What is United Airlines elite status worth in 2021?

Feb 18, 2021

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When it comes to selecting an airline to earn most (or all) of your business, many factors come into play. Fee waivers, upgrades, lounge access and other valuable perks can turn a stressful travel experience into a smooth one, but have you ever crunched the numbers to see if your current carrier makes the most sense for your travel patterns and your wallet?

In this guide, I’ll dive deep into one of the major U.S. carriers to identify how well it rewards loyal flyers by evaluating the most important benefits provided at each level of elite status and attempting to put a specific value to each. If you’re considering pursuing Premier status with United, just how rewarding can the MileagePlus program be?

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In This Post

How I developed these valuations

Before we get to the details of the elite status tiers of the MileagePlus program, a couple of disclaimers.

First, it’s important to note that these mathematical analyses represent just one way of calculating the value you’d get out of a given elite status level.

Everyone has his or her own way of valuing the various benefits of loyalty programs; some may always pay for first and business class and thus have no need for complimentary upgrades, while others may travel exclusively in the U.S. and don’t care about free lounge access on international itineraries. Feel free to adjust the numbers I use to make them more relevant to your own personal valuation.

Second, these numbers are all based on the benefits you’d enjoy after achieving the given status level and continuing to qualify each year thereafter. If you’re starting from scratch, these values are a bit skewed since the first several flights you take will provide no benefits. I’ve provided some analysis for those of you in that position toward the end of the post, including an Excel spreadsheet to help with your estimates.

This brings me to the third and final critical part of this analysis: the underlying assumptions I’m making. To really hit a value for benefits, I have to assume a certain amount of flying and a corresponding amount of spending. Here, it’s worth pointing out that United changed how it will award status in 2020.

Distance is no longer a factor at all. Instead, you must fly a certain number of segments (Premier qualifying flights, or PQFs) and spend a certain amount of money (Premier qualifying points, or PQPs), or you can simply spend a certain amount of money (PQPs).

For the sake of this analysis, I’m making the following assumptions:

  • You reach United Premier status through the combination metric (PQFs + PQPs).
  • You earn 20% more PQPs than the minimum required for the given status level.
  • You complete at least the minimum number of PQFs to earn the given status level.
  • At least four of your PQFs are operated by United (a prerequisite for earning any level of United Premier status).

As always, be sure to adjust these numbers based on your given travel patterns. Those who travel in paid first or business class internationally will likely spend significantly more and thus earn more PQPs across fewer PQFs, while some domestic road warriors purchasing low-fare economy tickets may need dozens of PQFs to even hit the Silver PQP requirements.

Related: Boost your United elite status by flying partner airlines

Two final bits of information: For the sake of this analysis, I’m valuing any bonus miles earned based on TPG’s most recent valuations, which peg United miles at 1.3 cents apiece. In addition, I’m rounding all of the individual benefit valuations to the nearest $5 to make the math a bit simpler.

Things to consider before chasing United elite status

United Airlines 737
(Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)

There are a few things to keep in mind as you decide whether or not to chase United elite status in 2021. Here’s a look at some further considerations — these are especially important given 2021 is far from a normal travel year.

How much are you traveling during the coronavirus pandemic?

It’s impossible to talk about travel without discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has changed travel as we know it, and many of us are traveling less. Many U.S. airlines have responded to the pandemic by extending elite status and making it easier to earn status in 2021.

United has done both. It extended elite status for all elites early on in the pandemic, and recently reduced 2021 elite status requirements. Requirements have been slashed by roughly 25% across the board. Here’s how many PQPs or PQFs you’ll need to qualify or requalify for status this year:

  • Silver: 3,000 PQPs + 8 PQFs or 3,500 PQPs
  • Gold: 6,000 PQPs + 16 PQFs or 7,000 PQPs
  • Platinum: 9,000 PQPs + 24 PQFs or 10,000 PQPs
  • Premier 1K: 13,500 PQPs + 36 PQFs or 15,000 PQPs

It’s also worth noting that United awarded bonus PQPs to existing United elites to aid in requalifying for status in 2021.

That said, I am not reflecting these status qualifying changes in this article. Likewise, I am not taking the coronavirus’s impact on travel into account with my valuations.

Why? Simple: As the author, I can’t be sure of how much you travel. Make sure to go through your travel plans and see if it makes sense for you to chase elite status during the pandemic. Likewise, look toward the future and think about how much you’ll travel in future years.

