United Airlines will make earning MileagePlus premier status easier in 2021 with reduced qualification thresholds, free boosts for current elites, new credit card opportunities, and a lucrative promotion to start the new year.
United Airlines Lays Out Elite Status Roadmap For 2021
Getting a jump start on its competitors, United has laid out its roadmap for how MileagePlus members can earn elite status qualification for 2021.
United Reduces Thresholds For 2021-22 Elite Status
In a normal year, United requires the following spending (PQP, premier qualifying points, earned at one point per dollar on tickets issued by United) or flown segments (PQF, premier qualifying flights) plus spending:
- Premier Silver – 4,000 PQP + 12 PQF or 5,000 PQP
- Premier Gold – 8,000 PQP + 24 PQF or 10,000 PQP
- Premier Platinum – 12,000 PQP + 36 PQF or 15,000 PQP
- Premier 1K – 18,000 PQP + 54 PQF or 24,000 PQP
But we are in an extraordinary era and United has preemptively reduced both PQP and PQF thresholds in 2021 (to earn status through 2022):
- Premier Silver – 3,000 PQP + 8 PQF or 3,500 PQP
- Premier Gold – 6,000 PQP + 16 PQF or 7,000 PQP
- Premier Platinum – 9,000 PQP + 24 PQF or 10,000 PQP
- Premier 1K – 13,500 PQP + 36 PQF or 15,000 PQP
That represents a drop of up to 36% over prevailing levels.
Free PQP Boost To Start 2021 For Existing Elites
Next January, United will give existing elites a head start on status re-qualification by gifting PQPs. Members will receive 25% of the PQP-only requirement for 2021 based on their Premier status for 2020.
- Premier Silver – 875 PQP
- Premier Gold – 1,750 PQP
- Premier Platinum – 2,500 PQP
- Premier 1K – 3,750 PQP
That alone essentially drops the 1K spending requirement under $10,000 to re-qualify, contingent upon 36 segments flown.
Bonus PQP During First Quarter Of 2021
In addition to the automatic bonus coming to current MileagePlus elite members, United will offer a PQP bonus during the first quarter of 2021.
On the first three PQP-earning trips next year taken between January 1st through March 31st, members without Premier status will earn 50% bonus PQP and Premier members will earn 100% bonus PQP.
Earnings under this bonus will be capped at 1,500 PQP per trip for elites or 1,000 PQP for general members. There will be an earnings floor of at least 150 PQP, regardless of ticket price.
Earn Elite Status Via United Credit Cards
In what could potentially be the most interesting development, United promises that credit card spending will also count toward your PQP total.
PQP earned from eligible MileagePlus credit cards – including the MileagePlus Explorer card – will now count toward Premier 1K® status if the PQF requirement is met.
I asked United’s Vice President of Loyalty, Luc Bondar, about whether this would create a glut of new top-tier elites and he cautioned me that there will be “appropriate conditions” to “prevent loopholes.”
It appears United will cap PQP credit card earnings at 500 PQP after spending $12,000 and another 500 PQP for crossing over $24,000 in spending, but stay tuned for more details.
More Upgrade Opportunities
For those who actually do a lot of flying, earning upgrades will be easier than ever before. After earning Premier 1K status and 15,000 PQP, members will earn 20 PlusPoints for every additional 2,000 PQP in 2021 versus every 3,000 PQP in 2020. There is no limit to how many PlusPoints can be earned.
In addition, all PlusPoints that are set to expire on or after Jan. 1, 2021 will be extended by an additional six months.
Will This Work?
This is an optimistic plan. It is also a generous plan, especially if Chase/United co-branded credit card spending will count toward elite status. Whether it will work or not depends upon how the United States and other nations address COVID-19 in the weeks and months to come. Already, officials from the incoming Administration have floated the idea of a new nationwide lockdown for 4-6 weeks.
Bondar stressed what he saw as the wisdom of the new MileagePlus program moving away from a distance-based model:
“Don’t fly frivolously. Our new model is quite beneficial in the current environment. Currently, everyone pauses and says ‘do I really need the this trip. Since elite status is not driven my by mileage or distance, it reduces the need to travel or take unnecessary trips. We require a lot less flying of our members compared to our competitors because we have removed the distance-based component.”
While I think distance is still a barometer of loyalty, United’s model is indeed probably better suited for the pandemic era than that of American and Delta.
