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It was fun while it lasted (1K “elite” status on United Airlines)

What is a 1K? It’s the highest “earned” level on status on United Airlines. It’s not the highest level overall; nothing like the character in “Up in the Air” played by George Clooney. For that, the qualifications aren’t published but it’s obvious you’ve got to be buying a lot of full-fare business & first-class tickets. At United, that status is known as “GS.”

The coveted United 1K card, something I will likely see only once in my life, at least one with my name on it.

For most people, it means they fly too much and spend too much time away from home and too much money on mediocre motels and too much time in security lines. What you get in exchange for all that is the opportunity to board a plane earlier than everyone else (why this is a big thrill I don’t know; people rationalize that they need to get on the plane before the overhead space is filled up), a reasonable chance to get free upgrades into a first class seat when flying domestically and just enough chance to get an upgrade on an international flight that you spend more $$$ than you have to so you can get a qualifying fare, cross your fingers, and discover that you’re #3 on an upgrade list of 40 people (looks good!) but only #1 & #2 made it. You’re also better taken care of when things go wrong, whether due to a mechanical issue or weather.

In 2009, I accidentally flew too much. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. A number of trips back to Trek, the usual trip to DC for the Bike Summit, France in July for the Tour de France, and the biggie… a 15,000 mile round trip to Australia (Karen, my wife, really wanted to hold a Koala Bear. So we’ve got a $6000 picture of her holding a Koala Bear in the living room). Now, it normally takes 100,000 miles to get 1K status, and that’s 100,000 “BIS” (or, Butt in Seat) miles, not credit-card miles, not miles flying on award tickets. But in 2009, the airlines were in the toilet, and United offered something called “DEQM”, or Double Elite Qualifying Miles, where you got credited for two miles for each mile flown in the last quarter of the year, which coincided with the trip to Australia. That put me within 12,000 miles, so a very creative routing for a trip to DC put me over the top (5 flight segments in one direction!). Continue reading It was fun while it lasted (1K “elite” status on United Airlines)