Remember, you can edit the provided Excel sheet and make changes to my assumed valuations for a more accurate look at the value of elite status.

Additionally, elite status requirements will eventually return to normal once the pandemic is behind us. With the vaccine rollout starting worldwide, the future is bright for travel. This means we could see the industry make a return to some resemblance of normalcy in 2022, so I’d expect us to return to standard requirements next year.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Does United have a large presence at your home airport?

United Airlines 747 at ORD
(Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

United has hubs strategically placed around the U.S., with its largest hubs at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Newark (EWR) and Houston (IAH). Likewise, it maintains large hubs at Denver (DEN), Guam (GUM), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington-Dulles (IAD). United is also the second-largest carrier at Honolulu (HNL) airport despite not having an official hub there.

If you live near one of these hubs, United status could be a great option. Chances are you already fly United regularly, given the airline’s large presence in your airport. This is especially true in places like Houston where United is the only carrier with a hub.

Alternatively, you may fly to one of United’s hubs often or — in the case of small airports — find that United has the best one-stop connections from your home city. Whatever the case may be, look at your flight habits and see if it makes sense for you to move the bulk of your flying to United and its Star Alliance partners.

For example, if you live near Atlanta (ATL), you may want to skip United elite status. The airline has very limited service from this airport when compared to Delta. On the other hand, it may make sense for someone based in Des Moines (DSM) to pick United, as all airlines have limited service to the city. Plus, you can conveniently connect through Chicago.

Related: United Airlines may change route map post-coronavirus, says no hub is ‘sacred’

You can fast-track to United elite status with a credit card

United Club credit card
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

It’s also worth noting that you can fast-track your way to United elite status by spending on a United cobranded credit card. You’ll earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 you spend on your card, up to 1,000 PQPs per year. This means you have to spend $24,000 on your card in order to get the full PQP bonus.

Some of the cards eligible for this PQP bonus include the United Explorer Card, United Club Infinite Card and United Business Card.

In previous years, this only counted up to United Premier Platinum status, but has been extended to Premier 1K status in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Keep this in mind as you work through our valuations as you may not need to fly the full requirements to earn elite status.

That said, you’ll need to put a fair amount of spending on your United card in order to earn the full 1,000 bonus PQPs. This presents a large opportunity cost if you usually spend on a transferable points credit card. These cards usually award bonus points on select purchase categories — think dining, travel and gas — and earn more lucrative points.

So while lots of spending on a United card may mean an easier path to elite status, it could also mean lost value.

Related: Credit cards that can help you earn airline elite status

United has continued to devalue MileagePlus miles

One last thing to keep in mind: The value of United miles has continued to drop over the years.

United switched to dynamic award pricing years ago, but kept a standard award chart for partner awards. Unfortunately, that changed last year when the carrier extended dynamic pricing to all partner award tickets. In turn, this increased the cost of partner award tickets by 10% across the board, and prices can be even higher when you book at the last minute.

For example, a United flight from Newark (EWR) to Zurich (ZRH) costs 60,000 miles in business class.

EWR ZRH United Award
(Screenshot courtesy of United)

The same flight on Swiss costs 77,000 miles.

EWR ZRH United Award Operated by SWISS
(Screenshot courtesy of United)

On the other hand, the cost of many domestic awards has gone down since the introduction of dynamic pricing. You can frequently find ultra-cheap award tickets on domestic routes, and even on premier routes. For example, this flight from Newark (EWR) to Miami (MIA) costs just 5,000 miles in economy.

EWR MIA United Award
(Screenshot courtesy of United)

What does this have to do with elite status? Simple: You’re going to earn lots of redeemable United miles when you chase elite status. Think through how much you value United miles — especially if you like flying Star Alliance partners. If you value redeemable miles more than elite status perks, you could be better off crediting to a partner program like Lufthansa Miles & More or Air Canada Aeroplan.

Related: How to get maximum value from the United MileagePlus program

With all that said, where do the four elite levels of the MileagePlus program land? Here’s my analysis:

United Premier Silver ($910)

Image by Zach Honig.
United Premier Silver flyers enjoy complimentary Economy Plus access, though not until check-in. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

The lowest tier in United’s program is Premier Silver status, which requires at least 12 PQFs plus 4,000 PQPs, or just 5,000 PQPs. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 4,800 PQPs (so a total spend of $4,800) plus taking at least 12 PQFs to ensure you satisfy the hybrid qualification criteria.

