United Airlines has a funny way of showing loyalty to its Mileage Plus loyalty program members. For those who didn’t re-qualify for status in 2021, the chosen few were given a reprieve, for everyone else, a price.
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UPDATE: United Clarifies PlusPoints
A representative from United Airlines reached out to indicate that while they had a technical error that caused some upgrades to not include PlusPoints, this error has been fixed:
“After reading your recent coverage of United’s latest MileagePlus Premier status purchase offer, I wanted to reach out to share some good news. Happy to confirm that customers who purchase Platinum, 1K or GS status through our latest offer will receive PlusPoints. We experienced a technical issue that has delayed the deposit of annual PlusPoints to select members who are purchasing to maintain status. All eligible members should see their PlusPoints deposited to their accounts in the coming weeks.”
This is good news for those who decided to spend the money. It also highlights that at the time of publication, it was correct that some upgraders were not getting the PlusPoints when they upgraded, but this has been corrected.
United Airlines MileagePlus Program Offers Status Retention
Many holders of elite status in United Airlines’ MileagePlus program were recently presented with an opportunity to pay to retain their status if they were unable to re-qualify the prior year. Depending on the amount of PQPs earned and their prior level, offers ranged from $2,000-5,000+. This represents yet another cash grab from elites following the “Fly to the Finish” promotion.
In my own experience, I accumulated around 11,000 PQPs (I failed to record the exact number following my last flight before it reset to zero but it was between 10,800 and 11,600.) I had just 15 segments leaving me well short of the requirements and beyond any mileage run opportunities that might have renewed my status organically. I more than qualified for the third-highest published tier, Premier Platinum, short of 1K.
My price for moving back into the good graces of United’s upper echelon? A staggering $4,530 – but only if I do so before February 4th at which point my price increases to $5,030. If a 1K takes them up on such an offer, initial results indicate they will not earn additional PlusPoints which can be valuable for upgrades if granted (see above note on PlusPoints), they will earn more miles on flights during the year but no MileagePlus miles for the upgrade itself.
There was no opportunity to redeem miles for the upgrade, something I might have considered depending on the number of miles required.
Some Were Granted Status For Free
As “reported” (….whined about by me), some were granted a free extra year at their current status level. In Facebook groups, some reported earning as few as half the PQP requirements required for 1K status (13,000) and a more limited run with United than others but were given an extra year anyway.
Some expressed anger at the notion that others who failed to meet the requirements received the same status and most of the same benefits as those who qualified outright. Others were unable to earn the needed MileagePlus credits to retain premier statuses in the frequent flyer program had previously been incredibly valuable to United Airlines Holdings, but haven’t been lately and received nothing.
How Many Will Become Free Agents?
In a year where everyone is eligible for a status match or challenge, this is risky behavior for the United MileagePlus program. Anecdotally, (because where would one find the figures for this anyway?) some MileagePlus members have expressed that they will take their business elsewhere. Some of them will actually do that, some will just huff and puff about it (present company excluded) and some will see how the year plays out.
I see little value in Premier Silver to Premier Platinum. Many love the Star Alliance partners and their vast connections, but I haven’t found as much value in partner airlines. I recently flew Austrian and Aegean and was surprised by limited checked luggage and little benefit to holding Star Alliance Gold status which offers fewer perks as the top level in the alliance than peers like oneworld.
That said, the upcoming year will likely require at least one trip to Armenia which is virtually impossible at present from oneworld while Star Alliance offers several options.
Pushing aside the benefits in participating in one of these status retention offers, like the miles you earn on flights or access to lounges when traveling abroad, there is a use case for considering such an offer. For flyers based at United hubs like Newark Liberty International Airport or Houston Bush Intercontinental, upgrades are hard to come by even for top-tier elites, though they stand a good chance. Paying for upgrades throughout the year may add up to as much as this retention offers cost. Personally, my travel will be mostly abroad this year, and PlusPoints just aren’t a guarantee for a seat in the front so I will likely move elsewhere.
What do you think? Did you receive a retention offer? Did you take them up on it?
Surprised at the comment re checked luggage. Aegean (and TAP, and probably also LOT) offer *G passengers a free piece of checked luggage on all fares. The benefit is pretty much exactly the same as Oneworld, where BA exclude it from HBO fares (and they don’t even have priority tags!), same policy as the LH group and SAS.
The only real advantage of oneworld top-tier status over *G is access to first-class lounges (if you can find one, it happens to be open, and it’s not called something else with the intention of keeping frequent flyers out unless they are flying in F) as opposed to business class ones. I appreciate some people may value that benefit, but I suspect that to most it feels rather marginal, to me it certainly doesn’t make up for the dire coverage in Africa, Latin America, the Balkans, Central Asia etc. From my perspective, the only serious issue with *G status is the ability of airlines to deny access to third-party lounges which they are contracting for their business class pax- thankfully the practice is currently restricted to UA and TP.
