Last night, United Airlines announced radical changes to the way elite status is earned in the MileagePlus program, starting in 2020. What do these changes mean for you?
First, let’s review the changes.
Introduction Of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) + Premier Qualifying Points (PQP)
Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM), Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS), and Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) are gone. In its place are Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP). The move represents a shift away from distance as a metric of loyalty.
I had a chance to speak to Luc Bondar, United’s loyalty chief, yesterday ahead of the announced changes. He stressed that distance is no longer an accurate measure of loyalty. In terms of pricing, he’s absolutely correct. As inconceivable at is, a round trip between Washington and Philadelphia might cost more than a round trip between Washington and Hong Kong. Whether that is a smart strategy is a whole different matter.
Under the new chart, elite status will be earned based upon a combination of spending and segments or spending alone. PQPs will only be based upon flights flown; there will no longer be any mulipliters for flying in premium cabins. Each PQP translated to 1USD.
The result is a dramatic increase in spending required to achieve upper tier status.
|Premier status||PQF + PQP||Or PQP only|
|Premier Silver||12 PQF and 4,000 PQP||5,000 PQP|
|Premier Gold||24 PQF and 8,000 PQP||10,000 PQP|
|Premier Platinum||36 PQF and 12,000 PQP||15,000 PQP|
|Premier 1K||54 PQF and 18,000 PQP||24,000 PQP|
Status can be earned by a combination of PQF and PQP or simply a higher amount of PQP. In all cases, a minimum of four segments on United will still be necessary to qualify for status.
But distance isn’t totally irrelevant.
Earning on Star Alliance + Other Partners – Distance Matters
Currently, only tickets booked on United stock (016) count toward meeting your PQD requirement. Starting next year, all Star Alliance and select partner tickets, even when not booked with United, will count toward meeting your PQP minimum.
United does not have access to your ticket prices, so will instead award PQPs based upon a fraction of the redeemable miles you will earn on the flight.
|Star Alliance partner||PQP total|
|Preferred partner PQP||Award miles divided by 5|
|MileagePlus partner PQP||Award miles divided by 6|
Preferred partners include:
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air New Zealand
- All Nippon Airways
- Austrian Airlines
- Azul Brazilian Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- SWISS International Airlines
Confused? So was I. But I’ll try to explain.
Let’s say you are flying a J fare on a Lufthansa-issued ticket from LAX-FRA. Currently, J fares earn 200% of actual miles flown. That means the 5,806 mile journey earns 11,612 award miles.
Going forward, United will award PQPs based upon dividing that award mile amount by five for preferred partners and six for other partners. So since Lufthansa is a preferred partner, divide 11,612 by 5 and you get 2,322.40 PQP.
It is a tad ironic that United’s efforts to simplify earning status and take away the distance metric have actually resulted in a new way in which distance matters more than ever.
I’ll discuss “opportunities” with partner-issued tickets in a later post.
More Ways To Earn PQPs
In addition to base fares and surcharges, you can earn PQPs via the following ancillary spending:
- Economy Plus seating or subscriptions
- Preferred seat purchases
- MileagePlus Upgrade Award co-pays
- Paid upgrades
No Changes to MillionMiler Status
United’s website is rather cryptic about potential changes to the MillionMile program, which grants Premier Gold status for life at 1 million miles, Platinum at 2MN, 1K at 3MN, and Global Services at 4MN.
These changes do not impact the way you qualify for MillionMiler status, which is based on the actual distance you fly.
Bondar assured me that there are no changes planned for MillionMiler benefits.
No More Foreign Address Waivers
United currently exempts those outside the USA from meeting minimum spends requirements. This waiver will end next year; all worldwide members will need to meet the minimum PQF + PQP requirements.
No More Chase Credit Card Waivers, But Opportunity For 1,000 PQP
United currently grants an exception to its PQD minimum for Chase/United co-branded cardholders. By placing $25,000 worth of spending on your card, the United-imposed minimum spending threshold is eliminated.
Under the new program, you can earn 500 PQP for spending $12,000 and another 500 PQP for spending an additional $12,000. But 1,000 PQP is the max you can earn through Chase.
The following credit card applies:
- United Explorer Card
- United Club Card
- United Explorer Business Card
- United Club Business Card
- United MileagePlus Awards Card
- United MileagePlus Card
- United MileagePlus Business Card
Some discontinued legacy cards have additional benefits. More info here.
Reduced PlusPoints Earnings
For every 3,000 PQPs you earn after qualifying for 1K status, you will earn 20 PlusPoints. That’s a reduction from what roughly translated to 40 PlusPoints you would earn under the old program.
> Read More: United Introduces PlusPoints, A New Upgrade Currency
What Is Loyalty?
Bondar was very clear. There will be winners and losers under this new model, but United views its new approach as transparent and fair. To that point, United is being totally transparent and fair. But is spending alone a good sign of loyalty?
I view it as one indicator of value, but still think that there is something to be said for loyalty at the margins. By that I mean the discretionary flyer who has a choice in airlines but chooses United. No, that flyer won’t spend nearly as much as some business travelers, but actually be more loyal. The business travelers who spends thousands of dollars on United is often forced to by company contract; rewarding this traveler does not necessarily bring any loyalty since the traveler does not have a choice. But rewarding a more discretionary travel can pay far greater dividends if the other business is already a given.
That said, my position is more a theoretical one. In United’s defense, at least this new metric of measuring loyalty is transparent and levels the playing field worldwide.
While these changes will swell the ranks of Silver and Gold members, I expect it to make Platinum and especially 1K status more exclusive.
Now the interesting thing will be whether American and Delta match. I think both will take a wait-and-see approach until next year.
Bondar said the new policy hurts those who “game” the system. Later today, I’ll focus on how qualifying for top-tier status may theoretically be “game-able” thanks to the new puesdo PQP earning rates on partner-issued tickets.
Am I happy about the changes? Not really. I don’t think 1K status is worth $18,000 and 54 flights. But is the news surprising? Not really. Is it devastating to me? Not really…it just means I’ll burn more miles and further look beyond United.