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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Unfortunate though it may be, the reality is that earning elite status with the three major US airlines now requires meeting a spending threshold in a calendar year. If you aren’t a business traveler who’s always on the road or if you tend to book cheaper fare classes, this can make qualifying or re-qualifying for your desired tier quite challenging.

Luckily, though, there are some workarounds for meeting the elite-qualifying dollar requirements with the big three US carriers: American, Delta and United all offer EQD/MQD/PQD waivers when you meet certain spending thresholds on their co-branded credit cards.

While we’ve published overviews of each airline’s elite-qualifying dollar waiver options, given that you can now earn an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles on the United MileagePlus Explorer Card and the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card, let’s take a closer look at how this strategy works for aspiring United MileagePlus elite members.

How United’s PQD Waiver Works

If you earn the PQD waiver, you only have to worry about meeting United’s elite status mileage or segment requirements.

First off, note that United refers to the revenue aspect of MileagePlus elite qualification as Premier-qualifying dollars (PQDs), whereas American calls them EQDs and Delta uses the term MQDs. No matter the name, the meaning is the same: The dollar requirement is how much you need to spend with the airline in order to qualify for a given status level — and this threshold is separate from the elite-qualifying mile/segment requirements you must also meet.

The elite-qualifying dollar requirements are nearly identical across all levels of American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles Medallion and United MileagePlus — the one exception is Delta’s top-tier Diamond Medallion status, which requires spending $15,000 rather than the $12,000 required for American and United’s highest levels.

Here are the PQD requirements for the four levels of United elite status:

  • Premier Silver: $3,000 (in addition to 25,000 PQMs or 30 PQSes)
  • Premier Gold: $6,000 (in addition to 50,000 PQMs or 60 PQSes)
  • Premier Platinum: $9,000 (in addition to 75,000 PQMs or 90 PQSes}
  • Premier 1K: $12,000 (in addition to 100,000 PQMs or 120 PQSes)

If meeting any of these spending requirements seems unattainable in a calendar year but you’d really like to earn or keep your United status, you could turn to its co-branded credit cards for a solution. If you spend at least $25,000 on United credit cards in a calendar year, the airline will waive the PQD requirement for elite status.

Sure, making $25,000 in purchases in a calendar year is not doable for everyone — and it’s not ideal for all award travelers, since there’s the opportunity cost of charging spending to United’s cards rather than options with better earning rates for non-United bonus categories. But if you can make it work — perhaps by adding an authorized user you trust or by paying your taxes with a MileagePlus card — it can definitely make the climb to elite status a bit more bearable.

There are a few things you should keep in mind if this strategy appeals to you:

  • You can only waive the PQD requirement up to Premier Platinum status — If you were hoping to spend $25,000 on United co-branded cards so you only have to qualify for United’s top-tier Premier 1K level on miles, sorry to burst your bubble. The PQD waiver for meeting $25,000 in eligible credit card spending only applies up to Premier Platinum status, which has a $9,000 PQD requirement for MileagePlus members who qualify through spending on airfare.
  • You can combine spending across cards to meet the $25,000 requirement — On the bright side, if you already have a United card but decide to open another one, you can switch your spending over to the newer account to earn the sign-up bonus without having to start from scratch in your progress toward the PQD waiver. According to United’s PQD terms and conditions, net purchases on qualifying cards “will be combined toward the $25,000 spend for the PQD waiver for the applicable calendar year.”
  • Authorized users’ spending will count toward the PQD waiver, but only for you — Someone trustworthy can help you meet the spending requirement for the PQD waiver by charging purchases to your card as an authorized user, but only you (the primary cardholder) will be entitled to the PQD waiver for elite status. Not a huge surprise, but make sure you’re on the same page if you use this strategy.

United Co-Branded Cards

United has a handful of credit cards issued through Chase, some of which are no longer available to new applicants. However, the following cards are available, and the first two are currently offering higher-than-usual sign-up bonuses:

1. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Benefits: This card earns you  2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. You’ll also get elite-like perks like a free first checked bag and priority boarding, plus two United Club passes each cardmember anniversary. This card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, and you’ll get a bonus of 10,000 miles when you spend $25,000 on it in a calendar year. Another great benefit is enhanced award availability compared to what non-cardholders see.

2. United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card

Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Benefits: You’ll get the same benefits with the business version of the MileagePlus Explorer Card as you do with the personal flavor.

3. United MileagePlus Club Card

Annual fee: $450
Sign-up bonus: $100 statement credit after your first purchase.
Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar on everything else. The other main perk — and the reason this card carries a higher annual fee — is United Club membership with complimentary access for your travel companions. You also get two free checked bags and Premier Access travel services. This card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

4. United MileagePlus Club Business Card

Annual fee: $450
Sign-up bonus: $100 statement credit after your first purchase
Benefits: You get the same benefits offered with the personal MileagePlus Club Card, including full United Club membership.

Bottom Line

It’s often tough enough to meet the big three US carriers’ elite-qualifying mileage requirements for status — especially when cheaper fare classes have lower earning rates — and spending enough to qualify for an elite tier only makes things more difficult. If you aren’t able to hit United’s PQD requirements, putting significant spending on one (or more) of the airline’s co-branded credit cards could be a good solution. Just remember that the credit card PQD waiver only applies up to Premier Platinum status.

Have you used the PQD waiver to qualify for United elite status? Share your experience and any tips in the comments below!

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Intro APR on Purchases
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Regular APR
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Balance Transfer Fee
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