Over the course of this week, I’ll be going through ideas on how you can score some last-minute elite-qualifying miles on the US legacy carriers to put you over the edge for elite status qualification before the end of the year. Posts so far include Last-Minute MQM Ideas for Delta Medallion Qualification, Last-Minute Elite Status Qualification Ideas for American Flyers, Last-Minute US Airways Preferred Status Qualification Ideas, Last-Minute Virgin America Elevate Elite Status Qualification Ideas.
Among the major US airlines, United makes it the hardest to earn elite-qualifying miles without flying.
Bonus miles you earn on everything from holiday shopping and promotional transatlantic routes to transferring hotel points and donating to Hurricane Sandy relief do not help toward qualifying for elite status. Nor do points you earn through credit cards like the United Explorer or MileagePlus Club card. Granted, you can still redeem those bonus miles for awards, but they won’t help you earn or retain that Premier status for next year.
That said, there are still a few things you can do to nudge your miles balance towards elite qualification next year if United is your airline of choice.
1. Buying Miles With The Elite Maximizer: Like the American Airlines Miles Multiplier option and Delta’s Mileage Booster, United offers the ability to buy miles as well as elite qualifying miles through their Elite Maximizer. The good news is that you can pretty much buy as many miles as you want – even enough to qualify for a tier of elite status. The bad news is, these miles are usually priced astronomically high, especially at the end of the year.
Normally United miles cost 3.5 cents each plus a 7.5% tax, and that’s just for bonus miles you can redeem for award tickets, not for elite miles. Using the Elite Maximizer, miles usually cost around 2-4 cents each. However, if you use the Premier Accelerator function that price jumps up incredibly high to the neighborhood of 10 times as much.
For example, I checked out how much it would cost to purchase extra miles based on an upcoming itinerary I have on United to Europe. Buying 14,000 extra miles would cost $294, or about 2.1 cents each; and buying 21,000 extra miles would cost $441, also 2.1 cents each, including taxes. So that’s a pretty good discount on purchasing just regular old miles only a bit more expensive than the value I place on United miles – about 2 cents each. It’s also cheaper than buying Chase Ultimate Rewards points for 2.5 cents each.
However, when I clicked the box to purchase MileagePlus Premier miles, those 21,000 miles would have cost a total of $3,591 – 17.1 cents each!
To put it another way, buying enough miles to qualify for Premier Silver status – 25,000 Premier Qualifying Miles – would cost $4,275. I’d rather wait in a security line and pay for a checked bag from time to time!
Still, if you only have a few miles to buy to qualify for your next tier, this could be an option to keep in mind.
2. Ask For A Status Match: If you’re not even close to qualifying for elite status on United but are close on one of its competitors, consider going for a higher level of elite status with that competitor then asking for a status match or challenge to United. That’s what happened this past year when I used my American Executive Platinum status to request a match to United Platinum Premier status. Currently status challenges are being offered to Delta Medallions, but as I said, I was able to do so based on my American elite status. According to the information that’s currently up on United’s status challenge page, Delta Silver Medallions will be matched to United Silver, Gold to Gold and Platinum to Platinum – no matching from Diamond to 1k, unfortunately. Then, within 90 days, you will need to fly 10,000 qualifying flight miles or 15 flight segments to retain Premier Silver status, 17,500 qualifying flight miles or 22 flight segments to retain Premier Gold status, or 25,000 qualifying flight miles or 30 flight segments to retain Premier Platinum status. For customers who qualify for this promotion on or after July 1, 2012, benefits are valid through January 2014.
So that’s the information from this year, but chances are they’ll continue this program into 2013, so if you gun for the highest level of status possible with either Delta or American this year, go back to United at the beginning of 2013 with your new status and ask for a match, then if you complete the challenge, you’ll have status until January 2014 or possibly beyond.
3. Same Day Standby or Change To Maximize Routing: As with other airlines, another great way to rack up extra elite qualifying miles is increase the distance of your routing by same day confirming or standing by onto different flights through connecting cities that are farther away from either the departure or destination or both. For example, if you’re scheduled to fly from Chicago to Phoenix on United, you would normally earn 1,440 miles. But if you routed from Chicago to San Francisco to Phoenix, you’d earn 2,497 miles instead – over 1,000 miles more! Usually the taxes on your new ticket are just a little bit more, and if you’re any elite level above Silver already, same-day confirming on United is free (otherwise it’s $75).
4. Perks Plus: This is United’s business frequent flyer program where companies earn a certain amount of points per dollar on airfares they purchase for employees. Companies can earn between 1-4 points depending on the fare class (from deeply discounted to last-minute full fares). In addition to redeeming points for airfare and club passes, PerksPlus program administrators can redeem points for elite status. Silver status requires 50,000 points and Gold status requires 150,000 points. It’s a pretty steep price to pay, but if you’ve been building up your balance, or you work for a huge company that participates in PerksPlus, you can ask if they have unused points sitting around that might expire since the points are only good during the year they’re earned and an additional 12 months after that. Some corporate departments also do enough business with airlines that they are given a certain amount of elite statuses to distribute, and since it’s the end of the year, they probably have a few extra to get rid of. It never hurts to ask!
5. MileagePlus Choices: If you have a MileagePlus credit card like the Explorer or the Club card, you can redeem award/bonus miles you earn using your credit card for Premier Qualifying Miles through United’s MileagePlus Choices program. As you can see above, the exchange rate is 10:1, so 10,000 miles to 1,000 PQM’s. You must redeem in increments of 10,000 miles and can redeem up to 50,000 miles per year for 5,000 PQM’s. If you’re in a bind and you’re very close to hitting your elite status threshold without any other options, you could consider it, but overall, this is a pretty horrible value. Instead of just 5,000 PQM’s, those 50,000 miles would get you a roundtrip business class ticket domestically, roundtrip to Europe, or a one-way ticket in business class to or from many destinations.
6. Milepoint Charity Auction: Tommy777 is hosting an auction on Milepoint until 2pm Central Time on Wednesday, December 19, where you can bid on any of 15 different United Premier statuses including 3 Premier 1K, and 4 each of Silver, Platinum and Gold. You will just receive an upgrade of your status, not any miles or PQM’s. This is a silent auction, so to submit your bid, you need to start an online conversation directly with Tommy777 and include what status you’re bidding for and hewill reply to you if you’re outbid so you’ll have a chance to up your bid. The auction is open to all and you can bid on more than one status. But if you win them all, you’ll be responsible for paying all the statuses you win. All proceeds will go to United We Care and other milepoint charities, like Livestrong. Depending on how high the bidding gets, I’d rather spend a few hundred dollars that go to charity than by just throwing money at the Elite Maximizer.