Update: United has once again extended Global Services status, this time through 1/31/23. This is the first US status to be extended for another year. Do you think more airlines will extend status?
Originally posted on 8/6/20:
United’s Global Services status is one of the top elite status levels in the world.
The exact criteria for the status are a trade secret, but in a typical year you would have to spend roughly $50,000 on United flights to be invited to the Global Services program. Other methods of getting the status include being a 4 million miler (including credit card EQMs earned before the Continental merger), a 4 million miler companion, or buying a $50,000 PassPlus prepaid ticket package.
United previously announced a 2021 status extension for anyone who earned up to 1K status for this year, but they have taken their time in deciding whether to extend Global Services status. They finally decided to extend that status today, “Although Global Services invitations are not subject to fixed annual requirements, it’s clear that basing 2021 Global Services® program invitations off of 2020 travel activity wouldn’t fairly reward loyalty to United.”
Starting on 1/1/21, United will also allow Global Services members to use United Clubs when flying United. However they won’t be able to bring in any guests, so they will still need a United Club membership if that’s important to them.
Ironically, that’s a lower benefit than foreign based Star Alliance Gold members receive. That’s because any non-United Star Alliance Gold member can access United Clubs with a free guest, but United restricts their own members from United Clubs when flying domestically unless they have a Club membership.
This lounge benefit puts Global Services more in line with competing status levels such as American Concierge Key and Delta 360.
Unfortunately Global Services members still can’t access Polaris lounges unless flying international long-haul business class. I’m surprised that United hasn’t made an exception for Global Services members to access Polaris when flying on transcontinental or Hawaii flights in business class.
The Club access is the first real enhancement to the program in quite some time.
I first flew as a Global Services member several years ago. I was flying with the family on award tickets from Los Angeles to Cleveland, and back then everyone was able to get upgraded based on my status. However we were spread throughout the full first class cabin and the Global Services checkin agent asked if that was intentional. I said it was not and planned to figure things out at the gate or on the plane. The checkin agent just smiled and said that for their Global Services members they can make magic happen and she handed me boarding passes with all of us sitting together. I just stood there with my mouth agape.
But while some Global Services airport and phone agents go the extra mile, others are subpar. That means that you never quite know what you’re going to get.
The biggest benefits come when there are irregular operations. Officially the policy is that if your flight is cancelled, United will put you and a companion into a coach seat on the next flight, even if it means they need to bump someone else off the flight to make space for you.
In practice that didn’t always happen, but if you did enough HUCA (hang up, call again), you would typically get accommodated. If a flight looked like it might be delayed, agents would also be happy to protect you with space on another flight.
On one occasion JJ and I were in Newark and he was flying back home to Miami while I was flying to Cleveland. Weather had wiped out my flight and Global Services protected me onto another flight. JJ’s flight to Miami was cancelled and he was number 50 on the standby list for a flight to West Palm Beach. I walked with him over to the Fort Lauderdale flight gate, showed the gate agent my credentials, and he magically got an Economy Plus boarding pass for the flight.
Officially if you’re on a tight connection, United will provide a Mercedes to transfer you on the tarmac to your next flight. That doesn’t always happen in practice and there’s no way to request the service. Alas, they won’t send one if you’re traveling with kids, even if you have carseats.
However when we were at risk of missing our connection to Tel Aviv last year, United’s Global Services lead in Cleveland told me that United would do all it could to make sure that we would be taken care of.
We had a 2 hour delay in Cleveland and we only had a 2 hour and 18 minute connection in Newark.
She gave the lounge agent approval to rebook us on any airline in business class, so we were protected on Air Canada, Delta, and El Al flights:
In the end, they arranged for a cart to be waiting for us at our arrival gate and she whisked us over to United’s dedicated Tel Aviv gate in no time and we made our connecting flight despite the 2 hour delay!
United employee Feiga Tova drove the cart and had only one request, that we mention her name at the Kotel 🙂
Another time I accidentally let an electronic travel certificate expire, and the Global Services phone agent issued a new certificate to replace it.
Former United CEO Oscar Munoz also personally scanned and signed the boarding passes of Global Services members on the final United 747 flight:
United Global Services agents have also changed the name on tickets for me without charge.
They even tried to help me get kosher food to passengers stranded in Cleveland, but local agents wouldn’t answer their calls.
During the Starwood-Marriott merger I even got upgrades from Delta thanks to my United Global Services status which gave Marriott Platinum status, which gave Starwood Platinum status, which gave upgrades on Delta!
So, yes, the Global Services program is a game changer for flying and is the only way to consistently get free domestic upgrades. But the hits kept coming for the program over the past few years. United never had to even announce devaluations to the program as most of the program’s benefits are unpublished and are considered “exceptions.”
When I asked Global Services if they could confirm a devaluation, they responded with ,
“Thank you for being Global Services!
I apologize for the delay in responding back to you.
United does not have inventory conversion rules for award travel. However, we have company confidential guidelines our employees can use when considering making an exception for our Global Services customers. Please note that we do not publish or share those guidelines with our customers’.
We appreciate your valuable business, continued loyalty and support. We look forward in welcoming you on board a future United Airlines flight.”
So I guess that makes these not program devaluations, but exception devaluations 😉
- United stopped giving status benefits to people that you book on award tickets, which meant a huge devaluation for Global Services awards booked for others.
- United stopped selling first class and closed down Global First lounges that Global Services members could access even when not flying first class, though some of those became VIP lounges open for Global Services members. This also meant the end of opening First class saver award for space for Global Services members. United first class Global Services members were also able to use the Lufthansa First Class lounges, which has gone away.
- The ability to create saver economy award space (based on United selling paid tickets in T class) was changed from a benefit that you could book for an unlimited amount of people to one that could only be done if the Global Services passenger was flying and for only one additional companion.
- The ability to create saver business award space (based on United selling paid tickets in PZ class) was changed from a benefit that you could book for an unlimited amount of people to one that could only be done if the Global Services passenger was flying and for only one additional companion.
- The ability to create saver business award space for a companion (based on the Global Services member having a paid business class flight) was changed to just one segment of an itinerary instead of the full itinerary. There also now has to be at least 2 seats remaining for sale after the saver award seat is issued.
- The ability to force domestic upgrades by requesting within 24 hours of a flight was removed.
- United used to offer Marriott Platinum or Titanium status to Global Services members, but now it has been downgraded to Gold.
- There used to be no hold times for Global Services members, but hold times have increased in recent years. and the quality of agents has gone down.
- This isn’t really a devaluation, but Global Services members are escorted to the front of the Pre-Check line in some airports and I used to consider that one of the best benefits of the program. However anyone with CLEAR can pretty much get the same benefit these days.
Global Services members also got waived award close-in booking fees, but now that those fees are charged in the form of extra miles, there is no Global Services benefit for that.
But even with the devaluations, there’s still a lot of value to be had. The big one is that upgrades can be used on awards and clear into PN class, which has much more availability than PZ class that other members use. The ability to cancel awards for free is also a fun benefit, as is getting CLEAR for free, though that applies at the 1K level as well. Plus you get a a dedicated email address for issues that typically get a personal reply the same day.
I’m glad to see United actually adding some benefits the program after years of cuts, though Club access with no guests hardly makes up for all of the devaluations.
Have you flown with American Concierge Key, Delta 360, or United Global Services status? Share your stories in the comments!
HT: Leon F.