Complimentary access to Economy Plus/preferred seats ($125)

Premier Silver members are able to select Economy Plus seats for them and one companion (only available at check-in) and can select preferred seats for them and up to eight companions (at time of booking). Economy Plus seats are available on most United-operated flights and offer additional legroom near the front of the coach cabin. However, they don’t provide additional benefits (like you’d get with Delta’s Comfort+), so they’re most similar to American’s Main Cabin Extra. However, they don’t include free drinks like American does, so I’ll value this perk a bit lower.

Complimentary Premier Upgrades ($225)

You’ll also be eligible for complimentary upgrades to first class as a Premier Silver traveler, and this applies to domestic flights along with flights to Hawaii (from the West Coast only), Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. Unfortunately, these typically won’t clear until the day of departure, and you’ll be prioritized behind all other elite members. Complimentary Premier Upgrades also don’t apply to award tickets unless you also have a cobranded card like the United Explorer Card, so I’ll peg this perk just below the value I assigned to the comparable benefit on Delta.

Mileage bonus ($125)

United utilizes a revenue-based scheme for awarding miles, and Premier Silver flyers will earn 7 miles per dollar spent, 2 more than a non-status member. With $4,800 in spending, this equates to 9,600 additional miles, worth $124.80.

Priority check-in, security, boarding and baggage handling ($125)

Unlike American and Delta, United provides its lowest-tier elites with both priority security and baggage handling (in addition to preferred check-in and boarding). As a result, I’ll bump the value a bit compared to those carriers.

Priority phone line ($50)

This can be a nice perk to have in the event of a significant issue but typically isn’t the most valuable benefit out there.

Waived baggage fee ($125)

Premier Silver members can check a bag for free when traveling in economy class, saving up to $60 per round-trip flight. This is similar to the benefit offered to holders of the Explorer Card (though you’ll need to purchase the ticket using the card for that perk to apply). As of September 2018, however, the weight limit was increased from 50 pounds to 70 pounds, so I’ll peg this at the same value I assigned to Delta Silver Medallions.

Award travel benefits ($100)

One way United stands out from the other carriers is the collection of benefits it offers Premier members when it comes to award tickets. Even Premier Silver travelers enjoy priority wait-listing for award flights, can standby if their ticketed class of service isn’t available on one or more legs and will gain access to “better” availability of United Saver awards in economy.

Star Alliance Silver status ($25)

Premier Silver travelers will be designated as Star Alliance Silver when flying on a Star Alliance carrier, though this only includes priority wait-listing and priority standby, neither of which is worth much.

Hertz benefits ($10)

Finally, Silver members will enjoy perks with Hertz thanks to the company’s partnership with United — including automatic Five Star status in the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program and an additional 500 United miles per rental. This could be quite valuable if you frequently rent from Hertz, but I’ll peg this at a conservative $10 for Premier Silver travelers.

United Premier Gold ($2,520)

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

The second tier in United’s program is Premier Gold status, which requires at least 24 PQFs plus 8,000 PQPs, or just 10,000 PQPs. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 9,600 PQPs (so a total spend of $9,600) plus taking at least 24 PQFs to ensure you satisfy the hybrid qualification criteria.

Complimentary access to Economy Plus/preferred seats ($325)

Premier Gold members can also access Economy Plus seats for them and a travel companion plus preferred seats with up to eight companions, and the big difference from Silver is that both of these perks are available at booking. Given the additional flying and earlier availability, I’ll bump this up to $325.

Complimentary Premier Upgrades ($625)

As a Premier Gold member, you’ll also enjoy complimentary upgrades to first class on paid domestic and short-haul international flights. These will be prioritized ahead of Silver travelers and will start clearing 48 hours before departure but again aren’t applicable on award tickets without a United credit card. I’ll boost this value by a little more than double due to the additional travel and higher priority.

Mileage bonus ($375)

Under United’s revenue-based accrual scheme, Premier Golds will earn 8 miles per dollar spent (3 more than non-status flyers). With $9,600 of spending, that’ll give you 28,800 extra miles, worth $374.40.

Priority check-in, security, boarding and baggage handling ($250)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Priority phone line ($100)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization, though you’ll also likely have more knowledgeable agents than Silver members.

