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Last-minute strategies for earning United Premier elite status

Oct. 17, 2022
9 min read
United Boeing 787
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As the sun begins to set on 2022, your time is running out to qualify or requalify for airline elite status for 2023. This is the moment to check your mileage balances, calculate your travel for the rest of the year and see where you will end up in terms of elite status qualification for 2023.

If you think you will finish short of your United Airlines MileagePlus Premier status goal, here are some ideas for earning the Premier qualifying points and Premier qualifying flights you need to earn before the end of the year.

Some background

Most United elite members can access Premier Access check-in for expedited service. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

In 2019, United shifted away from Premier Qualifying Miles, Premier Qualifying Segments and Premier Qualifying Dollars. Now, there are two elite status metrics: Premier qualifying flights and Premier qualifying points.

Premier qualifying flights

To qualify for any status with United, you must fly at least four paid segments on United or United Express in a calendar year. Those four paid flights will also count as PQFs, assuming you don’t book in basic economy.

Here's how accruals on basic economy fares compare with standard fares.

Accrue PQFCount toward the four flight minimum for Premier statusAccrue PQP
Basic economy
Standard fares (economy, premium economy, business and first)

Your remaining PQFs can be on United flights or on eligible partner fares, but we'll discuss partner fares later. On a paid United flight with one stop, you'll earn two PQFs.

Think of it this way: For every takeoff, you earn one PQF. But again, basic economy fares do not earn PQFs.

Premier qualifying points

If you're traveling on a United-issued standard or basic economy ticket, all customers (including those with Premier status) earn 1 PQP per $1 spent on base airfare and carrier-imposed surcharges. You can also earn PQPs on Preferred and Economy Plus seating and paid cabin upgrades.

Qualifying for status before Jan. 1, 2023, is particularly important as we anticipate United will revert to pre-pandemic status requirements. As you'll see, this year's status thresholds are significantly lower than the pre-pandemic requirements:

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2021 and 2022 requirementsPre-pandemic requirements
Premier Silver3,000 PQPs + 8 PQFs or 3,500 PQPs.4,000 PQPs + 12 PQFs or 5,000 PQPs.
Premier Gold6,000 PQPs + 16 PQFs or 7,000 PQPs.8,000 PQPs + 24 PQFs or 10,000 PQPs.
Premier Platinum9,000 PQPs + 24 PQFs or 10,000 PQPs.12,000 PQPs + 36 PQFs or 15,000 PQPs.
Premier 1K13,500 PQPs + 36 PQFs or 15,000 PQPs.18,000 PQPs + 54 PQFs or 24,000 PQPs.

Related: Flights, credit cards and more: How to earn miles with the United MileagePlus program

Ways to earn more PQPs

ANDREW KUNESH/THE POINTS GUY

United flights

Let's start with the obvious: You earn PQPs on paid United tickets.

Again, on United-issued tickets (indicated with a 016 ticket number), you earn 1 PQP per $1 spent on base airfare and carrier-imposed surcharges.

That means whenever possible, you want your flights on fares that are predominantly base airfare and carrier-imposed surcharges (as opposed to taxes). Unfortunately, international itineraries often have high government-imposed taxes and fees which don't earn PQPs.

As you search for flights on united.com, you can see the PQP and PQF accruals by selecting the "Details" button for the flight you'd like to book.

UNITED.COM

As you can see, the standard economy fare is $159 for this flight from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). That fare earns 134 PQPs and 1 PQF.

Remember that you can also earn PQPs on Preferred and Economy Plus seating, as well as paid cabin upgrades. However, note that certain private bulk fares and travel industry fares don't earn PQPs.

Partner flights

I've flown seven times with Air Canada this year to earn about one-third of my PQPs for Premier 1K status. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Partner itineraries are where the beauty of earning lots of PQPs for a fraction of the normal price kicks in.

As discussed in this guide, partner fares have allowed me to requalify for Premier 1K status for just $7,500 — a far cry from the $13,500-plus required for Premier 1K by flying exclusively on United flights.

