if located in the Economy section. This section otherwise has standard economy service. This service is being added to the pre-merger Continental Airlines fleet over the course of 2012.

Unlimited Domestic Upgrades: All United Mileage Plus members with at least Premier Silver status are automatically placed in the upgrade queue for any domestic flight. These upgrades then clear in order of fare class and status. This process is a distinct contrast from some other airlines (like AA) which give frequent fliers upgrade vouchers that must be explicitly applied to a flight. The benefit of the UA strategy is that low-tier fliers can clear upgrades quite often on routes that do not see many frequent fliers (e.g., to/from Hawaii). However, routes with many frequent fliers (especially those out of IAD or SFO, or between hubs) can be virtually impossible to upgrade unless you have 1K status, and sometimes not even then.

Tiers of Frequent Flier Status

United Airlines has four tiers of frequent flier status, plus a fifth tier that is reserved for very high spenders (and hence is unlikely to be directly relevant to you). Note that these tiers have been renamed for 2012, and are now known as:

Premier Silver (25k elite qualifying miles): Fliers in this tier are allowed to sit in Economy Plus seating, but they can only choose those seats at time of check-in (less than 24 hours before departure). This tier also can use elite check-in lines at most of the airports where United maintains a significant presence, bypassing the long check-in and security lines for non-status fliers. Finally, they receive a 25% bonus on the frequent flier miles earned from a flight.

Premier Gold (50k elite qualifying miles): Fliers in this tier can book directly into Economy Plus seating, unlike Premier Silver fliers. Another significant benefit is that this tier allows access to any Star Alliance Lounge (for the frequent flier and one guest) while flying internationally, which can be vital for long layovers or in case of flight delays. The mileage bonus is also larger (50%). Finally, Premier Gold fliers can confirm same-day changes on domestic itineraries without paying the standard $75 fee.

Premier Platinum (75k elite qualifying miles): Fliers in this tier receive a 75% mileage bonus, as well as receiving two regional upgrade certificates (which can be used for advance upgrades for domestic flights).

Premier 1K (100k elite qualifying miles): This tier carries a significant number of advantages. It is the top tier accessible purely via miles, and 1K fliers typically have separate check-in lines (shared with business class fliers), a dedicated customer service line for only 1Ks, and many other perks. They receive at least four regional upgrade certificates, plus six Global Premier Upgrades (formerly known as System Wide Upgrades). Global Premier Upgrades can be used to upgrade to an international premium cabin, albeit excluding highly discounted fare classes, that is Z P S T K L G N. A Global Premier Upgrade can also be used for upgrading almost any fare class (excluding Z P) on flights that are eligible for complimentary upgrades. 1K members receive the highest mileage bonus (100%). They also are the highest priority, after global services members, for receiving operational upgrades on fully-booked international flights (which are theoretically available to all tiers, but unlikely to happen at <1K if the flight isn't severely overbooked).

Global Services: This tier is limited to a small fraction of 1Ks, and is by invitation only (based on total amount spent). It has no practical impact for a typical flier.

A more comprehensive summary of benefits can be found at this website.

Affiliated Credit Cards

For those who have status with United, it is a good idea to take out the United credit card. In 2012, United has revamped their system. They no longer offer the card with gives EQM (at least, as of this writing), though existing cards will continue. In place of the old programs, United has introduced the new United Explorer card. It is currently being offered with signup bonuses of up to 50,000 miles after the first purchase, plus it gives two free lounge passes per year and allows the first bag to be checked for free (if not already allowed by the flier's status). Go here for more details: [http://www.united.com/page/article/0,,1233,00.html]

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American Airlines

Executive summary paragraph.

Domestic hub locations:

Major international destinations:

Strong coverage in:

Weaker coverage in:

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Tiers of Frequent Flier Status

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Delta

(Volunteer needed to fill in section on Delta.)

Summary paragraph.

Domestic hub locations:

Major international destinations:

Strong coverage in:

Weaker coverage in:

Other features of note:

Feature1:

Feature2:

Tiers of Frequent Flier Status

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Southwest

(Volunteer needed to fill in section on Southwest.)

Executive summary paragraph.

Domestic hub locations:

Major international destinations:

Strong coverage in:

Weaker coverage in:

Other features of note:

Feature1:

Feature2:

Tiers of Frequent Flier Status

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Chile

AA and Delta are the only US flag carriers serving Santiago (SCL). AA is more commonly flow by astronomers. Flights connect through Miami (MIA) or Dallas (DFW). Flights through DFW are longer, but DFW D Terminal is much nicer than the MIA terminal. (Kelle is partial to the XpreSpa and La Bodega Winery). Directs to SCL from LAX and JFK are available on Lan Chile and can be bought from AA.com as a codeshare flight.

Hawaii

Australia

If you're on US government money, you probably will have to fly a US "flag carrier." For Australia, this means that you have the choice of United, American (really a Qantas flight with a American codeshare), and Delta.

United vs. American

United has Economy Plus which ensures frequent flyers will always have a little extra legroom. On AA, ALL earned miles, not just flown miles, count towards Gold status for Life. This status is much harder to obtain on United. However, American is changing their rules to match those of United in the very near future. Past miles earned will still be considered in the lifetime total, but in the future, only actual flight miles will count.

Guide to in-seat power

AA Elite Status Challenge

AA FlyerTalk

United FlyerTalk

SeatGuru Find the best seat. blog post

AstroBetter Travel Posts

Page last modified on Wednesday 01 of January, 2014 10:47:15 EST