Waived baggage fee ($250)

Premier Gold members can check two bags weighing up to 70 pounds apiece on domestic United flights when traveling in economy, a decent step up from Silver travelers.

Same-day flight changes ($150)

One notable difference between Premier Silver and Premier Gold is that Gold members can make a same-day flight change and avoid the $75 service charge. I’ll assume that you’d utilize this benefit twice per year.

Award travel benefits ($125)

Premier Gold travelers have the same award travel benefits as Premier Silvers, including greater availability of economy awards at the Saver level. However, you probably wouldn’t use them twice as frequently, so I’m just bumping the value slightly.

Star Alliance Gold status ($200)

United Premier Gold members will be recognized as Star Alliance Gold travelers when flying on any Star Alliance carrier. This provides many benefits above Star Alliance Silver status, including priority check-in, extra baggage allowances, priority security/immigration (where available) and priority boarding. However, the most valuable perk is lounge access, which is included when you’re ticketed on any Star Alliance flight (the lone exception is traveling on domestic United flights, where you won’t have access to United Clubs but will be able to get into Star Alliance lounges in the U.S.). This means that you could get into a Senator Lounge on a Lufthansa flight within Germany, a United Club on a United flight from the U.S. to the Caribbean or a Turkish Airlines lounge on a United-operated domestic flight. This is a nice step up from comparable status tiers on American and Delta.

Marriott Gold status ($100)

Another benefit offered to Premier Gold members is Gold status with Marriott Bonvoy thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership that launched back in 2013. Unfortunately, this isn’t equivalent to the Gold Elite status you previously enjoyed with the legacy Marriott program, but it still includes perks like bonus points and upgrades to preferred rooms after you link your United and Marriott accounts. The true value of this benefit depends on how frequently you stay at Marriott properties, so I’ll assume a conservative $100, though feel free to adjust this if you have more frequent Marriott stays.

Hertz benefits ($20)

Like Premier Silver flyers, Gold members will enjoy Hertz Five Star status plus the same 500 additional bonus miles compared to a non-statusholder. With the additional travel, I’ll double the value of this perk to $20.

United Premier Platinum ($4,540)

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 02: Passengers check-in for flights with United Airlines at O'Hare Airport on June 2, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. United travelers experienced widespread delays this morning after the airline was forced to ground flights after experiencing computer problems. The issue coincided with reports of bomb threats being made against several airlines, including a United. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Premier Platinum flyers can utilize Premier Access perks whenever they fly on United. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The third tier in the MileagePlus program is Premier Platinum status, which requires at least 36 PQFs plus 12,000 PQPs, or just 15,000 PQPs. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 14,400 PQPs (so a total spend of $14,400) plus taking at least 36 PQFs to ensure you satisfy the hybrid qualification criteria.

Complimentary access to Economy Plus/preferred seats ($500)

Premier Platinums can also access Economy Plus and preferred seats at booking, and this extends to up to eight companions on the same reservation.

Complimentary Premier Upgrades ($1,100)

You’ll also enjoy complimentary upgrades to first class as a Platinum member, and these will begin clearing three days before departure. Given the additional flying and higher likelihood of clearing, I’m bumping this to $1,100.

40 PlusPoints ($400)

Another big change that was announced in 2019 was the shift from upgrade certificates to PlusPoints for higher-tier Premier members. Instead of two Regional Premier Upgrades for reaching Platinum status, you’ll now earn 40 PlusPoints (existing certificates were converted to PlusPoints in December).

In the past, RPUs were restricted to the same flights eligible for complimentary upgrades, United’s premium transcontinental services and longer flights to Hawaii. However, PlusPoints are more flexible, as you can use them on long-haul international flights. The 40 you earn as a Platinum member are enough for a one-way upgrade from most economy fares to United Polaris. In addition, you can use PlusPoints to upgrade a friend or family member, even when you aren’t traveling together.

You will need PZ inventory on your flight for your upgrade to clear at the time of request; you can enable United’s expert mode to see fare class information in your search results. Given the additional flexibility of PlusPoints compared to the RPUs that were previously issued to Platinum members, I’ll peg these at $400, or 1 cent per PlusPoint. Of course, it’s possible to get more value depending on the flight you upgrade with your PlusPoints.

Mileage bonus ($750)

Premier Platinum members will earn 9 miles per dollar spent, a bonus of 4 miles over the earning rate for regular members. $14,400 in spending gets you 57,600 miles, worth $748.80.

