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Are United 1K benefits that much better than Platinum?

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As the end of the year approaches, if you’re a United Premier member, you’re probably thinking about whether to book extra flights to hit the next tier.

And no move is more enticing than the progression from Premier Platinum to Premier 1K.

United Premier 1K is the highest published Premier tier in MileagePlus, though the unpublished Global Services program, which requires tens of thousands of dollars a year in spending, trumps it.

We’ll compare 1K status to Platinum below, but if you fly United a lot you’ll also be interested in these guides:

How to qualify for 1K status

You can qualify for 1K status by completing one of these two requirements:

  • Fly 100,000 Premier Qualifying Miles in a calendar year and spend $12,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars on United flights, or partner flights booked on United ticket stock.
  • Fly 120 Premier Qualifying Segments in a calendar year and spend $12,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars on United flights, or partner flights booked on United ticket stock.

There is no way around the $12,000 spending requirement.It’s United’s attempt at making Premier 1K status more exclusive and harder to attain, though if you ask a 1K they’ll tell you it doesn’t feel nearly as exclusive as it once did with so many people qualifying thanks to so many flight options since the merger with Continental.

The level below 1K, Premier Platinum, can be reached just by flying 75,000 Premier Qualifying Miles and using a MileagePlus® credit card to make $25,000 a year in purchases, so you don’t have to meet the flight spending requirement to hit Platinum.

What do you get?

Premier 1K adds these benefits on top of the Premier Platinum level:

  • 6 Global Premier Upgrades. You can use these to upgrade any United flight worldwide from Economy to Business / First Class on 2 cabin planes, and from Business to First Class on 3 cabin planes. You can read all the details on using these here, but the catch is you need to buy a ‘W’ or higher Economy fare, which is often a few hundred dollars more than the cheapest coach fare, and space needs to be available in the ‘R’ upgrade class to confirm the upgrade. Otherwise you have to waitlist for it to clear, which often doesn’t happen when seats get filled by paying or cash upgrade passengers.
  • 2 additional Regional Premier Upgrades. Platinum status includes 2 RPUs, and 1K earns you another 2. You can use these to upgrade any United flight that allows complimentary upgrades, as well as the special Newark to San Francisco P.S. flights and all flights to Hawaii, including those that don’t allow complimentary upgrades.
  • Instant upgrades on ‘M’ fares. For flights eligible for complimentary upgrades, if you’re buying an ‘M’ coach fare, which is the third highest fare, you can get upgraded instantly if upgrade space is available. Upgrade space comes out of the ‘PN’ fare class, which you can read about here. This used to be a more useful deal a few years back, but now many discount first class fares are cheaper than ‘M’ fares.
  • Higher upgrade priority. If you’re hoping for a free upgrade on a domestic flight, you get priority ahead of Platinum, Gold, and Silver Premier members. Unfortunately these upgrades have become harder as more and more First Class seats are sold for cash either ahead of time or within 24 hours while people check in and receive discounted offers. Don’t count on a lot of upgrades unless you’re flexible with your flying.
  • 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.

What are they worth?

The 6 Global Premier Upgrades in theory are the most valuable part of the 1K package compared to Platinum Premier.

The challenge 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.

And if you’re able to hold off booking until close to the last minute when it’s more clear what flights are less full than others, you can also get some 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 them. And if you have to waitlist, 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.

Generally upgrade space is easiest on flights to Europe on widebody planes and flights to Japan and Dubai. It’s toughest on flights to India and the West Coast to Hong Kong and Australia.

As for domestic upgrade priority….

Don’t expect miracles.

You’ll definitely clear more upgrades than as a Platinum. And using Global or Regional upgrades gives you priority on the waitlist ahead of people hoping for free upgrades.

If you tend to fly on higher fares you have a better shot, but United, and all airlines actually, are getting more aggressive about selling First Class seats for cheaper prices than they used to, so this is getting harder to count on.

So our take is…don’t book a bunch of extra flights just to hit 1K status.

If you’re going to hit it naturally, fine, but there aren’t really compelling reasons to hit it unless you’re flexible enough to find the pockets of international flights that are more likely to clear your Global Premier Upgrades.

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