@PM – You’re correct that the “one additional piece” is the same benefit for both alliances, but the baseline is different for those carriers. For example, I flew Austrian in business class on a redemption (not a discounted cash fare) and the baggage allowance per passenger was (1) checked bag per passenger. So yes, I received an extra bag, but the lower starting point of Star Alliance carriers makes that extra baggage benefit more important but the overall star Alliance experience, less generous. For my family of three, had we flown the same fare on any oneworld carrier we would have had no less than (7) pieces total rather than (4). For a month long trip, I never thought that I’d be cutting it close on checked bags on a business class ticket with top tier Alliance status, but there we were.
I have never come across a Lufthansa group business class ticket offering just one piece of checked luggage. I can only imagine that this was either an administrative cock-up (e.g. the algorithm picking the wrong bit of rules in a mixed-class redemption) or a silly restriction dreamt up by the issuing airline (UA?) to penalise you for daring to redeem your miles- in other words, nothing to do with OS or Star Alliance.
@PM – It could have been an error at check-in, however, I did not redeem with UA.
I received an offer of $670 to move from gold to platinum. So it’s not just status retention- it’s status advances too
Nice. Is that $600 near how much PQP you needed before the end of the year to get to platinum?
They offered me $2,600 to go from Gold to Platinum. I ended the year off with 7,800 PQP, short by 2,100 for Platinum.
Don’t think $2600 is worth the upgrade, but I will be flying frequently for work, so there’s a chance I could get to 1K.
Status also helps with op-ups, I have gotten quite a few of them with TK (last flight was in Feb 2020, so I don’t know whether it continues to be the case), and recently nabbed a couple on Swiss.
@Jason – Good to know. Thanks for the data point.
I hit Platinum for the first time by just 18 PQPs and have an offer to go 1K for $7,191. Maybe if I hit the lottery!
I frequently fly star alliance, and find that the lounge access, priority check in, priority security, priority boarding, and extra bags are well worth it, and I always feel valued which is hit or miss with my 1k status on United.
@Leo – But those are all available with other alliances too. The difference is that oneworld has first-class lounges available, and the carriers (in my experience) offer more for baseline allownaces than Star Alliance carriers.
@kyle I do think that the million mile mark is important to mention before advising anyone to become a free agent. If I remember correctly, United is the only one with matching the status to a significant other, which gives us 4 bags of 23kg on every flight. Air Canada and Turkish has also upgraded us on the past, which wasn’t expected. More than 4 checked bags and 2 carry-ons becomes difficult to fit into a car/navigate the airport with. Going to Europe, there are just so many choices with star alliance with SAS, Swiss, TAP, Austrian, Lufthansa, LOT, Turkish Air, that it’s a non-starter to even look at One World, unless travel to Russia is in the cards.
The worst part is that there is little benefit to having status anymore. With the new crew member union contract, crew members get upgraded to 1st class before status members, and with little no no hot food on flights, even the meal in the regular sections if the plane have been reduced to a box. I have been platinum or 1k for the last 12 years, and I can honestly say that the United experience truly sucks now.
My wife is a senior UA Flight Attendant and I can tell you unequivocally that crew do not get upgrades over and above paying passengers with status. Also, I chuckle when I hear passengers complain about food on flights. It’s not a restaurant. If you are truly hungry buy food in the airport terminal.
Flight attendants may not, but deadheading pilots do. It was agreed upon in the 2020 LOA.
It happened to me on 1/21. I was going from SAN-DEN-CMH and tried to use plus points to upgrade. Received upgrade on SAN-DEN. Number 1 in the list from DEN-CMH and 2 pilots dead heading for the last 2 seats. That’s fine if UA is going to upgrade non revs over paying passengers, then I guess I’ll look elsewhere
Yes you are correct deadheading pilots do if there’s availability before upgrades.
Off topic. Am I the only one having trouble with the website? Every time I write something it takes forever to load into the comments section.
@Satastico – There were some server troubles yesterday that appeared to have been resolved at the time. I will make the relevant parties aware.
Santastico, maybe the computer can’t handle your
Received a similar offer and the irony is it would have been cheaper to buy a flight to make up the missing PQPs than paying for this status upgrade fee of $4500. I had colleagues who flew 0 miles in 2021 and be granted an extension of their 1k status.
United wants $12K to upgrade me to 1K. Although I never considered it, without pointsplus why would i?
Interesting, I got to retain my silver status which I achieved in 2019. I got a email a few weeks ago noting that I’ll get to keep my silver status through January 2023, even though I only took four quick flights from Toronto to DC last year. Thankful for it regardless.
