How I closed the gap to United Gold status for $250 — without a mileage run
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.
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.
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 United.com, 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 United.com account. You may see an option to add Premier qualifying miles to the trip, as I highlighted in red below.
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:
- Last-minute elite strategies for American Airlines
- Last-minute elite strategies for Southwest Airlines
- Last-minute elite strategies for Alaska Airlines
- Last-minute elite strategies for Delta Air Lines
Or, go another direction:
Featured image courtesy of United
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.