Elite Status Series: United Premier 1K

by on December 27, 2013 · 22 comments

in Elite Status, United

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So far in our Elite Status Series, we’ve covered American, Delta and Southwest. TPG contributor Jason Steele has taken us through the basics of United Premier Silver, Gold and Platinum status, and today he discusses the next tier, 1K – how you can qualify for it and maximize the benefits once you earn it.

United MileagePlus Premier

In the last post in this series, I looked at what it takes to earn Premier Platinum the third tier in United’s (published) 4-tier elite status program. Now let’s look at Premier 1K status, the highest of the four tiers. Like each level before it, this top level of the MileagePlus elite status program also requires earning an additional 25,000 Premier-qualifying miles (EQM) or 30 Premier-qualifying segments (EQS) beyond the previous level Premier Platinum.

Qualification with Miles or Segments

Earning Premier 1K status requires flying either 100,000 EQM or 120 EQS within a calendar year. If it makes you feel any better, that is only 33% more flying than the qualifications for Premier Platinum.

Realistically, this can only be achieved by traveling long distances or on several flights nearly every week. Alternatively, those who are regularly purchasing paid first or business class tickets, or full fare economy  tickets will have an easier time as those fare classes earn 150% of the Premier-qualifying miles or segments than discounted economy class.

United Premier Earnings

When it comes to flying partner airlines, the PQM and PQS earned will vary based on the airline flown and the purchased fare class. Mileage-earning airline partners include all members of the Star Alliance, plus Aer Lingus, Aeromar, Cape Air, Germanwings, Copa, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines (inter-island flights only), Island Air, Jet Airways, and Sliver Airways. Travelers will want to consult this page on United’s web site in order to learn how many base miles, PQM, and PQS they will earn with each partner airline and each fare class.

Other ways to Earn Premier-Qualifying miles

There are a few additional ways to earn PQMs, other than flying. The United MileagePlus Presidential Plus card from Chase offers cardholders 1,000 Flex PQM per $5,000 spent. The interesting thing is that you can apply these Flex PQMs to your account in the calendar year earned, or in any of the three following calendar years. This can be a great way to insure against missing out on the next level of Premier status, or retaining Premier status in a year when you don’t travel as much.

Another way to earn PQMs is to use the Premier Accelerator option when purchasing a ticket. Customers are frequently presented with the option to purchase base miles, or PQMs when before they complete a ticket purchase on United’s web site. Sadly, these PQMs can cost upwards of 20 cents each! As TPG concluded, this option is rarely worth the expense.

Premier-Qualifying Dollars

To satisfy the new Premier-qualifying dollars (PQD) requirement for earning status in 2014 (for the 2015 calendar year) travelers will need to spend $10,000 PQD to earn Premier 1K status. Unlike all of the lower levels of Premier status, you can’t receive a waiver by spending at least $25,000 in net purchases using a Chase MileagePlus credit card issued in the US. Therefore, you have to spend 10 cents in ticket value per Premier-qualifying mile earned in order to earn Premier 1K elite status.

Starting in 2014, United will institute Premier Qualifying Dollars.

Starting in 2014, United will institute Premier Qualifying Dollars.

Charges eligible for Premier-qualifying dollars include:

  • Base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges.
  • Flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines.
  • Flights operated by a Star Alliance or a MileagePlus partner airline and issued on a United ticket (ticket number starting with 016).
  • Economy Plus purchases.

See: Determining What Spending Counts Toward United’s Premier Qualifying Dollars.

Those who satisfy the PQM or PQS requirements of Premier 1K status, but don’t spend the required $10,000 PQD will be awarded the next highest status that they qualified for. If they spend $25,000 on a MileagePlus credit card from Chase, or spent $7,500, that will be Premier Platinum.

Benefits of Premier 1K

1. Economy Plus seating benefits. Like Premier Platinum elites, Premier 1K members enjoy complimentary upgrades to United’s Economy Plus seating, which offers additional legroom in coach. While Premier Silver and Gold elites can add a single companion traveling on the same itinerary, Premier 1K (and Platinum) members can add up to eight additional passengers, so long as they are booked with the same passenger name record (PNR).

