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6 strategies I'm using to close the gap to top-tier United 1K elite status this year

Oct. 30, 2022
11 min read
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I've done dumb things for airline and hotel elite status. I've done mileage runs (flights to essentially nowhere) and booked hotel stays I didn't really want or need. It's cost me money, time and likely a bit of sanity. And while I'm not particularly proud of those things, I decided they made sense at the time.

Over the years, I've tried to keep myself from repeating some of the dumbest and most wasteful things, but last year, I felt the pull to grab United’s valuable top-tier 1K status that was unexpectedly close to my grasp — and now that I've lived almost a year of the "good life" I don't want to let it go quite yet.

I again want those 280 PlusPoints that come with getting Platinum status that I can use for domestic and international upgrades for myself and my family, the (admittedly rare) complimentary upgrades, the included onboard snacks and drinks, the better and quicker service when I have an issue, the bonus miles, truly early boarding and more.

With about two months left to go in the year and a few trips still to fly, I am relatively close to requalifying for United's 1K status one more time. But being close doesn't do the trick — close just leaves you frustrated and on the outside looking in.

I've already flown enough segments (aka flights) with United this year to meet the flight requirement for the highest status tier (other than the invite-only Global Services). These days, however, status with United and many other airlines isn't just how often you fly, it's how much you spend.

And as it stands, I'm just over 2,157 Premier qualifying points (aka $2,157 dollars spent with United) short of the finish line of 13,500 PQPs needed to go along with my 36 flights flown to earn United's 1K status.

UNITED

If you want to see how much further you have to go when factoring in additional United trips you already have booked, United can show you that if you select the option to include future flights. By that calculation, with booked trips, the shortfall narrows to 1,668 PQPs, assuming all those booked flights happen as planned.

If you're also currently coming in short on the United status you want to earn this year, here's a look at my plan to close the gap and requalify for United elite status before the end of the year — and some strategies that could work for others in similar situations.

Related: What is United 1K status really worth

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Spend on a United credit card

One of the easiest ways to earn United PQPs without flying is by spending on your United credit card.

I have both the United Club Infinite Card, and the United℠ Business Card which I can use to earn 500 PQPs after spending $12,000 on purchases in a calendar year (up to 4,000 PQPs per year). I’ve already earned 1,000 PQPs this year in that manner, but I have some large end-of-year expenses coming up (such as annual property taxes and paying off the balance on a cruise) that should snag me one more round of 500 deposited PQPs.

Here are some of the annual PQP limits on some common United credit cards.

There's no tracker available to see how close you are to the next spending threshold, so you'll just have to get your statements out and do some math. I last had 500 PQPs from card spending deposited in May, so I've just totaled up what I've spent on the card since then to see how far to get to the next $12,000 I have to go.

Since I also need to spend on my Hyatt card to earn elite status progress towards Globalist status over there with dollars charged, it's unlikely I'll earn more than 500 more PQPs this way when I hit that next $12,000 threshold charged on my United card.

With those 500 PQPs hopefully in hand, I'm down to 1,168 still to-be-earned PQPs.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: Credit cards that help you earn elite status

Buy upgrades on existing flights

Since I've already hit the number of United flights I need for the year, it is somewhat more attractive to earn PQPs by “buying up” to domestic first class on my existing, planned flights rather than adding too many more flights than necessary to my end-of-year schedule.

Yes, it still involves extra spending, but by doing it in a targeted manner on United flights I’m taking anyway, I’m raking in more PQPs than just sticking with an economy seat.

I did this on a recent flight to Denver, where I purposely booked a flight that was operated on a United wide-body with lie-flat seats. Buying up to first class for $149 on that flight was a treat – and, as you can see, those dollars spent got me that much closer to requalifying for 1K status.

UNITED

While booking first class isn't my normal spending and booking behavior for a two-hour flight, it felt like I got some actual value in return for the money I spent. I'll likely need to do the same on a couple of flights I have coming up in November and December that also have $149 upgrades available.

Assuming I do that two more times before the end of the year and earn 298 more PQPs in the process, the gap closes to 870 needed PQPs.

Related: How to get an upgrade when flying on major US airlines

Earn United PQF segments

This isn't something I personally need to do this year as I've hit this number of flights portion of the requirement already, but in case you find yourself falling short in this category, here are some ideas.

