A few miles short of elite status on United Airlines — now what?

No one likes to start the New Year on the wrong foot, especially if it means you’ll be treated a little bit less special by your preferred airline. But that’s exactly what Matin Nazir is facing.

He didn’t qualify for Premier status with United Airlines for 2012, after five straight years of elite-ness.

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Perhaps most frustrating, he’s only a few miles — and a few hours — from renewing his Mileage Plus status.

“I’ve fallen short by a mere 617 miles,” he told me.

He adds,

I have called United Airlines and begged them to extend the deadline to two more days. I have a return flight on Jan. 2 for 2,565 miles, which will put me over the threshold they require.

But they are not budging.

Instead, they are asking for 20,000 hard-earned miles so they can convert it to 2,000 Elite Qualifying Miles which will meet the gap. I find that excessive and somewhat unnecessary.

Is Mileage Plus status something worth fighting for? Sure.

Premier members can check two bags “for free,” pay reduced award ticket fees and enjoy early boarding privileges in exchange for their loyalty, plus many other benefits.

Despite my often harsh criticism of airline loyalty programs, I can understand why Nazir would want to keep his Premier status.

I suggested he send a brief, polite appeal to a United manager, asking the airline to take another look at his request. United can pull up Nazir’s award program information and determine exactly how valuable he is to United. Based on that, I thought he stood a pretty good chance of having an exception made.

Here’s the response:

As Customer Care Representatives, we are the ears of United’s senior leadership team when it comes to our guest’s post travel experiences. Based on your letters to both Customer Relations and Premier Mileage Plus, it is clear that you’ve noticed a decline in our overall service as an airline. While hearing these types of comments are regrettable, I know it is necessary to identify areas of improvement in our business.

I can understand your concern regarding your elite status request with United. We regret to hear that our Mileageplus agents are not being more supportive and attentive to your request. Unfortunately, Customer Care is dedicated to assist passenger with past date travel concerns and do not have access to modify or authorize your United MileagePlus account. We appreciate your efforts in seeking assistance thru our Customer Care department.

Moving forward, we will not be able to grant your request to extend your status into 2012 without meeting the published criteria. Please understand that doing so will make the Mileage Plus program lose its integrity of something that is truly earned. Because your concerns have been escalated to United’s highest level of Customer Care and Mileage Plus, we have reached an impasse and are firm with our decision to deny your request. I recognize that this is not the resolution you were expecting and I apologize that I could not honor your requests.

As you are a Premier member of our MileagePlus program, your business and goodwill are especially important to us. It is always a privilege to serve you.

Reading between the lines on this reply, it seems United Airlines did check Nazir’s file, and apparently found that he had complained about United’s service several times before. Curiously, although the form response says he contacted the wrong place, the second pasted paragraph suggests he did, in fact, reach the correct department — because it turned down his appeal.

My takeaway is that when United considers a special request to waive its rules, it takes a hard look at your history to see if you’re worth it. In Nazir’s case, the little zinger (“your business and goodwill are especially important to us”) says to me that its determination is “no” he is not.

United Airlines was basically telling him to get lost.

“I have essentially reached the end of the road,” Nazir says.

Maybe it’s time to switch airlines.

(Photo: Skinny Lawyer/Flickr)

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