Screen shot 2013-12-21 at 6.32.36 PM

Premiers get access to Economy Plus seating for free.

Like Premier Gold  and Platinum elites, Premier 1K members can access Economy Plus seats when they book their flight. In contrast, Premier Silver elites can only switch their seats to the Economy Plus section at check in, while those without status must pay an upgrade fee. For example, a one-way upgrade to economy plus seating on a flight from LAX to Chicago would be $66 at the time of booking.

2. Upgrades to first class. Premier Silver members must wait until the day of departure to received an upgrade, Premier Gold’s at 48 hours, and Platinums at 72 hours, but Premier 1K elites can get the highest priority by receiving upgrades as early as 96 hours (4 days) in advance.

Upgrades are available on most domestic flights, but exclusions include Premier Service (p.s.) flights from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), and long-haul flights between Honolulu (HNL) to Houston (IAH), Newark (EWR) or Washington (IAD).

In addition, Premier members are eligible for upgrades on some international flights to Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean,  Southern South America (Copa flights only), and Oceana.

One of the key benefits that Premier 1K elites receive over all others is the ability to receive instant (at the time of purchase) upgrades on M-class economy tickets. M class fares fall between a full fare ticket and a “discounted” fare class.

Another benefit that is exclusive to Premier 1K elites are Global Premier Upgrades. Premier members earn six Global Premier Upgrades when they achieve Premier 1K status, and two more upgrades are awarded for each 50,000 Premier-qualifying miles or 60 Premier-qualifying segments earned after that.

These are one-cabin upgrades that can be confirmed at ticketing for  all United and Copa flights around the world. Think of it as un upgrade when you need it most, like on that 15 hour flight from Chicago to Dehli. Just be sure to note that you can’t use them on fare classes Z, P, S, T, K, L, G or N for most flights outside of North America and Northern South America. These upgrades are valid through the end of the following Premier program year. Furthermore, these upgrades can be used to “sponsor” another traveler, even one that is not traveling with you.

In addition, Premier 1K elites also receive two Regional Premier upgrades. Travelers receive two upgrades upon reaching Premier 1K status and another two for each 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS earned after that.

When used, these upgrades are confirmable as early as time of ticketing on eligible United, United Express, and Copa Airlines-operated flights in the following regions: Continental U.S., Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, Southern South America (Copa flights only), and Oceania. Like the Global Premier upgrades, these upgrades are valid through the end of the following Premier program year and you can “sponsor” another traveler.

Also, those who hold both Premier status and a Chase MileagePlus credit card will be eligible for upgrades on award tickets on United-operated flights. This benefit does not extend to companions, and award travelers will be upgrade only after the lowest paid fare class within each Premier status level.

Finally, Premier members also receive instant upgrades when purchasing Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets if space is available. Just as with Economy Plus upgrades, MileagePlus members with Premier 1K status receive priority over Premier Platinum members, and those without status may receive an offer to pay for the upgrade with cash and/or miles.

3. Premier mileage bonuses and minimum mileage granted. Like all elite members, Premier 1K elites earn a minimum of 500 award miles which count as PQMs, no matter how short the flight is. This is important for those who fly short-haul routes. Additionally, Premier 1Kmembers also earn a 100% bonus on top of the base miles that they would otherwise fly. For example, the flight from LAX to San Diego is only 109 miles, but Premier 1K elites will be credited with the full 500 miles plus another 500 miles for a total of 1,000.

4. Premier priority travel services. Premier 1K elites also receive all of the same priority services on the ground that other Premier members receive. These include check-in lines, security screening lines, boarding, and baggage handling. Premier 1K elites are also supposed to receive a dedicated 1K call line, staffed with more senior agents. Unfortunately, there are reports that United has begun routing these calls to the next available agent when there is a wait on the 1K call line. Although United feels that it is better to have the call answered by someone, many 1K elites feel that they now have to call back frequently to get a highly qualified agent who can complete a complicated task.

