Riding the bus could now give your United status a boost

Jan 27, 2021

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Earning airline elite status usually requires a ton of “butt-in-seat” miles, or, at the very least, a savvy credit card strategy.

But if you’re a United flyer, you’ll soon have another way to boost your Premier status. And that’s by taking the bus.

Starting March 11, all bus service purchased in conjunction with air tickets will accrue Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs), as well as redeemable miles. The change was confirmed to TPG by a carrier spokesperson and has already been loaded to United’s website.

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But, you must be thinking, what’s an airline doing selling tickets on a bus?

Turns out, United partners with Easton Coach to offer connecting itineraries to offer connecting itineraries to and from Allentown, Pennsylvania (ABE), via the carrier’s Newark (EWR) hub.

If you search for United flights from Allentown to any of the carrier’s destinations, odds are that you’ll be offered the choice of connecting in Newark on the “UA Bus Service.” (United Express flies to Allentown from its Chicago and Washington/Dulles hubs on a mix of regional jets, according to Cirium schedules.)

Google Maps shows that the drive to Newark should take around 90 minutes. Many Lehigh Valley-area travelers might consider Ubering or taking a private car to United’s New York City hub, but the bus alternative will give you a boost to earning status. (Easton Coach also offers some flyer-friendly amenities, like complimentary Wi-Fi, SiriusXM satellite radio, armrests and footrests.)

The bus component of the itinerary will earn PQPs and redeemable miles, but note that it won’t earn any Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs). You earn the latter for every flight segment you take with United or its partners. Earning status requires a combination of PQPs and PQFs. There’s also a higher PQP-only track, too.

More: Guide to earning United Premier status in 2021

Of course, it’ll pay to compare the cost of non-stop flights from Newark versus one-stop itineraries involving the bus connection.

On a random date in February, it was cheaper to purchase a one-way biz flight from Allentown to Fort Lauderdale, via Newark ($331), compared to $336 when booking it as a non-stop from Newark. In other cases, it was significantly more expensive to originate in Allentown, so be sure to check the fares. You’d earn 301 PQPs for the aforementioned itinerary, representing the entire fare excluding taxes.

This latest move is similar to United’s now-discontinued Amtrak partnership.

For years, the carrier and Amtrak had a codeshare partnership, allowing you to purchase a flight to or from Newark with a connection on the Northeast Regional train to or from your final destination.

Flyers could earn redeemable miles for eligible train segments, and Amtrak Guest Rewards members could credit United flights to Amtrak as well. Plus, the two transportation providers offered reciprocal lounge access for certain premium passengers and elite members.

However, as of Dec. 24, 2020, earning United MileagePlus miles through Amtrak and vice versa was cut. Reciprocal lounge access ends in just over a week on Feb. 4.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

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