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The strategies I'm using to close the gap to United 1K elite status

Nov. 17, 2021
7 min read
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I swore I wasn't going to mileage run (again) – but that was before I began feeling the pull to grab United's valuable top-tier 1K status.

There was no master plan to go for high-level elite status, it just happened. And much like the gravitational pull of the earth if you fly too close to its orbit, it sucked me in, and I decided to go for United's 1K status before the clock hits Jan. 1, 2022.

Why am I pursuing this course? Put simply, I want those 280 PlusPoints that I can use for domestic and international upgrades for myself and my family.

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I want the upgrades, the onboard snacks and drinks, the better and quicker service when I have an issue, the bonus miles and more. I have had United 1K status once before a number of years back – and it's time I refresh my memory on what it's like to live the high life.

(Screenshot from United)

So, with 1.5 months to go in 2021 and a few trips still to fly, I am sitting just seven flight segments and less than 2,500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) under the threshold for Premier 1K.

That's a gap I can and want to close...and now I'm officially back in the race to achieve United 1K status. Here's what I'm doing to get myself there as painlessly as possible.

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Spending on my United credit card

One of the easiest ways to earn United PQPs is by spending on your United credit card.

I have the United Club Infinite Card, which I can use to earn 500 PQPs after spending $12,000 on purchases in a calendar year, up to 3,000 PQPs per year (and 4,000 starting in 2021). I've already earned 1,000 PQPs this year in that manner, but I've shifted the bulk of my spending over to the card in order to try and pick up 500 more PQPs before the end of the year without having to actually fly.

My husband also needed a few more PQPs to requalify for his United Gold status and he was able to get most of those by simply applying for a targeted United credit card offer that came with an immediate 500 PQPs for approval. That was a lucky break for him.

For me, earning another 500-1,000 PQPs with card spending won't get me all the way to 1K. I'm still seven flights short, so I need to get on a plane, and that's exactly what I'm planning to do...strategically.

Related: Credit cards that help you earn elite status

Spending on upgrades on existing flights

Don't get me wrong, both time and money are in short supply these days. The realities of work, parenting, holidays, and other responsibilities mean my time is already stretched to the absolute max this time of the year.

That means in my situation it is much more attractive to earn PQPs by "buying up" to domestic first class on my existing, planned flights rather than adding more flights than necessary to my schedule. Yes, it involves extra spending, but by doing it in a targeted manner on United flights I'm taking anyway, I'm raking in a lot more PQPs than I would by just sticking with my economy seat.

I did this on a recent flight home from Florida, where I purposely booked a flight that was operated on a United 767 widebody with Polaris seats. Buying up to first class on that flight was a true treat – and it got me that much closer to 1K status.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

While it was not something I would have likely done if I wasn't pushing for 1K status, it felt like I got some actual value in return for the money I spent.

I've done the same on a few more already-planned December flights, which brings me to my final hurdle ... the segments I'm still missing.

Earning United PQF segments

Because of United's hybrid elite status system that factors in not only money spent with the airline but also the number of flights taken, I still need additional United Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs).

PQF is just a fancy word for a flight takeoff/touchdown. If I flew round-trip from Houston to Aspen 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. Right this second, I've got 29, with three more flights planned – leaving me around four segments short.

You can earn a couple of PQFs from United credit cards based on a current promotion, but I still need a few more than that.

So, while I said I wouldn't mileage run again, to get these missing segments I'm going to probably have to do something pretty close to a mileage run. I'm going to do my best to leverage those flights into something that isn't a total waste, but there will undoubtedly be a few December flights that I almost certainly otherwise wouldn't have taken.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Unlike in the old days of true mileage runs, where flying more miles was the goal, the distance of these flights doesn't matter. So, since my hometown is Houston, Dallas and Austin are the likely short and sweet destination targets. Luckily for me, there are people and things in those cities I wouldn't mind seeing for lunch if it works out that way.

Related: Credit cards that help you earn airline elite status

Outright purchasing of PQPs

There is another alternative.

Personally, I'm unlikely to do this — and if it's something you're considering, be very sure you're coming out on the upside of this equation if you do it to close the last bit of runway between you and the status you want — 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 will potentially 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, I could purchase 7,000 redeemable award miles and 500 PQPs for $690. TPG values United miles at 1.3 cents per mile, making 7,000 miles worth around $91. By that math, you are paying around $600 extra for 500 PQPs that you could instead earn for spending $500 on base United fares, seat upgrades, etc.

The upshot: This option is only worth it if you have no better alternatives and it will get you over the hump to a valuable (i.e. very high) status level, like 1K.

(Screenshot from United)

Bottom line

I didn't mean to end up this close to earning United's highest published elite status level. A combination of work trips, fun trips, credit card spending and very lucrative MileagePlus promotions that timed out well with my flights got me within a striking distance that proved too tempting for me to resist.

Only time will tell what 2022 holds and whether my push for airline elite status will be worth it, but I've decided to go for it and see where the miles take me.

Featured image by (Photo 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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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    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

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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