United Airlines will reduce thresholds for earning elite status in 2021. It will also offer a number of bonuses to help get once-frequent travelers toward that goal.
Will this news impact your elite status roadmap for 2021?
Which is the best program in star alliance now? I used to prefer turkish but now i am moving asiana.
Asiana is just annoying, though it has some sweet spots on both the earnings and redemption sides. Depends upon how much and where you fly. What does your travel pattern look like and what are your favorite redemptions? That will guide my answer.
Will Asiana even remain in Star Alliance? I doubt they will be at the end of 2021.
For anyone who has significant US travel, I don’t think it makes sense to use a foreign carrier’s loyalty program as your main one. That being said, Asiana has a low threshold for lifetime status and doesn’t require it all to be on OZ metal. UA 1MM is much more valuable than OZ Diamond Plus Lifetime.
Are you able to get clarification from UA if the 100% match on the first three trips will count from partner-operated flights? I have two likely trips I need to take on partners in Q1 and would be great if those were doubled toward the PQP requirement.
United or United Express flights only.
I already have a Plat extension through 2021 (and was 1K for a number of years before that). Even with lower thresholds next year, I’m not sure how much difference it will make to me. I am likely to have only a few personal flights in the next 6 months or so (and probably purchasing F, where status does not add much), and none for business. Even if international travel returns mid-2021, I think I would be inclined to use miles transferred from credit cards (where they have just been piling up) for maximum flexibility, and would try to fly on airlines with a higher level of soft product and better lounges – i.e., unlikely to be on UA. Until they restore their soft product, UA would have to be absolutely the cheapest or lowest miles business class by a nice margin before I would choose them. I don’t think status or earning miles will be much of a factor in who to fly until the pandemic is over.
Very much agree here. Having been GS and currently 1K, with my much reduced travel demand, esp for business, these lower levels aren’t particularly enticing. And like Arthur here, I’ll just buy biz. The soft product options and service on my frequented routes (tyo, zrh) are, well, just better. (Sorry, UA, I tried to warn you.) Domestically, it’s probably going to be JSX, Alaska, JetBlue mint. Now if only there was a good option sfo-iah.
I used to be a 1K. This current muddle of a qualification system I haven’t invested the time needed to figure out what it all means.
Basically, how far you fly is now irrelevant – it’s just spend (with a minor “discount” with a certain number of segments)
It’s still going to be tight to hit 1K again. I don’t see business travel coming back until Q2 (optimistically) but likely Q3. Though I do have a $4.5K travel credit expiring in Jan 2022 so hopefully my company will book a South Korea sales meeting before the year is over and I’ll get half the required PQP from that trip alone.
Could someone please explain what Mr. Bondar is talking about when he says “prevent loopholes?” I’ve seen this language before recently. What loopholes might those be? Does United MP have a revenue protection policy to hunt down mileage runners? If so—leaving COVID aside—how does mileage running harm United? If anything, they are receiving more revenue—to keep their staff employed. Or are the loopholes something else entirely?
I think what he meant was that United is still invested in keeping 1K an exclusive product, the whole “if everyone is an elite, no one is an elite” mantra. 1K will not be as easy as putting $15-20K in spending on your credit card and flying 36 segments…no way. That would swell the ranks too much.
Remember Matthew some of us were already earning PQP that allowed for 1K due to legacy CCs!
This is great news Matthew! As a 1K, I like the fact that I’m almost guaranteed Silver in 2022 and have to spend around $5k in Q1 to keep my 1K status in 2022 (flying 36 flights). That really helps prevent me from becoming a free agent or switching to AA.
Do you have re qualify for 1k in 2020 to get the PQP boost or do all 1K members get that got extended from 1999 and those that either re qualified or made it in 2020.
You do not have to re-qualify – all those grandfathered over from 2019/20 to 20/21 will get the bump.
A bit off topic on this but somewhat relevant. In 2019 United granted me 1K status (Platinum earned) as a result of falling ill and being on a travel restriction by my MD for about half the year. Since I had earned 1K status for about a decade straight United granted me 1K status in 2019 for 2020 qualification. Will my 1K status be extended into 2021 or will it be Platinum since that is what I actually earned?
Any word yet on how a) folks living overseas benefit differently and b) if the system for earning PQPs via partner airlines changes. TEV
I asked Luc both questions – no changes.