United also offers Premier members access to most sold-out flights. This means that United will overbook a flight for a Premier member purchasing a full fare (unrestricted Y class) ticket more than 24 hours in advance. This can only mean that United is willing to oversell these flights when all cabins are sold out, potentially bumping other customers. This could be a valuable benefit when other customers are being told that “all flights are full.”

Like Premier Gold and Platinum elites, Premier 1K members are offered access United Club lounges, and any other Star Alliance Gold lounges when traveling internationally. This benefit is offered regardless of class flown and travelers are allowed one guest.

Like Premier Platinum elites, United will pay for travelers to join the Global Entry program offered by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. This program allows travelers expedited processing when arriving in the United States. In addition, Global Entry members can access TSA Pre-Check lines when clearing security within the United States. The application fee is normally $100.

The credit is issued as a single-use code that you receive at this web site. If you already have Global Entry, you cannot use this code for another person (according to their terms and conditions), but you can use it to renew your membership, which is required every five years.

5. Travel benefits with Star Alliance members. Like Premier Platinum elites, 1K elites will be granted Star Alliance Gold status, which is the highest status offered by Star Alliance airlines to elites of other carriers.  Star Alliance Gold privileges include priority reservations waitlisting and priority airport standby on paid Star Alliance tickets. In addition, travelers with Star Alliance Gold status should also receive priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling as well as one additional free checked bag (or 44 pounds when the weight concept applies).

6. Fee waivers and discounts for revenue travel. Premier 1K elites receive the same huge baggage allowance that Gold and Platinum Elites do, three bags at 70 pounds each. That means that they can check three bags weighing up to 70 pounds each, which is more than three times the baggage allowance as Premier Silvers who only get one 50 pound bag. The checked bag waiver applies to the Premier 1K and up to 8 other travelers on the same reservation.

Like Premier Gold and Platinum elites, United waives the same-same day flight change fee for Premier 1Ks, which is $75 for Premier Silver and non-Premier members. To use this benefit, travelers can book a less convenient, but far less expensive flight, and simply change it in the morning on the day of travel. This can be a big money saver for elites. In contrast, Delta elites can only use their similar benefit for travel within the same fare class, so it is much harder for them to save money by using this trick. See TPG’s take on the most recent version of Delta’s policy.

Another little perk enjoyed by both Premier Platinum and Premier 1Ks is a 10% discount on in-flight duty-free purchases, making that bottle of scotch just a little bit more tempting.

Premier 1K elites also receive a $100 discount off of the $500 annual United Club memberships instead of the lesser discounts granted to those with lower elite status.

Finally, 1K elites receive a $60 statement credit for MileagePlus Chase card members, presumably to offset their annual fee. This benefit is not offered to those in lower elite tiers.

7. Award travel benefits and fee waivers. Like Premier Platinum elites, 1K members never have to pay close-in award booking fees, award redeposit fees, and  award change fees.

This allows 1K travelers to speculatively book awards as soon as they become available, knowing that they can be changed or canceled at no additional cost. Furthermore, it is much easier to take advantage of the free stopover on round-trip flights when travelers can turn a one way award into a round trip at no additional cost.

In addition, United offers better award availability for all Premier members economy, which includes the ability to book any unsold seat as an award at the “Standard” mileage rate, a benefit also offered to MileagePlus cardholders, but not normal members. While all Premier members also have better access to “Saver” awards in economy class, Premier Platinum and 1K elites receive greater access to “Saver” awards in select premium cabins. Sadly, the Flyertalk community seems to have concluded that this benefit is illusory.

Another benefit is priority waitlisting for award travel and standby for international awards. So if you are flying on a business or first class award, but that cabin is not available for one or more legs, you can standby to be upgraded. According to United’s web site:

Premier members who have used miles for award travel in United Global FirstSM, United First® or United Business®, but can only confirm seats on some segments in United Economy®, may stand by for the higher cabin at the airport within two hours of departure. Premier members should simply notify the airport agent upon check-in. For unused United Global First or United Business awards, the mileage difference between United Economy and the higher cabin may be re-deposited free of charge. This benefit only applies to United Airlines and Copa Airlines flights.

