Do I Earn United Airlines Elite-Qualifying Dollars on Partner Flights?

Jan 1, 2017

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TPG reader Peter emailed me to ask about earning credit toward airline status on partner carriers:

“I’ve been flying back and forth between Frankfurt and New York on Lufthansa this year, and credited my flights to United. However, I used a travel agent and never received PQDs; now I need to figure out how to get status or start looking at a different alliance. Do you have any recommendations?”

The issue for Peter isn’t that he used a travel agent — if you fly on a fare that’s eligible to earn redeemable miles and elite credits, then it shouldn’t matter who books it or how you pay for it. Instead, the problem is in how United awards Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs), since flights on partner airlines are not always eligible.

For most published fares, you’ll earn PQDs on flights with United or United Express, as well as flights with Star Alliance or other partners that are ticketed by United. So if you fly Lufthansa but United issues your ticket (using a ticket number that starts with “016”), then you’ll earn PQDs. The same is true if Lufthansa issues you a ticket for a flight on United metal. However, you won’t earn PQDs if Lufthansa issues your ticket for a flight on Lufthansa or another Star Alliance carrier (besides United).

Peter should have still earned Premier Qualifying Miles and Segments for his Lufthansa flights, so this issue is really isolated to PQDs. How many of those other elite credits you earn will depend on your fare class — you can consult United’s Premier status qualification requirements for more information.

In comparison, both American and Delta award elite-qualifying dollars for partner flights, even when marketed by another airline. In those scenarios, Delta MQDs and American EQDs are awarded according to the flight distance and fare class, and may vary from one partner to another. The rules for earning elite dollars are complex, but worth diving into if you regularly bank partner flights to any of the major domestic carriers.

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If you want to earn PQDs, make sure you fly United metal or take Star Alliance flights ticketed by United.

If you’ve flown enough with Lufthansa to earn Miles & More elite status, you’ll also qualify for Star Alliance status that can give you benefits on United. Those benefits aren’t as valuable as the ones you’d get with MileagePlus Premier status, but they’re some consolation if you aren’t able to earn enough PQDs or waive the revenue requirements by spending on a co-branded United credit card.

It’s unfortunate that United doesn’t offer elite dollars for flights ticketed by partners, but I don’t think that’s enough reason to ditch the MileagePlus program and Star Alliance, especially if United is already your preferred airline. Just make sure you understand how each flight will affect your status, and choose your airfare accordingly.

For more on earning elite status with United (and in general), check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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