Should I Buy Elite-Qualifying Miles to Earn Status?
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TPG reader Andy sent me a tweet to ask about buying elite miles:
“For $700, I can buy enough Premier Qualifying Miles to earn United Platinum status for next year. Is it worthwhile?”
We’ve reached November, which means a lot of travelers are trying to figure out how to earn or maintain elite status for 2016. Many airlines offer opportunities to buy elite-qualifying miles for frequent flyers who might otherwise come up short. Sometimes it’s a good deal and sometimes not — it really depends on your needs.
United Premier Platinum status requires earning 75,000 PQMs. If you’re already close to that threshold, then you probably fly with United often enough for the upgrade in elite status to make a substantial difference in your onboard experience (unless you’re mostly flying and earning on partner airlines). That makes the purchase more worthwhile.
In his valuation of the United MileagePlus Premier program, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele estimated that Platinum status is worth about $1,550 more than Gold status. By maximizing benefits like regional upgrades, waived fees and higher upgrade priority, you should get enough extra value to justify the cost.
That said, there are other options for earning those PQMs. You can’t get elite miles from spending on a United co-branded credit card (like you can with some other airlines), but depending on how many you need, a mileage run might be a more fun (and lucrative) solution. Gold Premier members earn 8 miles per dollar spent, so $700 of airfare could earn you 5,600 redeemable miles and perhaps enough PQMs to boost your status, and of course you’d get to travel in the process.
One important thing to keep in mind is United’s revenue requirements, as it would be a shame to buy or earn enough elite miles only to realize you don’t have enough Premier Qualifying Dollars. United raised the threshold in 2015, so you’ll need to spend $9,000 to qualify for Premier Platinum status. If you’re short on PQDs as well as PQMs, mileage running becomes even more attractive.
I generally don’t recommend buying up to elite status, especially at the lower tiers. But again, your decision hinges on the value you think you’ll get in return. At worst, you’ll get some upgrades and extra miles on your upcoming travels, which could make it easier to requalify for Platinum next year.
To help you figure out what to expect from various levels of elite status, check out these valuations for several US carriers:
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