Premier Platinum and 1K members are also exempt from co-pays when booking upgrade awards using miles on some routes. For example, the standard co-pay is $75 each way for flights within the mainland U.S., Alaska, and Canada, while the co-pay for flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Hawai’i is $125 each way.

Eligible routes include the following flights:

  • Within the U.S. (excluding Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico) and Canada
  • From the U.S. and Canada to Hawaii (except between EWR/IAD/IAH and HNL)
  • From the U.S. (excluding Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico) and Canada to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean or Northern South America (except between EWR/IAH and LIM)1
  • Within Asia (except between NRT and BKK/SIN) and Oceania (except between HNL and GUM)

United Upgrades


I would say that the three major benefits of Premier 1K over Premier Platinum are the instant upgrades on M class fares, Global Premier upgrades, and having the highest priority for first class and Economy Plus upgrades. Less valuable benefits that 1Ks receive over platinum include the 100% mileage bonus and the $60 statement credit for MileagePlus Chase cardholders.Are there any MileagePlus Premier 1K readers out there who would like to share their experiences on their treatment, upgrades or general thoughts on this status level? How much better is it than Premier Platinum?

Please feel free to comment below, and look for the final post in this series on the unique aspects of the Unite MileagePlus program.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • flyer

    1k is awesome; I always get upgraded.

  • Mike

    i just made 1k for the first time and i will see how it is when i travel to europe in a week. I tried to apply the global upgrade, but i was wait-listed, so i will see. i have been platinum for a while and i was always upgraded with that.

  • Bobby

    You can use your flex mile from the Presidential Plus card to qualify up to Platinum. The flex miles will not count towards Premier 1k.

  • Darlene Television

    Been a 1K for 3 years running and am closing out 2013 by the skin of my teeth qualified for Platinum next year. Domestic upgrade success of 20-25% as a hub-based traveler. Could only use 3 of my 6 GPUs because of fare exclusions. As an international FF, lounge access is best benefit, but soon everything but water will be charged for at UC.

  • KR

    1K is not what it used to be. Upgrades are still extremely difficult (particularly out of SFO), and Continental management doesn’t value 1K’s as much as PMUA management did. It’s just not worth it anymore.

  • Robert

    I’ve been 1K for 3 years as well, and have had a lot better luck at getting upgrades (probably 60% of the time) because I am based in AUS and not a hub. However, I will only re-qualify up to Platinum going forward, because the GPUs hold little value. Not only to you have to buy a higher fare class to use them, but even if you do, very few seats are allocated for GPUs so you’re often waitlisted, and it’s scary up until departure. Also, if I’m traveling abroad, I’d prefer to use my miles on Star Alliance carriers, who have far better business class products. I won’t fly 75k miles every year, but the PQM accelerator option usually allows me to buy the PQMs I’m missing for around $.10 each. Bottom line for me is that Platinum is essentially the same as 1K making those last 25k EQM’s not worth earning – with one exception: 1K’s certainly do often take the last few CPU’s in front of the Platinums.

  • Benjamin

    As a 1K for three years, SFO based, one benefit that I have used is FF ticket redemption. It is has been easy, and almost every time, I get the flights I am looking for. If done far enough in advance, the saver works. On UA, FF redemption is significantly easier than AA or DL.

    Upgrades between hubs can be very hard to get (SFO-IAH – darn near impossible) but with economy plus – no complaints.

    The Global upgrades are nice. I used them for a European trip this year in and out of FRA (direct from SFO). No problem at all, again having booked 6-7 months in advance.

    The 1K call in line – does help, too. Getting to them faster when changes to travel are needed or due to weather, will make for an easier rebooking.

