Skip to content

Why you probably shouldn't buy up for United status

Feb. 02, 2022
9 min read
United Boeing 777-300ER at Hong Kong (HKG)
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Although 2021 has come to an end, there's still an opportunity to achieve the next level of United's sought-after Premier status for 2022 — by buying up.

If your account was targeted, you may have the opportunity to purchase the status level above what you earned in 2021. 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 — after all, who doesn't want more elite benefits? — prepare for sticker shock.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Instead of charging the difference between your 2021 earned Premier qualifying points and the next tier's PQP threshold, United seemingly charges at its discretion. In some cases, the data that we've gathered shows exorbitantly high elite status buy-up fees at almost all levels.

Here's a look at what we found.

Sign up for our daily newsletter for more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox.

Premier Silver to Premier Gold

Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

In our surveyed accounts, we 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, 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 actually use the added benefits on a regular basis.

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

Premier Gold to Premier Platinum

It appears that United is offering those who qualified for Premier Gold a chance to purchase Premier Platinum. The data we've gathered shows that United is charging between $2,000 to $3,000 for most upgrades, though one member received an outlier offer at $933.

Premier Platinum members receive all of the benefits that Premier Gold members receive. Beyond that, the only real difference is higher complimentary upgrade priority and 40 PlusPoints, which is enough for two regional upgrades or one long-haul international upgrade.

Because of this, 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 cost of the buy-up.

United Polaris lounge at San Francisco International Airport. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

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 36 Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) and 13,500 PQPs, or 15,000 PQPs if you qualify through that metric alone.

(Screenshot courtesy of 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, which can be worth thousands of dollars alone.

The 280 PlusPoints can be used in many ways, and you can choose 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 one datapoint for Premier Platinum to 1K status, which came in at $4,123. This is a small fortune for many, especially when considering that your status expires on Jan. 31, 2023. 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.

United Boeing 777-200ER Polaris business class. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

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. TPG's Director of Video, Tom Grahsler, came within just 33 PQPs of qualifying for Premier Platinum. When he contacted United, he was directed to the status buy-up offer. Tom was offered Premier Platinum status for $2,815, even though he was very close to earning the tier in 2021.

What appears to be most affecting prices is when you earned PQPs in 2021. Across the board, those who flew in November and December saw higher buy-up fees than those who last flew in September or October.

Is it worth it?

(Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

In general, we don't think these buy-up offers are a great deal. To me, these price points are just simply too high to even begin to consider a status upgrade splurge.

If you are on the fence on 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 2022 flight activities. After all, the status you earn in 2022 will be valid through Jan. 31, 2024, whereas the status you buy up to this year will expire on Jan. 31, 2023.

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 PQP based on the number of redeemable miles you earn, which is based on each partner's earning chart. Here's a look at United's Air Canada earning chart:

(Screenshot courtesy of 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 class of service and whether or not you're flying a preferred partner.

Class of servicePreferred partner PQPsMileagePlus partner PQPs
First/business1,5001,000
Economy/premium economy750500

For example, on this business-class Air Canada itinerary, you can earn 4,321 PQPs by spending just over $3,000.

(Screenshot courtesy of google.com/flights)
  • Honolulu (HNL) to Vancouver (YVR): Air Canada — 4,060 award miles, 812 PQPs.
  • Vancouver (YVR) to Montreal (YUL): Air Canada — 3,430 award miles, 686 PQPs.
  • Montreal (YUL) to Munich (MUC): Lufthansa — 3,811 award miles, 762 PQPs.
  • Munich (MUC) to Naples, Italy (NAP): Lufthansa — 530 award miles, 106 PQPs.
  • Naples (NAP) to Munich (MUC): Lufthansa — 530 award miles, 106 PQPs.
  • Munich (MUC) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA): Lufthansa — 189 award miles, 37 PQPs.
  • Frankfurt (FRA) to Vancouver (YVR): Lufthansa — 5,002 award miles, 1,000 PQPs.
  • Vancouver (YVR) to Honolulu (HNL): Air Canada — 4,060 award miles, 812 PQPs.

Total: 21,612 award miles and 4,321 PQPs.

After flying this itinerary and four segments on United, one would earn Premier Silver status and be well on their way to achieving higher flight status. Plus, those with existing elite status would earn even more award miles thanks to United's elite bonus on partner flights.

Related: How to earn United elite status for less by flying partner airlines

Terminal 3 and Terminal G at San Francisco International Airport. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

In almost all cases, United's recent buy-up offers are very 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, 2024, 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 out of upgrading your status in 2022.

Featured image by United Boeing 777-300ER at Hong Kong (HKG) (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)
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.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
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
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
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.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
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
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • 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 Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases