United MileagePlus “Best Frequent-Flyer Program For Twelfth Consecutive Year”

a man in a suit and tie with his hands up

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Every now and again I catch a glimpse of a PR newswire that makes me look again. PR statements are, by definition, self-promoting so it’s never particularly surprising to see airlines boasting about accolades no one really cares about or claiming to have the best of something that no one can really measure. But a PR release by United Airlines just caught my eye and I had to click on the link to make sure I wasn’t misreading something.

The headline reads:

United Airlines MileagePlus Voted Best Frequent-Flyer Program For Twelfth Consecutive Year by Global Traveler

When I first glanced at the headline I only noticed the claim of “best frequent-flyer program” and I just assumed that United had given themselves an award of some sort and I was about to move on…but then I saw the bit about it being the “twelfth consecutive year” that they’ve won this award. I had to know more!

United Airlines MileagePlus hasn’t been one of the best frequent flyer programs at any point this century…and I’m not convinced it ever held that accolade last century either! 

If you really want to know what frequent flyers think about United and United MileagePlus you just have to head over to FlyerTalk and check out the United MileagePlus forum there. It’s been a sea of complaints for years.

From the award chart devaluations, the ever worsening customer service, elite flyers being skipped over for the complimentary upgrades, to the CFO of United, John Rainey, calling his airline’s frequent fliers “over-entitled“, it hasn’t been pretty over at United.

While it’s true that the airline has been making a few long-overdue improvements over recent months, to claim that it has the best loyalty program is laughable….and to claim it’s had the best loyalty program for the last 12 years is nothing short of ridiculous.

Nevertheless Global Traveler seems pretty happy to give United MilagePlus this award:

Congratulations to our friends at United Airlines on their recent wins in our GT Tested Reader Survey awards. Twelve consecutive years as Best Frequent-Flyer Program is quite an accomplishment.

United is not just a favorite of our readers, but also a favorite of our staff, and we can see why the carrier continues to win accolades year after year.

Up until the recently announced devaluation American’s AAdvantage program was head and shoulders above the other US airline loyalty programs. With 8 systemwide upgrades given to their top-tier elites every year (usable on just about any ticket), fantastic partner awards (albeit not on TATL routes) and 100% bonus miles for their middle-tier elites, AAdvantage blew MileagePlus out of the water year after year.

Amusingly, Global Traveler’s unique decision making wasn’t limited to airline loyalty programs. They had one more award to give to United:

Global Traveler readers also selected United as the Best Trans-Pacific Airline

Wow. Just wow.

Coincidentally, back on Friday, I compared the Economy Class seat dimensions for the major carriers on trans-pacific (TPAC) routes and, presumably to the surprise of Global Traveler readers, United was nowhere near the best. Now, I’m more than happy to accept that the seat on an aircraft isn’t the be all and end all of a flight experience but are Global Traveler’s readers seriously claiming that service in United’s TPAC Economy Class is better than that offered by Korean, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific?!

Perhaps they were voting based on premium cabin offerings? If so I’d love to meet the traveler that believes that United’s BusinessFirst product with no direct-aisle access for window seats……

United-BusinessFirst-SeatImage courtesy of United Airlines

…is better than Cathay Pacific Business Class…..


…or Singapore Airlines Business Class…..

singapore-airlines-business-classImage courtesy of Singapore Airlines

…or ANA Business Class


…I could carry on and on and on…..

I’ve absolutely no idea who Global Traveler is and what their readership does but they certainly have absolutely no idea about airlines and/or their loyalty programs. And that’s why you should pay absolutely no attention to the plethora of airline awards that get bandied about on a regular basis. They’re mostly garbage.

Featured image: Former United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek. The man who managed to unite Frequent Flyers and Wall Street – they both thought he was useless.