United Airlines on Friday announced a massive overhaul of how its flyers will earn elite status, putting a far bigger emphasis on how much money travelers spend on United flights.
Like nearly every major airline, there are currently two main ingredients to building status with United: Miles flown with the airline (called Premier Qualifying Miles, or PQMs) and dollars spent on the airline (called Premier Qualifying Dollars). Starting next year, United is essentially eliminating the need to fly many miles with United to earn Premier status for 2021.
These changes will make it easier for heavy spenders on United flights to earn status with the airline – while making it more difficult for almost everyone else. And it puts United out of step with its competitors in making status primarily a money-spending initiative.
The primary ingredient for earning status will be spending money with the airline to earn Premier Qualifying Points on flights. United is raising the bar across the board for how much you need to spend to earn Silver, Gold, Platinum, or 1K status – for example, earning top-tier United 1K status will require $18,000 in spend – up from the current $15,000.
But more purchases will make the cut. Cash cabin upgrades, award upgrade co-pays, and even flights on many Star Alliance partners will now count toward status.
And while you can earn Premier Qualifying Flights for each segment you fly with United to earn status faster, United will also allow waive those requirements for reaching an even higher spending threshold. Here's how it looks for each of United's status tiers:
This new setup eliminates some of the confusion behind earning status by ridding the chase of fare multipliers, in which you earn more credits toward status by flying certain fare classes. Now, that metric will be based solely on the dollar amount. Every $1 spent with United = 1 Premier Qualifying Point.
Here's United's video explaining the changes.
A few things stand out about these changes:
- United is eliminating a waiver that allowed travelers to easily earn Silver, Gold, or Platinum status by spending $25,000 on one of their United MileagePlus Explorer credit cards.
- In conjunction with eliminating earning status through miles flown with the airline, that will make it harder for many travelers to build United status.
- While basic economy fares will earn PQPs, they will not earn PQFs under this new format.
- On the bright side, getting rid of that system (and the multipliers that helped you earn Premier Qualifying Miles faster) will make earning United status much easier to track.
- The number of segments you have to fly with United drops considerably. For example, you currently have to earn 120 Premier Qualifying Segments to earn top-tier 1K status. Under the new setup, that drops to just 54.
- Flying with United partners will count toward status, just in a convoluted way: Take the miles you earn on that airline, and divide it by six (or by five if it's a top partner like Lufthansa or Air Canada).
Let's be clear: Airline status isn't for everyone. The average traveler is much better off as a free agent, following cheap fares on any airline rather than trying to earn status with one.
But for frequent United flyers, this is a mix bag. Heavy spenders should be pleased. Everyone else, not so much.