I received an offer to go to 1k for $6k. I am going to be traveling much more in 2022, so I am doing some math to see if it’s worth it. I am based in Houston and often purchase First upgrades.
@Shavonnah Roberts Schreiber – Status match to another carrier if you have another frequent destination with non-stops from Houston. There’s definitely a use case for spending the $6k if you’re buying those upgrades anyway, but my experience in and out of Houston to the coasts run $300-500 each way. At $6k you’re basically buying 12-20 one-way upgrades and giving UA a loan on that amount but also exchanging a guaranteed seat for a possible upgrade. At 6-10 roundtrips you have broken even but that assumes you hit at every upgrade for free from a UA hub.
Re: not worth it to keep *G.
Gold or better status is invaluable during irrops. I have jumped the standby line and got home on time or even earlier solely because I was valued a tiny bit more other folks.
And trust me, y’all are going to see a whole lot more irrops in 2022.
Not worth $4k-$6k though in most cases.
At least UA should offer a 4k status for this,.ha!
So are you moving to AA or DL?
I would caution anybody thinking about moving to another airline. I view AA and UA as pretty much the same, so if the routes of one work, there’s no point in switching. I travel to Atlanta a lot, so I did a Delta Platinum status match, and honestly hated every minute of it. Upgrades rarely cleared, there were almost always 50+ people on upgrade lists, SkyClubs are always insanely packed, and in the rare case an upgrade did clear, the quality of food and drink seems lower than AA and UA. Delta just seems to have way too many elites. The whole experience really made me appreciate AA, and I do understand how ridiculous that sounds.
I got an offer for $4600 to move to 1K, I had 36 segments but short on PGD by $2000. I am irked that all of mine were BIS miles and others got 1K without flying a mile. I am out of Washington, hard to get upgrades even on 767,
After being out of work for 18 months, I started a new role that would require frequent flights across the US. Starting mid April, through the end of the year I flew 36 segments on United, but because our company has negotiatined prices with airlines, I missed the PQP level for Gold status by 500 PQP. United offered me the chance to pay $900 to upgrade to Gold from Silver. I might have considered it for $500, but not $900.
Not only is this new PQP qualifier a joke, but actual miles earn rarely match the mileage listed when you book the flight. My home airport is ORD, and United flies direct to most of the destinations I frequent. I have 2 American flights scheduled in the coming weeks, so I’m interested to see how they measure up. One thing I noticed right away with America is if you pay for a better seat they automatically move you into a better boarding group. Before I received silver status with United, I was paying for better seats out of my pocket, but was never moved up out of boarding group 4, which is second to the last group for them.
Interesting, I was 115 miles short of gold and they gave me the upgrade purchase for $360. I was wondering if this price was based on how far off a flyer was, and your post answered my question. We did take it as we live in the remote tropics and the upgrades on gold are valuable. Plus with the recent travel restrictions on the region, doing a quick flight to top was not a great option.
@Jen – $360 for a 115 miles short is insulting.
My 2021 UA 1K status was carried over from 2020 and I was glad to have it. I did some transcon trips last summer and with the madhouse airports plus packed planes, having those 1K perks substantially eased those travel pains including scoring some nice upgrades and dealing with irrops. I knew my travel would increase a good bit in 2022 so I re-qualified for 1K via FttF between some personal & biz travel. Am I happy UA is playing all these status upgrade/qualification games? No, but being out of SFO, UA has the best routes so switching to AA or DL isn’t in the cards.
As far as *A Gold, I’m a 1MM so have that for life and while the perks aren’t substantial, I’ve found it better to have that status than not when travelling abroad especially for check-in and lounge access.
I was given Platinum $2500 before I reached the 10k spend,
I would have made it by transferring flexible elite miles from Presidential Plus CC at end of December, now I can save them to help with 2023 status.
They just offered me 1k for $7500.
Not worth it to me, especially if you dont get the plus points
I got the same email about retaining my silver status and I flew 0 miles.
I’m 1K, but United doesn’t even let me use their airport lounges for domestic flights that are shorter than 5 hrs. I actually never received complimentary upgrades last year because domestic First class seats were all sold out by paid and plus point customers. So unless you fly international, what’s the point of 1K status after spending $50,000/year to United? 1K, Platinum, and Gold are all the same except the tiered bonus miles.
@ Kyle: I didn’t follow what you meant in the last segment of this sentence: “If a 1K takes them up on such an offer, initial results indicate they will not earn additional PlusPoints which can be valuable for upgrades if granted, they will earn more miles on flights during the year but no MileagePlus miles for the upgrade itself.”
I am pretty sure that United MP let’s you earn miles with a buy up to first. Other that paying to upgrade, I’m not following how you would earn MP miles for upgrading. Thanks for clarifying.
