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Why you probably shouldn’t buy up for United status

Jan. 20, 2023
8 min read
United plane on the tarmac at Newark airport
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Although 2022 has ended, there may still be an opportunity to achieve the next level of United’s sought-after Premier status for 2023 — by buying up.

If your account was targeted, you might have the opportunity to purchase the status level above what you earned in 2022. You can visit this landing page and sign in to your MileagePlus account to see if your account is eligible for a targeted buy-up offer.

While this might sound appealing, prepare for sticker shock.

Instead of charging the difference between your 2022 earned Premier qualifying points and the next tier’s PQP threshold, United charges at its discretion. In some cases, the data we’ve gathered shows exorbitantly high elite status buy-up fees at almost all levels. And unlike previous years, you can redeem MileagePlus miles at a fixed 0.75 cents or 1 cent per mile (about 25% to 50% below TPG's valuation of United miles) to buy up to the next status tier.

Here’s a look at what we found.

Premier Silver to Premier Gold

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Our surveyed accounts found that the status buy-ups from Premier Silver to Premier Gold range from roughly $1,500 to $3,500.

Some of the primary benefits of Premier Gold status include Star Alliance Gold status, Group 1 boarding, Economy Plus for you and one companion at booking, higher priority complimentary domestic standby upgrades, a status match to Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and two checked bags when traveling with United.

We believe that Premier Gold is an excellent United Premier membership. Many of the benefits of Premier Gold (like Star Alliance Gold and the Marriott status match) are identical to those that top Premier 1K and Global Service flyers have access to, and it is far more attainable than higher United statuses.

Still, it can be difficult to justify paying thousands of dollars to receive a status bump from Premier Silver to Premier Gold. This is especially true if you don’t fly enough to use the added benefits regularly.

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Related: I just earned airline elite status for the first time — and I’m never going back

Premier Gold to Premier Platinum

First class on an Airbus A320. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

It appears that United is offering those who qualified for Premier Gold a chance to purchase Premier Platinum. Our examples show that United charges between $3,000 and $4,000 for most upgrades.

UNITED.COM

Premier Platinum members receive all of the benefits that Premier Gold members receive. Beyond that, the only notable difference is higher complimentary upgrade priority and 40 PlusPoints, which is enough for two regional upgrades or one international long-haul upgrade. Premier Platinum members can also reserve up to eight Economy Plus seats when traveling with companions, as opposed to Premier Gold with just one companion.

In light of the limited additional benefits, we don’t recommend that most flyers purchase Premier Platinum status. This is especially true if your targeted offer is in the $2,000-plus range — while the PlusPoints and higher upgrade priority are nice, they’re unlikely to offset the buy-up cost.

Related: Quick Points: How United elites can claim free mid-tier Marriott elite status

Premier Platinum to Premier 1K

As the highest published tier at United, Premier 1K offers a variety of benefits. This tier is reserved for the most frequent United flyers, as it requires earning 54 Premier qualifying flights and 18,000 PQPs, or 24,000 PQPs if you qualify through that metric alone.

UNITED.COM

Premier 1K members enjoy all the benefits of Premier Platinum in addition to preboarding privileges, a complimentary Clear membership, a snack and drink in economy and 280 PlusPoints.

You can use the 280 PlusPoints in many ways, choosing any combination that best suits you. For example, you can redeem them for 14 regional upgrades, 14 upgrades to United Premium Plus on long-haul flights, or seven upgrades from economy to Polaris business class. I recently used 40 PlusPoints to score an upgrade to Polaris business class on a long-haul flight.

We collected a data point for Premier Platinum to 1K status, which came in at $7,061. One TPG reader received an offer to buy up to Premier 1K status for $9,934 or 1,103,778 miles (worth over $13,000 at TPG's valuations).

This is a small fortune for many, especially considering your status expires on Jan. 31, 2024. Like other buy-ups, we find this hard to justify even with the PlusPoints haul, though it could be worthwhile if you have an immediate plan to use them on a long-haul flight.

Related: Surprise: United extends elite status for some, announces reduced requirements for next year

How does United determine these prices?

While a computer algorithm is likely determining the cost of your targeted buy-up, there are a few patterns that we’ve noticed when comparing offers through our surveyed MileagePlus accounts.

Surprisingly, how close you were to the next Premier status does not appear to affect prices. It seems like the factor that most affects prices is when you earned PQPs in 2022. Across the board, those who flew in November and December saw higher buy-up fees than those who last flew in September or October.

Related: An easy weekday upgrade: A review of United Business on the A320 from Puerto Vallarta to Denver

Is it worth it?

KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

We don’t think these buy-up offers are a great deal. And as a United frequent flyer myself, I think these price points are too high to even consider a status upgrade splurge.

If you are on the fence about whether or not to buy a status upgrade, you may want to apply the cost you would have spent on the status upgrade to your 2023 flight activities. After all, the status you earn in 2023 will be valid through Jan. 31, 2025, whereas the status you buy up to this year will expire on Jan. 31, 2024.

Earning PQPs quickly on partner flights

You can often earn more than 1 PQP per $1 spent by flying United partners, so long as you don’t book with United.

When you do this, you’ll earn PQPs based on the number of redeemable miles you earn based on each partner’s earning chart. Here’s a look at United’s Air Canada earning chart:

UNITED.COM

Additionally, there are two tiers of partners: MileagePlus partners and preferred partners, with preferred partners earning more PQPs. When flying with a MileagePlus partner, you take the number of redeemable miles you earn and divide the number by six to determine the number of PQPs you earn. For preferred partners, you divide by five.

Note that there is a maximum number of PQPs you can earn per segment, which varies based on the class of service and whether or not you’re flying a preferred partner.

Class of servicePreferred partner PQPsMileagePlus partner PQPs
First/business1,500.1,000.
Economy/premium economy750.500.

For example, on this business-class Air Canada itinerary, you can earn 5,282 PQPs by spending roughly $3,500.

GOOGLE.COM/FLIGHTS
  • Honolulu to Vancouver: 4,060 award miles, 812 PQPs.
  • Vancouver to Montreal: 3,430 award miles, 686 PQPs.
  • Montreal to Milan: 5,714 award miles, 1,143 PQPs.
  • Milan to Montreal: 5,714 award miles, 1,143 PQPs.
  • Montreal to Vancouver: 3,430 award miles, 686 PQPs.
  • Vancouver to Honolulu: 4,060 award miles, 812 PQPs.

Total: 26,408 award miles and 5,282 PQPs.

After flying this itinerary and four segments on United, one would earn Premier Silver status and be well on their way to a higher status. Plus, those with existing elite status would earn even more award miles thanks to United’s elite bonus on partner flights. You can then redeem those miles and earn even more PQPs since United now awards PQPs on award flights.

Related: United's best-kept elite status secret: How to earn PQPs faster with partner flights

Bottom line

In almost all cases, United’s recent buy-up offers are atrociously expensive.

If you’ve received one of these offers, you should look at your upcoming travel plans and see if the added benefits outweigh the cost. Most of the time, we recommend applying whatever you were considering spending on a status buy-up toward flight activity this year.

In doing this, the status you earn this year will be valid until Jan. 31, 2025, giving you an extra year to enjoy the perks associated with your status. Plus, you’d get to see another great destination and make a vacation by upgrading your status in 2023.

Featured image by ARISTIDE ECONOMOPOULOS/BLOOMBERG/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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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023