  • Globalexpress

    After logging over 2MM and watching the watering down of 1K benefits on United, I can honestly say the only perk left are the GPU. The domestic upgrades, even with an instrument, are only going to happen if you fly on the weekends, book on a 757 or fly into small airports. I see United’s relationship with 1ks the same way the federal treats the middle class, we receive the fewest benefits in relationship to the revenue we deliver them.

  • Ted B

    You mention the United MileagePlus Presidential Plus card in this post and I’m wondering if you could comment on that card and the Club Card. I have a fair bit of business spending that I can put on the card and I’m wondering about the relative value of the 50% bonus miles versus the Flex PQMs.

  • dsamso

    With all due respect for legacy United flyers out there. I believe there are two reasons for the devaluation of 1K benefits and United service in general. First, industry trends, United is going the way Delta is going: revenue first at all costs because if you good routes and quasi-monopoly in certain airports and routes, frequent flyers will put up with almost anything. Second, legacy United poor service culture on and off the plane, is winning. I moved from New York to Washington DC as the merger was taking place and had been Continental Platinum for 7-8 years. The differences are abismal, particularly in International Business Class. United’s International Business Class product is clearly inferior to Continental BusinessFirst (just look at their respective seat maps), because you have to justify First Class somehow. After 2 years as 1K, this year I will just make it to Premier Platinum. To me the most valuable benefit is the access to mileage rewards and the ability to change/redeposit for free.

  • Bobby

    Unfortunately the Presidential Plus card is not available anymore. This was a Continental card. I guess with the merger it disappeared and re-surfaced as the Club card with no PQMs.

  • Joe

    If you are trying for 1k status in 2015, it seems worthwhile to make as many purchases as possible in 2014 on a United MileagePlus Presidential Plus card if you have one, even though it doesn’t help you meet the PQD requirement, because of the extra 1000 PQM you get for every $5000 spent.

    For example if you earn 10,000 PQD and 90,000 PQM from flights in 2014 (close but not quite enough for 1k status) and you’ve also spent $50,000 on your Presidential Plus card during the year, then the PQM benefit would give you an extra 10,000 miles which would bring you up to the required 100k PQM to achieve 1k status in 2015.

    Is that correct?

    If so, that’s great for people who already have a Presidential Plus card. But for those of us who don’t, since Chase is no longer accepting applications for the Presidential Plus card and it doesn’t look like any other MileagePlus cards offer this benefit, then that means that if you’re trying for 1k status in 2015 and you don’t currently have a United MileagePlus card, there’s no point applying for one if you’re happy with your current credit card.

    For example I currently use Chase Sapphire Preferred for all purchases, and based on the new rules, it seems like my best bet is to stick with it.

    Is that reasoning correct?

    Any corrections or advice appreciated.

  • dan

    please could you explain what this means? “Furthermore, it is much easier to take advantage of the free stopover on round-trip flights when travelers can turn a one way award into a round trip at no additional cost.”

  • Bobby

    You cannot use PQM to qualify for premier 1k. You can only use them up to platinum.

  • Bobby

    Meaning flex miles from the presidential plus card. Only good to platinum.

  • Gilad Rom

    Surprisingly enough, I used to get far more upgrades as a Gold than as a 1K.

  • guest

    I got to 100K this year without being upgraded once, this included several full fare economy tickets. It really was not worth it. Just flew Delta where I have silver and they addressed me by my name, something that has never happen on United who simply do not get what service is. Only advantage is baggage allowance.

  • elayneg

    How can I determine how many Flex PQM’s I have with my Presidential Plus card. I cannot find it anywhere on the Chase website.

  • Daffodilspring

    I am trying to sign up for a credit card that allocates miles to United Mileage Plus. I am a resident of Canada? Does anyone know if this is possible please?

  • zebra

    I agree with this. I have been 1K for 15 years and it certainly has degraded. I rarely even get acknowledged as one of the elite flyers. Upgrades between hubs are a long shot. I’m skeptical that the dollars-based status will improve the current state that is largely cultural.

  • Frank

    No kidding. Before the merger, it was easy.

  • Peter

    The Global Premier Upgrades are very difficult to use, they never have space availability to Use them

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