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Your guide to United Airlines lifetime elite status

January 23 2020
7 min read
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current information. It was originally published on April 4, 2019.

Most people will never fly a million miles in their entire lives, but when it comes to lifetime airline elite status, United has a huge edge in the advertising department. That's because the carrier can claim Tom Stuker, the world's most frequent flyer (with over 21 million miles to date), as one of its own. And if Tom can do it, there's no reason any one of us can't aspire to earn Million Miler status and lock in United Premier elite status for life.

TPG has three United Million Milers in its ranks: Editor-at-Large Zach Honig is a longtime United flyer, Cruise and Travel Senior Reporter Gene Sloan has flown over 1.1 million miles with the carrier and contributor Brian Biros did it without even holding United elite status.

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If you're hoping to follow in their footsteps, you've come to the right place, as today we'll take a look at the ins and outs of United's Million Miler program.

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How to earn United lifetime elite status

Your United Million Miler balance is not the same as your award miles, nor is it simply your lifetime Premier Qualifying Miles or PQMs, a metric United did away with this year when it switched to revenue-based elite qualification and Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs). Instead, it's an entirely different number: the number of flight miles you've taken on paid flights operated by United or United Express over your lifetime. This means that award tickets don't count towards Million Miler status, nor do extra PQMs you previously earned on paid premium-class tickets. Unfortunately, neither do partner flights. Even if you're flying on United, you'll want to make sure your ticket is issued by United if you want to receive Million Miler credit.

Related: Is it worth pursuing lifetime elite status?

With all of these rules and restrictions out of the way, here's how you'd earn lifetime elite status with United:

This chart is significantly more generous than what American and Delta offer. Both those carriers give you the lowest possible tier of elite status for your first million miles, whereas United bumps you up to its mid-tier Gold status. This will get you free preferred/Economy Plus seats at the time of booking, a 60% mileage bonus (8x per dollar) and perhaps most importantly, Star Alliance Gold status, which gives you access to many lounges both internationally and within the U.S.

Related: What is United Airlines elite status worth?

Then, for each additional million miles you fly, you'll boost your status. This starts with lifetime Premier Platinum at two million miles, and when you surpass three million flight miles, you'll lock in a lifetime of United's top published tier: Premier 1K. Finally, if you can manage to hit four million, you'll snag Global Services status, United's invitation-only exclusive status level designed to benefit its biggest spending clients. Reports indicate that getting an invite to this tier normally requires around $50,000 of annual spending, and flying four million miles with United is actually the only published way to earn this tier. Global Services members get some really cool benefits, including the ability to create new award inventory, a special upgrade fare class reserved for them and the occasional Mercedes-Benz tarmac transfer.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

To sweeten this program even further, United allows Million Milers to designate an annual companion to share their current Premier status, meaning your spouse or kid can share in the luxury of your elite status (note that this is restricted to a spouse, significant other or individual with your same address). For example, if you've reached two million miles to earn lifetime Premier Platinum but currently hold Premier 1K status, you can designate your spouse to also enjoy 1K. (Complete details on this perk are available on United's Million Miler page.)

Keep in mind too that United's lifetime status program crosses over to hotels as well. Once you hit one million miles, you'll also gain access to a lifetime of Marriott Gold Elite status through the RewardsPlus partnership. Even if you only spend a handful of nights per year in Marriott properties, you'll still enjoy the bonus points, room upgrades and welcome amenities that Gold status provides.

Related: What is Marriott Bonvoy elite status worth?

To check your progress toward United Million Miler status, login to your MileagePlus account and navigate to your account page. From there, click on View Premier status tracker. Alternatively, you can simply visit the status tracker page directly and login right from there.

Is it worth it?

Only flights on United will count towards your Million Miler status. (Photo by Dia Adams/The Points Guy.)

With United limiting Million Miler activity to only revenue tickets on United-marketed and operated flights, flying one million miles (let alone four) is not an easy feat. If you're a top-tier, Premier 1K elite flying 100,000 miles a year, it would still take you a decade to hit one million miles.

That said, if you travel frequently enough that this is a possibility, United's program might be worth pursuing. A lifetime of Star Alliance Gold benefits can add a lot of value for an international traveler, and the ability to gift companion status each year can really take your family vacations to the next level.

Just remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and the possibility of a reward 10+ years down the road is probably not a good enough reason by itself to devote your loyalty to United today. Remember that these benefits can change at any time, and there are many other factors that should come into play when choosing a primary carrier. Does it route network fit your typical travel patterns? Do you get value out of using the miles? United does offer a significantly better Million Miler program than its legacy airline competitors, but that should be just one aspect of your decision-making process.

Related: The 9 best credit cards for flying United

Bottom line

If you're a very frequent United flyer, you might want to check your Million Miler balance and see where you are. While I wouldn't recommend trying to "mileage run" your way to this time and cost intensive status, if you find yourself close to a million miles (or two or three) it might be worth squeezing in an extra trip on United to bump your status to the next rung.

Featured photo by Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy

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  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees