Surprise: United extends elite status for some, announces reduced requirements for next year

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Like Santa sneaking down the chimney and quietly leaving gifts in stockings, overnight, United MileagePlus members started to discover that United had quietly extended elite status and PlusPoint expiration dates for some members all the way into 2023 in some cases.

For those who haven’t really returned to the sky as before and that were set to lose their pre-pandemic elite status level after an initial extension in 2020 that runs into early 2022, this is a very welcome gift.

However, for those who have spent the year leveraging United’s promotions and strategically earning both United Premier Qualifying Points (essentially dollars spent with the airline) and Premier Qualifying Segments (flights taken with the airline), this gift coming so late in the year isn’t necessarily welcome.

As first discovered by Live and Let’s Fly and later confirmed by United to TPG, not only are United Mileage Plus  status levels and PlusPoints being extended for some customers, but the airline is also announcing reduced elite status thresholds for the 2022 qualification year.

Here’s what we’ve learned about United’s plans for elite status.

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Elite status extensions

As has been reported by travelers in the TPG Lounge on Facebook, and other spots, United confirms that it is extending Premier Status to Jan. 31, 2023, for “select members who were not able to engage with United at their accustomed level due to the pandemic restrictions.” Some examples given were related to closed borders and company travel restrictions.

United also shared with TPG that through reduced qualification criteria and promotions, it has more members retaining status this year compared to 2019.

United PlusPoint extensions

United PlusPoints, which are awarded at the United Platinum status level and above and used to confirm upgrades, are also getting extended.

United shares that all MileagePlus members with PlusPoints that expire before July 31, 2022, will have those PlusPoints extended to that date.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Additionally, United Platinum, 1K and United Global Services Members who have requalified for 2022 Premier status (including those who qualified by leveraging the recent Fly to the Finish Promotion) will receive an additional extension for their PlusPoints going out to Jan. 31, 2023. United shares that members at those levels who requalify by the end of the year will also then receive the additional six-month extension on their PlusPoints in early January.

Reduced qualification criteria in 2022

United also tells TPG that in 2022, it will use the same reduced Premier qualification thresholds that it used in 2021. This means that the thresholds will again be at least 25 – 30% reduced from the normal amounts, depending on the tier you are targeting.

Elite tier Standard requirements 2021 and 2022 requirements
Silver 4,000 PQP/12 PQF or 5,000 PQP 3,000 PQP/8 PQF or 3,500 PQP
Gold 8,000 PQP/24 PQF or 10,000 PQP 6,000 PQP/16 PQF or 7,000 PQP
Platinum 12,000 PQP/36 PQF or 15,000 PQP 9,000 PQP/24 PQF or 10,000 PQP
Premier 1K 18,000 PQP/54 PQF or 24,000 PQP 13,500 PQP/36 PQF or 15,000 PQP

What we don’t yet know is what promotions will accompany these reduced requirements.

In 2021, not only were the thresholds reduced, but United ran multiple fast-track promotions that gave existing elites a significant number of bonus PQPs when they did travel.

In addition to multiple promotions, United also gave all elite members a leg up on hitting the PQP threshold to retain status or even earn a higher level. Premier Silver members earned an 875 PQP head start on the lower requirements whereas Premier 1K members earned a 3,750 PQP boost to start the year.

United also increased the amount of PQPs members could earn from credit card spending and the manner in which they could be applied. Certain credit cards, such as the United Club Infinite Card, allowed members to earn 4,000 PQPs from spending on the card. And, United also made an exception and allowed some PQPs to be applied to 1K status, a perk they hadn’t allowed previously.

This combination of promotions and new PQP earning allowed some members to requalify for status while barely stepping foot on a United flight. We’ll need to wait at least a bit longer to see if United will be as generous with PQP earning in 2023.

United catching up to competitors

United’s most recent status extension announcements add to many others over the course of the year.

Delta was early to jump on status extensions for 2022. Further, while Delta didn’t lower qualification requirements they’ve already announced that members will earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) on award tickets in 2022. They also announced they will rollover all MQMs earned in 2021 to 2022. That should give some folks a big head start on earning status in 2022 and beyond.

Meanwhile, American Airlines announced status extensions through the end of March 2022. This is amidst a major change in how customers will earn elite status on American going forward.

Southwest chose to give members a head start on elite status and also will allow members to spend their way entirely to elite status at least until the end of 2021.

Bottom line

Status extensions are generally good news, something to be celebrated by road warriors. However, this recent announcement by United is bound to frustrate some members.

United’s decision to roll out promotions near the end of the year to aid with requalifying for elite status was a signal to some customers of a return to “business as usual.” Assuming no status extension was coming, some loyal United flyers invested money on flights to earn PQPs when it turns out they didn’t need to do so.

While it’s great to earn an extension of Plus Points expiration for higher level elites, there are likely to be even more elites fighting for those upgrade seats in 2022. For those who completed the qualifications of the Fly to the Finish promotion, an additional reward may be appropriate. Delta chose to rank those travelers who qualified the “hard way” ahead of those who had status extended when awarded complimentary upgrades. United will hopefully consider a similar strategy for customers who committed cash for a goal they didn’t actually end up needing to hit.

While we know the requirements to earn status next year will be reduced there are still open questions. A replication of the 2021 strategy with multiple paths to bonus PQPs would likely mean an increase in the number of United elites in 2022, considering the amount of folks flying today versus 12 months ago.

At the end of the day, this will be good news just in time for the holidays for many elite members. Those who worked a bit harder to achieve status at the end of 2021 will hope for a bit more than coal in their stocking from United.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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