The routes you fly matter more than your status. We live in Houston (IAH).
My wife has been Silver for years and has 10o% upgrade success to Guatemala. Upgrades on her international flights give United lounge access for free.
I am 1K and have 0% upgrade success on flights to Austin. I cannot get into a United lounge based on my status and I pay for over 150 UA flights annually.
So, if my wife were $500 short of Silver it would be worth it for her.
If I were $5 short of 1K it would not be worth it for me.
I have already received CPU for next week’s flights to IAD and EWR but not to ORD.
It’s all about the routes.
I was fortunate enough to have my 1k status carried over one more year, the same way it was the year prior. I only hit 13,000 miles, about the same as in 2020. I forgot how many premiere qualifying points, but I know I easily hit the Platinum level qualifications. My assumption is that United carried my 1K status through both pandemic years because of my 2 million mile flier status, and having been a 1k customer very year since 2004, even achieving Global Service status in 2015 and 2016. While doing this for some customers and not all, probably upsets many of those left behind. I know United values the most loyal and highest level customers a lot and this os why they’ve done what they’ve done. They’ve earned my loyalty for the remainder of my traveling life, by returning my past loyalty in this manner.
Random comment, but QR flies to Yerevan. I was looking at a trip. I am Platinum Pro on AA and wanted to fly OW, so that’s how I know. Just looked recently. I have not booked, but check it out.
@Suz – Thanks. I did see itineraries via Doha but they were particularly long from Pittsburgh and expensive. If I were to switch back to AA, I wouldn’t be able to use upgrades on these routes either as AA does not have flights loaded to DOH on their own metal for some time. That would leave me flying to Dallas then to Doha then enduring a long layover before finding my way to Yerevan for nearly twice the cost of a shorter route via FRA/MUC where I would be able to use United PlusPoints. For what it’s worth, S7 is a oneworld carrier out of Russia that flies to EVN a few times weekly but connections are tough.
That definitely is a lot of work for one trip, I agree. Hopefully once AA metal flies to DOHA it will be easier. I guess that is one very logical reason for the move. I never thought about that.
I am Platnium and missed 1K by 2 PQF and $150 PQP. United canceled my last flight on Dec 29th due to “covid” shortages which would have qualified me as 1K. United’s compromise was to offer to upgrade me to 1K for $2303 in January. I found this to be highly insulting to cancel a flight then ask for 10x the amount to upgrade me to the status the canceled flight would have given.
Another insult by United was I called about missing 1K because of the flight in December on the day of cancelation and was told they would extend my earning period to Jan 30th to make 1K. I completed my qualifying flights on Jan 4th. But when I called United, they told me no such policy exists and the note on my account for 1K earning extension by the manager was in error and I had to pay $2303 if I wanted 1K. Truly terrible customer service.
I was very surprised to be upgraded IAH-SFO on Saturday. As a platinum member, complimentary upgrades just don’t exist with my SFO home. For years, I have attempted to use the Plus Points and have only been successful once, going from economy to the new economy plus over the Pond. I routinely sit next to 1k and even GS in the main cabin. I maintained my Platinum status last year with the Fly to the Finish and other bonuses that were offered during the year. I am happy with my baggage allowance and lounges on intl travel. Paying to get 1k would get me a snack box and a larger pile of unused Plus Points. Would have to be a very compelling offer for me to sip the 1k Kool aid.
Platinum is fine with me. I kept that level thanks to the Fly to the Finish and other promotions. 1k would get me a snack box and more plus points that I can not use to or from SFO. Prolly be even grumpier about how Star Alliance partners treat *G on their aircraft. I came close to 1k, but cancelled flight had me short on PQP. I had the PQF, but did not make the planes to LIS, LIM, RAK and DUB because of this lousy virus. Not shopping around for a new alliance or willing to pay more than $3.50 for 1k. Just keep getting me where I need to go, safely, more or less on time, and my bags arriving within 36 hours of when I land.
Frequent Reader, First Time Poster 🙂
With the latest update to you post, I wanted to verify that the fees paid to accept one of these upgrade offer don’t translate into 2022 PQPs. I am on the fence for a 1K Upgrade from Platinum and if my ~$4,000 upgrade fee earned me 2022 PQPs, I think I would do it as it would help me maintain status next year. However, with it, I feel like the offer is a bit too steep as I could use that money for paid upgrades all year which do earn PQPs.
@Greg – From my understanding this spend will not count toward 2022 PQPs.
So, if I read the United response correctly to you I can buy GS to upgrade from my 1K status?? I did not get that email and cant imagine how much that would cost (I made 1K organically in 2021). I was GS for many years but not sure I saw much value