With United’s Star Alliance partners, you earn PQPs based on three factors: the length of your flight, the fare class and the airline that operates your flight.

For a full breakdown of how this works, check out my full guide to earning PQPs with partners. But here are three European partner itineraries that earn significantly more than 1 PQP per $1 spent.

This round-trip SAS economy-class ticket costs $368 and is ticketed in the T fare class (50% accrual basis), so it would earn the following:

GOOGLE.COM/FLIGHTS
  • San Francisco to Copenhagen: 2,727 base miles, 455 PQPs.
  • Copenhagen to Dublin: 774 base miles, 65 PQPs.
  • Dublin to Copenhagen: 774 base miles, 65 PQPs.
  • Copenhagen to San Francisco: 2,727 base miles, 455 PQPs.
  • Total: 7,002 base miles and 1,040 PQPs.

This round-trip SAS premium economy-class ticket costs $656 and is ticketed in the A fare class (100% accrual basis), so it would earn the following:

GOOGLE.COM/FLIGHTS
  • Chicago to Copenhagen: 4,271 base miles, 500 PQPs (standard partner maximum).
  • Copenhagen to Athens, Greece: 1,330 base miles, 222 PQPs.
  • Athens to Copenhagen: 1,330 base miles, 222 PQPs.
  • Copenhagen to Chicago: 4,271 base miles, 500 PQPs (standard partner maximum).
  • Total: 11,202 base miles and 1,444 PQPs.

This round-trip TAP business-class ticket costs $1,951 and is ticketed in the J fare (125% accrual basis), so it would earn the following:

GOOGLE.COM/FLIGHTS
  • Newark to Lisbon, Portugal: 4,230 base miles, 705 PQPs.
  • Lisbon to Vienna, Austria: 1,794 base miles, 299 PQPs.
  • Vienna to Lisbon: 1,794 base miles, 299 PQPs.
  • Lisbon to Newark: 4,230 base miles, 705 PQPs.
  • Total: 12,048 base miles and 2,008 PQPs.

MileagePlus credit card spending

JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY

You can earn PQPs by spending on most United credit cards for everyday purchases. This guide has the full scoop on how to earn PQPs by charging on your United credit card.

Unfortunately, United cobranded cards earn just 500 PQPs for every $12,000 charged. Additionally, United credit cards have limits to the number of PQPs that can come from credit card spending in a calendar year. Again, you can refer to this page for all the details.

Here are three of our favorite United cobranded cards that earn PQPs:

  • The United Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months your account is open.
  • United Quest Card: Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months your account is open.
  • United Club Infinite Card: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months your account is open.

Buy PQPs

If you have an upcoming reservation with United, you may be prompted to purchase additional miles for your trip. To view your offers, go to "My Trips" and open your reservation. Then, look for the "Award Accelerator" option.

UNITED.COM

Click "Learn more" and you'll be taken to a page where you can purchase MileagePlus miles and PQPs.

UNITED.COM

On this one-way flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), I could purchase 3,000 award miles and 100 PQPs for $188 or 6,000 award miles and 600 PQPs for $814.

Unless you're trying to buy up to fill a small gap, it's not hard to tell that's a pretty terrible deal considering that you could earn more PQPs and award miles on a paid United ticket.

Speaking of buying status, it's common for United to offer targeted buy-ups to the next status tier sometime in January or February, but historically, these have been exorbitantly expensive.

Related: Why I consider my United miles to be worth 5 cents apiece

Bottom line

While 2022 is drawing to a close, there’s still plenty of time left to requalify for your current United Premier elite status or level up to the next tier for next year. The first step is sitting down and calculating where you stand and what you’ll earn from any scheduled end-of-year travel, so you can decide if a mileage run is right for you.

Remember that United is likely bringing back the pre-pandemic status requirements, so it might be worth going out of your way to lock in status before that change takes effect.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg and Eric Rosen.

Featured image by NICOLAS ECONOMOU/NURPHOTO/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.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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    740-850
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more