A United Premier qualifying flight is just a fancy word for a flight takeoff/touchdown. If I flew round-trip from Houston to Colorado Springs with a connection both ways in Denver, that would equal four PQFs. This year, you need 36 PQFs (in addition to PQPs earned from spending) for 1K status.

Last year, when I was a handful of segments short toward the end of the year, I added a connection to some otherwise nonstop trips and did a one-day hop around Texas to visit Dallas and Austin to round out the year picking up those segments, since the length of the flight doesn't matter.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: Credit cards that help you earn airline elite status

Book additional United flights

With two months left to go in the year, you still have time to book additional flights.

Personally, I know of at least one more trip to New York City that I need to book that's not counted in my existing totals. While I don't know exactly what that will cost quite yet (as the precise dates aren't set), it's likely safe to assume I'll earn about 300 PQPs at a rate of 1 per $1 of base fare since I will be flying during business days and hours and it probably won't be a super-cheap fare.

That should take me down to a shortfall of around 570 more PQPs once I count up the actual flights I need and anticipate taking through Dec. 31.

There's no way I am missing a year of 1K status by going just 96% of the way and coming up 570 PQPs short. I'm still holding out on planning anything firm in case some necessary work travel presents itself, but if that doesn't happen, I'll be booking a $570-ish flight (plus taxes and fees) to somewhere fun like Vegas for the night.

It may mean paying for a more expensive type of fare than I'd normally book, but luckily you can see the number of PQPs you will earn before you book if you click on the "View MileagePlus Earnings" button under the "Total Due" screen.

UNITED

Since I need more Hyatt nights, too, and there are plenty of ways to earn those on the cheap in Vegas, that could all work out quite nicely.

Related: Last-minute strategies for United Premier elite status

Earn PQPs via United partner flights

ZACH HONIG/THE POINTS GUY

There is a way to potentially earn PQPs faster than the rate of 1 per eligible dollar spent with United if you turn to partner bookings. Partner earnings are based on a mix of distance flown, fare class and whether or not it is a preferred partner.

It works best for preferred partner flights that are both long in distance flown and relatively cheap for the fare class. The cheap part is great, but I don't personally have the time or interest to take a far-flung trip at this point in the year.

If you do go this route, you need to be diligent about reading the fine print around charts and fare classes, as many earn less than 100% with United. It is possible to come out ahead earning PQPs a bit faster and cheaper with some of United's partners, but only if you are very careful about what you book.

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

Purchase PQPs outright

I’m unlikely to do this myself, but you can potentially just buy United PQPs outright.

If you have future trips planned on United this year, log into your account and find your reservations. You might see an “Award Accelerator” option listed when you are looking at your trip details. You may also see this option pop up as you check in for United flights. While most of the Award Accelerator options are simply redeemable United miles you are purchasing at a fixed cost, some of the pricier packages include PQPs.

In my example below, I could purchase 6,000 redeemable United award miles and 400 PQPs for $560. TPG values United miles at 1.21 cents per mile, making 6,000 miles worth around $72. By that math, you are paying around $488 extra for 400 PQPs. You could instead earn those 400 PQPs by spending $400 on base United fares, seat upgrades, etc.

Related: Should you buy hotel or airline elite status?

UNITED

Bottom line

Airline elite status is a bit of a trap, and isn't always worth it.

I went through months this year where my United 1K status resulted in no upgrades at all -- even when trying to apply PlusPoints. When domestic first-class upgrades are available for sale from $149 in many cases, it is arguably cheaper to just buy that when you want it and not mess with chasing elite status beyond what you naturally earn.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had been at mid-tier United Gold status for years, and it was only because of the relaxed pandemic qualification rules and promotions that I found myself with 1K status last year. I only have a shot at keeping it this year because of some boosts and bonuses that were given to existing elites earlier in the year.

If things go back to "normal" for 2023, I expect to fall from 1K status at United back to a Platinum or even Gold level. I'll do some silly things for status, but only to a point. However, I'm already too far in to quit on the 1K status hunt this year — so with two months left to go, it's all up in the air for me.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/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.

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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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    Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel

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  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
  • Earn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Free Online Credit Score and Credit Report summary, terms apply
  • If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
  • See Rates & Fees