Priority check-in, security, boarding and baggage handling ($375)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Priority phone line ($150)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization and more knowledgeable agents.

Waived baggage fee ($325)

Premier Platinum members can check three bags of 70 pounds each for free when traveling in economy on United, though most flyers probably won’t utilize the full extent of this benefit.

Same-day flight changes ($225)

Same benefit, utilized three times per year.

Award travel benefits ($200)

As a Premier Platinum member, you’ll have access to the same award travel perks listed above for Silvers and Golds, but you’ll also see greater availability for United Saver awards in premium cabins as well.

Phone service charge waiver ($25)

In addition to the discounted or waived fees above, you’ll also avoid the $25 direct ticketing charge when making a reservation over the phone, though I’ve frequently been able to get this waived without elite status when I wasn’t able to book a ticket online. I’ll assume that you utilize this once per year.

Star Alliance Gold status ($300)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Marriott Gold status ($150)

Platinum members will also be able to link their United and Marriott accounts to earn Gold status with Marriott Bonvoy, but again this value depends on how frequently you stay at these brands. I’ll bump this slightly due to the additional travel required to earn Premier Platinum status.

Hertz benefits ($40)

As a Platinum traveler, you’ll enjoy automatic President’s Circle status in the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program and enjoy 750 additional miles over a non-status flyer. As a result, I’ll double the value of these perks compared to Premier Gold.

United Premier 1K ($9,685)

A United Airlines flight attendant serves wines in Polaris international business class. Image courtesy of United Airlines.
You’ll receive 240 PlusPoints when you qualify for Premier 1K status, which can be used to upgrade United flights. (Photo courtesy of United Airlines)

The final tier in the MileagePlus program is Premier 1K status, which requires at least 54 PQFs plus 18,000 PQPs, or just 24,000 PQPs. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 21,600 PQPs (so a total spend of $21,600) plus taking at least 54 PQFs to ensure you satisfy the hybrid qualification criteria.

Complimentary access to Economy Plus/preferred seats ($600)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Complimentary Premier Upgrades ($1,500)

Premier 1K members enjoy the highest upgrade priority (aside from Global Services travelers, who are likely traveling in paid first class anyway) and will begin clearing into first class as early as four days before departure.

280 PlusPoints ($3,500)

With United’s shift away from upgrade certificates, Premier 1K members will now earn 280 PlusPoints when qualifying for status. You’d also take home 40 for reaching Premier Platinum, and for every additional 3,000 PQPs, you’ll enjoy another 20 PlusPoints.

As a result, a Premier 1K member with the above travel activity (21,600 PQPs and 54-plus PQFs) will have a total of 340 PlusPoints. This would be worth $3,400 based on the above valuation for Platinums, but I’ll add an additional $100 thanks to the newly added Skip Waitlist feature.

Mileage bonus ($1,685)

Premier 1K members will earn 11 miles per dollar spent, 6 miles more than regular members. By spending $21,600, you’ll take home 129,600 miles, worth $1,684.80.

Priority check-in, security, boarding and baggage handling ($500)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Complimentary snack and drink in economy ($50)

Back in 2016, United announced that Premier 1K and Global Services travelers would enjoy a free drink and snack item if they don’t score the upgrade to first class. You’d hope to utilize this benefit infrequently, but it’s nice to have if you’re stuck in coach!

Priority phone line ($250)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization and more knowledgeable agents.

Waived baggage fee ($375)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Same-day flight changes ($300)

Same benefit, utilized four times per year.

Award travel benefits ($200)

Same benefit, same limited usage.

Phone service charge waiver ($25)

Same benefit, same limited usage.

Star Alliance Gold status ($350)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Marriott Gold status ($200)

Same benefit, slightly more frequent utilization.

Hertz benefits ($50)

Same benefit, more frequent utilization.

Complimentary Clear membership ($100)

In mid-2019, United announced a new partnership with Clear, the popular expedited security program that’s now expanded to more than 30 airports and 20 event venues across the U.S. Membership normally costs $179 per year, but non-status United members will pay $119. The yearly price for United credit cardholders and lower-tier elites drops to $109, but Premier 1K travelers can enjoy a complimentary membership. Given that this is currently available at all of United’s U.S. hubs, I’ll peg this near face value.

What if I’m starting from scratch?

(Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)

As I mentioned at the outset, these numbers are based on the benefits you’d enjoy by spending a full year with the given status. However, if you’re starting from scratch, the calculations become a bit more complicated, since you won’t start to enjoy any benefits until you hit the PQF/PQP requirements to earn Premier Silver status. To help modify the analysis for those individuals, I’ve taken the above valuations and converted them to a value per PQP, as follows:

  • United Premier Silver: $910 / 4,800 PQPs = 18.95 cents per PQP
  • United Premier Gold: $2,520 / 9,600 PQPs = 26.25 cents per PQP
  • United Premier Platinum: $4,540 / 14,400 PQPs = 31.52 cents per PQP
  • United Premier 1K: $9,685 / 21,600 PQPs = 44.83 cents per PQP

I then created an Excel spreadsheet that uses these numbers to calculate how much value you’d get from the different levels of United elite status given a certain amount of flying. All you need to do is change the number in cell A2 to represent the number of PQPs you expect to fly in 2021, and the spreadsheet will update with the corresponding value. This also includes the additional PlusPoints you’d receive by reaching additional thresholds of 3,000 PQPs.

For example, you’ll see that I have pre-loaded 11,000 PQPs. At this rate, you’d get no benefits from the first 4,000 PQPs, then enjoy Premier Silver benefits for the next 4,000 PQPs (at a rate of 18.95 cents per PQP), and then enjoy Premier Gold benefits for the final 3,000 PQPs (at a rate of 26.25 cents per PQP). This means that if you’re starting from scratch and estimate that you’ll earn 11,000 PQPs in 2021, you’d be able to get $1,545.83 worth of perks from the United MileagePlus program.

Related: Consider jump-starting your travel in 2021 with an airline elite status match or challenge

As always, feel free to adjust the numbers above for each tier (loaded into the “Base Data” tab of the spreadsheet) based on your own personal valuation.

Is it worth it?

United Polaris business class cabin
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

So given these values, is it worth pursuing elite status (or the next tier of elite status) with United? Just like with any analysis we undertake here at TPG, there isn’t an easy answer to this, as it depends entirely on your individual situation. However, here are a few over-arching questions that can help you arrive at a decision:

How much will you travel in the future?

If you earn United elite status in 2021, it’s valid through Jan. 31, 2023. It’s critical to think about how much you’ll be traveling in the future. If you push hard to earn Premier 1K, for example, the valuable perks outlined above only apply when you actually travel.

What’s the incremental value of one tier over another?

Many of you may wind up within striking distance of the next tier, so be sure to consider whether the benefits are worth pushing for it. There’s no sense in going out of your way for perks that don’t matter to you.

How well does United’s route map match your typical travel patterns?

Pursuing elite status with an airline that you can’t feasibly fly on a regular basis is a fool’s errand. Be sure to consider United’s service from your home airport(s) and how easy it is to get to your desired destination.

How sensitive are you to price and convenience?

There are many trade-offs in this hobby, and one of the most common is deciding whether to use your preferred airline or hotel chain when it’s not the most convenient or cheapest. Would you book a one-stop United flight if Alaska had a cheaper nonstop option? If the answer is no, it may not be worth going out of your way to earn United elite status (or any elite status, for that matter).

Could you enjoy elite-like perks with a credit card?

The final consideration involves travel rewards credit cards. Many airline cobranded cards offer perks to cardholders than can mirror what you’d enjoy as an elite member. For example, the United Explorer Card includes a free checked bag, priority boarding and two, one-time United Club passes, while the United Club Infinite Card provides a complimentary United Club membership in addition to two free checked bag fees (among other perks). If you can pay a flat annual fee for one of these cards and gain access to perks that matter to you without going out of your way to earn elite status, that may be a good plan.

These questions are also not easy to answer, as there are many different factors that come into play with each of them. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile exercise to evaluate your own situation as you determine if United elite status is for you!

Bottom line

As a former road warrior, I’ve held elite status on several carriers and have experienced firsthand how the perks can make the travel experience less stressful and (dare I say?) even enjoyable. That being said, every traveler has his or her own set of benefits that make it worthwhile to pursue elite status. If you’re in the market for a new preferred carrier in 2021 and have United on your shortlist, I hope this post has given you some great information to help you come to a final decision.


This is The Points Guy’s permanent page about United Airlines elite status, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for the latest information. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to outdated information below.


Featured photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.