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How to earn United Premier Qualifying Points with credit card spending in 2020

Dec. 23, 2019
5 min read
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For the last several years, the three major U.S. airlines — United, Delta and American — have all included a revenue requirement for customers to qualify for elite status. In addition to flying a certain number of miles or segments per year, customers also need to earn Premier/Medallion/Elite qualifying dollars which roughly correspond to the cost of their tickets (though earning rates are based on flight distance for certain partner flights).

Travelers looking to qualify for MileagePlus Premier elite status on United have been able to waive the revenue requirement by spending on a cobranded credit card. However, all that is changing in 2020 as United completely redoes its elite-qualification requirements to focus on cost above all else. Today we're going to look at the changes in store next year, and how you can still use credit cards to get a head start on earning elite status.

Further Reading: United Airlines makes big changes to how we earn elite status, upgrades

What's changing for 2020?

Beginning in 2020, customers will qualify for United elite status based primarily on Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs), although you can also qualify with a mix of PQPs and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) if you wish.

Customers earn 1 PQP per dollar spent on United/United Express fares (pre-tax), as well as the following purchases:

  • Partner flights issued on “016” (United) ticket stock
  • Economy Plus purchases
  • Preferred seating purchases
  • Paid upgrades
  • The cash co-pay for MileagePlus Upgrade Awards
  • Non-016 partner travel

If you're flying on a partner airline with a ticket not issued by United (i.e., not 016 ticket stock), you'll earn PQPs as a percentage of the award miles you would've earned on that flight. United has split its partner airlines into two groups, Preferred partners and MileagePlus partners. Here's how you'll earn PQPs depending on which type of partner you're flying with:

  • Preferred partners: Award miles divided by 5
  • All other partners: Award miles divided by 6

Earning premier qualifying points with credit cards

With United making customer spending the focal point of elite qualification, a simple Premier Qualifying Dollar waiver doesn't make sense anymore. Still, if you have a United cobranded credit card, you can earn some PQPs to jump-start your way toward elite status qualification.

United cobranded cardholders can earn up to 1,000 PQPs a year: 500 PQPs after spending $12,000 on your card in a calendar year, and another 500 PQPs after spending $24,000 total. This is a much weaker value proposition under the new qualification rules -- even if you spend $24,000 and thereby earn the maximum 1,000 PQPs, you'll still have a long way to go to hit elite status. To earn United Premier Silver, the carrier's lowest tier, you'd still need to spend an additional $4,000 pre-tax (to earn 4,000 more PQPs) or earn 3,000 PQPs and 12 Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs). It's also important to note that these bonus PQPs will only count up to Platinum status, meaning you can't use them to level up to the now-very-expensive Premier 1K tier.

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Further Reading: What Is United Airlines Elite Status Worth in 2019?

Which cards let you earn PQPs?

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

United currently offers four cobranded credit cards that are issued by Chase: the United Explorer Card, the United Explorer Business Card, the United Club Card and the United Club Business Card. All four of these cards will offer the ability to spend your way to bonus PQPs, as described above, in 2020.

Over the years United has changed its credit card offerings, leaving many cardholders with legacy products that are not currently open to new applicants, such as the UnitedSM Presidential PlusSM Card. Some of these customers will also have the ability to earn up to 1,000 bonus PQPs. United will be communicating that information directly to eligible cardholders.

The information for the United Club Card, United Club Business Card and the UnitedSM Presidential PlusSM Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

For a long time, having a United credit card and taking advantage of the Premier Qualifying Dollar waiver was a great tool in qualifying for elite status. With MileagePlus moving to a new qualification scheme that focuses almost exclusively on spending, the straight-up waiver is going away and being replaced by the ability to earn up to 1,000 bonus PQPs each year.

You'll have to take a look at your planned travel for the year and decide whether the cost of putting so much spending on a relatively unrewarding credit card is worth it to qualify for elite status faster or possibly level up to a higher tier.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.