United makes it even easier for elites to requalify for status in 2021

Apr 29, 2021

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At the end of 2020, United Airlines introduced a handful of changes to its 2021 elite program, making it easier for MileagePlus members to qualify for status.

In addition to reducing the number of Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) you’ll need to earn to reach each elite tier, the airline gave existing elite members a significant number of PQPs to start the year, and offered the opportunity to earn double PQPs — with some limitations — on the first three trips of 2021.

Still, with many business travelers still grounded, United has likely determined that its most loyal flyers are not currently on track to requalify for their current elite tier.

United’s latest elite promotion

As a Premier 1K, I started the year with 3,750 PQPs and earned another 900 from the Q1 promo, bringing me to 4,650 PQPs — still 8,850 short of the 13,500-PQP requirement, assuming I’m able to hit those 36 qualifying flights.

I’ve had a bit of personal and work travel on United already this year, but I’ve spent less than $1,400 with the airline so far, and don’t have much lined up for the rest of 2021. Without a clear path back to 1K, I’ve locked in flights with other carriers, including Alaska, American, JetBlue and even Spirit. In a normal year, I would have prioritized flying with United, but earning 1K again just felt like too much of a stretch.

I’m obviously not the only one in that boat. On Thursday, United acknowledged that current elite members are going to need even more help to close the gap. In an attempt to keep customers engaged and still flying United, even at reduced levels, the airline is running a special fast-track program from April 29 through July 27, called “Pick Your Path.”

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Current elites can choose from one of three options — a “Welcome-back bonus,” for customers willing to fly; an “Easy PQP” offer, without any requirement to travel; and double redeemable miles via the MileagePlus X app. You can make your pick by May 13 right here.

What United’s already done

For one, United temporarily reduced the amount of flying you’ll need to do to reach each tier. You can qualify with either a combination of PQPs and PQFs, or a higher number of PQPs. (1 PQP is effectively $1 spent on eligible flights, before taxes and fees, while a PQF is one eligible flight segment.)

In a normal year, you’d need at least 4,000 PQPs and 12 flights — or 5,000 PQPs and fewer flights — to qualify for United’s lowest tier, Silver. For 2021, both qualification options have dropped by 25%, with higher tiers adjusted by a similar amount as well.

Elite tier Standard requirements 2021 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

While the above thresholds apply to all MileagePlus members, regardless of whether or not they currently hold elite status, those with status at the end of 2020 started this year with a sizable PQP bump, with United depositing 25% of the PQP-only requirement to requalify for the same tier in 2021. For example, as a Premier 1K member, United gave me 3,750 PQPs, without any requirement to fly.

The airline added an incentive for customers to travel in the first quarter of 2021 as well. Current elites earned a 100% PQP bonus, with a minimum of 300 bonus PQPs and a maximum of 1,500 bonus PQPs on their first three trips between January and March, while non-elites earned a 50% bonus, with a minimum of 150 bonus PQPs and a maximum of 1,000 bonus PQPs per trip.

After adding in one of the first two options below, available to MileagePlus members who had elite status as of April 19, 2021, travelers will be even closer to reaching their desired tier.

Welcome-back bonus

By far the most lucrative of the two PQP options, United’s “Welcome-back bonus” lets current elites earn up to 25% of the PQPs they’d need to qualify for the same tier in 2021. If you max out this bonus, you’ll effectively end up with that same PQP bump you got at the start of the year.

You’ll earn bonus PQPs after your first three trips between April 29 and July 27, based on your elite tier as of May 13. Here’s what you can expect:

Level First trip Second trip Third trip
Silver 525 175 175
Gold 1,050 350 350
Platinum 1,500 500 500
Premier 1K 2,250 750 750

With this particular bonus, a Silver member who flies three trips can earn 875 bonus PQPs, while a Premier 1K can earn 3,750.

Note that there’s no minimum fare requirement, but these do need to be paid flights — awards won’t qualify. Each reservation qualifies as a “trip,” so if you were thinking of booking a single multi-leg trip from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles to New York, depending on the fare, you may want to book each of those three flights separately, instead.

In order for a trip to be eligible, the first segment must begin on or after April 29, and at least one flight must be completed by July 27. For example, a round-trip that begins within that timeframe and ends after July 27 will qualify for the bonus, but a a trip that began before today will not, even if it includes segments flown within the eligible timeframe.

Easy PQP

The next option is ideal for current elites who don’t have any plans to fly between now and July 27, 2021. Instead of earning bonus PQPs based on your travels, you’ll be eligible for a smaller lump sum. Here’s how that breaks down:

  • Silver: 350
  • Gold: 700
  • Platinum: 1,000
  • Premier 1K: 1,500

As you may have noticed, even one trip will qualify you for a larger bonus with the first promotion — between 525 and 2,250 PQPs, depending on your tier. I’d only select the “Easy PQP” option if you don’t plan to fly at all by July 27.

Double miles with MileagePlus X

This third option is ideal for travelers who would rather earn redeemable miles than PQPs. United offers a dedicated shopping app, called MileagePlus X. Customers can earn up to 5 miles per dollar spent at a handful of merchants by purchasing electronic gift cards directly through the app, then redeeming them for purchases at restaurants and stores.

For example, after a meal at P.F. Chang’s, I can type the total into the app and generate a digital gift card, which the server can use to process my bill. Since P.F. Chang’s currently offers 5 miles per dollar through the app, a $100 bill would net me 500 MileagePlus miles, worth $6.50, based on TPG’s valuations.

As the third option with this latest promotion, United elites can choose to double their MileagePlus X earnings, up to a total of 10,000 bonus miles. With that P.F. Chang’s example, my $100 bill would then net me 1,000 points, instead of 500.

This double miles offer will apply to a variety of activities, including eGift Card purchases, MileagePlus Shopping transactions, MileagePlus Dining transactions, United Visa Rewards offer completions and Featured App transactions.

Note that you can only earn one bonus — if you’re earning double miles, new-member offers, the 25% bump you’ll get as a co-branded United credit card holder and other promotions likely won’t apply. Additionally, the MileagePlus X app is only available in the United States, so I wouldn’t recommend selecting this option if you currently live abroad.

Bottom line

There’s no doubt about it — unless United ultimately decides to extend everyone’s current status for another year, which seems unlikely at this point, you will need to fly United if you’re hoping to requalify for status in 2021.

If you have yet to fly United this year, and don’t plan to by July 27, the Easy PQP option could make the most sense — you’ll still end up with a total of between 1,225 and 5,250 PQPs in your account, depending on your 2020 elite tier.

While that would technically be enough to qualify a current Premier 1K for Silver status in 2021, United requires customers to complete four segments in a calendar year, in order to qualify as an elite.

Meanwhile, if a current Premier 1K maxed out all the 2021 promotions, after this latest round, they’ll have 3,750 PQPs from the first bonus, plus 4,500 from the Q1 promo and another 3,750 here, totaling 12,000 PQPs from United bonuses alone.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Bonus PQPs and miles are expected to begin posting on May 17 — if the bonuses push you to requalify for status or reach an even higher tier, you won’t have to wait until the end of the promotion period to take advantage of your perks.

Additionally, credit will be applied retroactively for travel as early as today, April 29. In other words, if you don’t choose the welcome-back bonus until the May 13 deadline, you’ll still be eligible to earn PQPs based on flights you took beginning April 29. The date you booked doesn’t factor in, either — you’ll earn the bonus even if you confirmed your travel before the promotion was announced.

With that extra flexibility, it could make sense to wait until the deadline to make your selection. Once you make your pick, it can’t be changed, so you’ll want to use the next two weeks to firm up your plans.

Featured image by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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