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Sunday Reader Question: Getting Last Minute United Elite Qualifying Segments

by on December 2, 2012 · 10 comments

in Elite Status, United

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I’m a big fan of the word “thrice” so I decided to select Novik’s question this week!

“I fly from Newark to Boston thrice a month and started doing so since September. I am 24 elite qualifying segments short of silver status and was wondering if there is any way I can earn the segments apart from flying because I don’t have the required number of trips lined up. The miles that I get are paltry (402 for a roundtrip) so that won’t cut the deal. Any advice that you can give is really appreciated and keep up the good work.”

First off, let me first give my heartfelt feelings to the poor flyers out there that need to qualify on segments. For those who aren’t aware, most airlines will let you qualify either on miles flown or segments taken (to help out the shorthaul flyers). It really doesn’t make much sense that a $300 Newark to Los Angeles roundtrip flight earns 4,908 miles roundtrip, yet a $400 last minute Newark-Boston flight only earns 402 (1,000 for elite flyers who get 500 mile minimums per segment). The transcontinental flyer achieves silver status on their sixth roundtrip while that Boston flyer needs to take 15 roundtrips (30 segments) to get the same exact status!

To add insult to injury, most elite mileage promotions are all based on miles and almost never segments. All elite qualfying mile perks from credit cards (to my knowledge) offer miles and not segments. Even United’s Elite Maximizer program offers the ability to buy additional elite qualifying miles and not segments. If you know someone with the old Continental Presidential Plus card, they can gift you Flex EQMs, but not segments.

If you had elite status with another airline, you could have applied for a United Status challenge, which would have given you Silver at only 15 segments or 10,000 miles within 90 days. I’m going to assume that doesn’t apply to you, but if anyone else is thinking of switching to United a challenge can take away the pain of accruing status from scratch.

United Status Challenge Thresholds

So simply put, theres no easy way to get Elite Qualifying Segments without sitting your butt in an airline seat, so I’d suggest trying to hit silver with a strategic mileage run or two since your life will be better (though not quite paradise) as a Premier Silver elite- better seats, 25% mileage bonus, occasional upgrades, free 50lb checked bag, priority boarding, reduced award fees and 500 mile minimums on all segments (which will more than double your elite qualification in 2013).

I’m going to assume you have only 9 roundtrips by now or only ~3,600 EQMs, meaning you need ~21,400 EQMs, which is no easy task to do in a month. Cheap mileage runs these days are usually in the 4-5 cent ranger per elite qualfying mile, so you need to think whether ~$850-$1,000 or more will be worth it to get Silver. If you plan on flying a lot more next year, it could make sense, especially if you can do a mileage run/vacation so you aren’t just flying for the elite miles.

A Newark-Tokyo-Singapore roundtrip will net you 19,591 miles in the cheapest coach fares and if you can find a somewhat affordable business class ticket (or convince your company to send you there!) you’d net 29,386 miles (amazing that premium long-haul business class travelers can get elite status in a single trip).

If you want to search for cheap fares, I recommend using the ITA Matrix software, which will allow you to search fares by day by month to sniff out the cheapest for different routes. Remember, you can also fly partner airlines and get EQMs, but make sure you purchase an elite mile earning fare class, which differs by partner so always double check the earning charts before pulling the trigger.

Sorry I don’t have an easier solution, but safe mileage running if thats the route you decide to take.

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  • James K.

    “It really doesn’t make much sense that a $300 Newark to Los Angeles roundtrip flight earns 4,908 miles roundtrip, yet a $400 last minute Newark-Boston flight only earns 402″

    Hold your tongue! Do you want to see revenue-based systems you apostate!?

  • Liz

    I had a trip canceled and need an extra 19k miles to return to UA Gold. Unfortunately I’m based in EDI until mid-December. The flyer talk forums primarily have US based mileage runs. Any advice on finding some that are UK or EU based?

  • James Ward

    Did you consider extolling in a different member of the alliance? For example, Flying Blue (Air France / KLM) awards Silver status after just 15 segments and many of the privileges (free checked bags, etc) carry over to all Skyteam partners.

  • Janes Ward

    *enrolling

  • TK

    Do you just cycle through Amex and Chase cards, cancelling them out each year to avoid the fees? I’m guessing you keep the Amex Plat and SPG cards, but how do you determine to cycle between Amex Personal/Business and Chase Sapphire/IB/IP year over year since MR and UR points are the most valuable?

  • thepointsguy

    Search for yourself using ITA software.. or check out airfarewatchdog.com or theflightdeal.com

  • thepointsguy

    I generally don’t see the value in foreign elite programs since I’d rather have top tier status in a US program (they are more lucrative in my opinion and provide similar benefits when flying on partners). I know a lot of people like getting foreign elite status for club lounge access when traveling in the US, but I am generally covered with lounges with my Amex Plat and the fact that I usually fly internationally on business/first class awards anyway, which give access

  • thepointsguy

    I was just commiserating for the segment flyers out there! I don’t want things to change, but you have to admit it is stacked against segment qualifiers

  • thepointsguy

    I so cancel cards that don’t provide value anymore. The great thing with Sapphire Preferred, for example, is that you can get the Visa and then the Mastercard- so two signup bonuses and then just keep one going forward. Same for Amex platinum- theres a business platinum and mercedes-benz- each offering roughly the same benefits so you can cycle between the three and keep the one you like the most

  • Mauricio

    I’m 3000 miles shy of Platinum status with UA… a few weeks ago i took a trip from Vancouver to Toronto (roughly 3000miles each leg) so i thought this was all taken care of… now today i find out that those flights with air canada didnt qualify for miles!!! after spending 45min on the phone with the elite customer service lady from United the best answer that i got was “please send us an email from the webpage…” like that’s going to go anywhere…
    any advice????

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