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How I closed the gap to United Gold status for $250 — without a mileage run

Nov. 19, 2019
5 min read
United Boeing 787-9
How I closed the gap to United Gold status for $250 — without a mileage run
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It's that time of year again: You know, when frequent flyers near and far congregate online to concoct plans to requalify for elite status for the upcoming year. And I'm no exception to this madness.

As has been the case for the last couple years, I was on track to end the year a few thousand elite qualifying miles short of United's mid-tier Gold status.

United has a handy tool that projects your year-end status with currently booked flights -- and I was coming in just short. But I was not about to miss out on all the Gold perks I'd become accustomed to: free Economy Plus seats for two at booking, Star Alliance lounge access and free same-day changes.

There was also no way I was adding a mileage run to my already packed end-of-the-year schedule. (Or any part of the year, really.)

United, unfortunately, isn't one of the airlines that will let you spend your way to elite status on any currently available cobranded credit cards. And I couldn't pay for a higher fare class on an existing reservation, as the upgrades were either too pricey or would leave the rest of my family in another cabin. There simply weren't many ways to earn the final 2,000 necessary elite qualifying miles to hit 50,000.

Related: Credit cards that help you earn airline elite status

So, my only option — without taking an extra flight or two — was to purchase elite qualifying miles through United's Premier Accelerator. This wouldn't be cheaper than flying for those last few miles, but it was much faster and easier.

As outlined in TPG's guide to last-minute elite status strategies with United, buying Premier Accelerator miles is rarely cheap or straightforward. You can't just pull up, type in how many elite qualifying miles you want to buy and hit purchase.

To find opportunities to purchase elite qualifying miles online, you can look at your existing flight reservations in your account. You may see an option to add Premier qualifying miles to the trip, as I highlighted in red below.

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If you see that prompt and click, you'll the have the opportunity to buy additional miles in predetermined increments. Usually, the lowest package offered is 4,000 or 5,000 miles, but I needed fewer than 2,000. (Make sure you click "add Premier Accelerator" as shown below if you want the miles to count for elite status purposes.)

The price per mile can vary, but my all-in offers that included Premier Accelerator were consistently priced at 12.5 cents per mile. If I bought a few thousand more miles than I needed, it would have cost hundreds of dollars extra. That's a waste, as United miles are only worth 1.3 cents each according to TPG's most recent valuations, so this is only truly something you do to close the elite status gap.

If you also have a small gap to close in order to earn your desired United elite status level, typically the smallest mileage packages available are on the shortest flights. Relatively short flights such as Houston (IAH) to either Aspen (ASE) or Orlando (MCO) both started at 4,000- to 5,000-mile packages. But a really short hop from Houston to Corpus Christi (CRP) offered a package of just 2,000 miles: The perfect amount.

(Shopping for a new flight, and not altering existing reservations? These options can be seen on the payment screen.)

It still cost me an additional $250 to buy 2,000 elite qualifying and redeemable United miles, but I made the charge to my Barclay Arrival Plus to offset some of the cost with points. Almost any credit card that allows you to pay for travel with fixed value points can do the trick if you don't want to just pay cash.

At the end of the day (well, year), spending an additional $250 to close the gap to United MileagePlus Gold status without adding any extra time away from my family was a win in my book.

Next year, the game for United MileagePlus elite status will change completely, and become an almost entirely dollars spent equation. Though this particular strategy won't help you reach elite status in United's cash-focused frequent flyer program next year, flying partners might get you there faster. So, get 2019 squared away, and then we can shift our focus to the future.

If you're in pursuit of last-minute elite strategies on other airlines, read on:

Or, go another direction:

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of United)