United Airlines makes it harder to qualify for status with partner flights

Apr 28, 2020

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This post has been updated with clarifying information from United.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen all major U.S. airlines make adjustments to their loyalty programs.

It all started about three weeks ago when Delta announced that it was extending elite status by another year. Later that day, United matched. And then American Airlines made its move just over a week later.

In the process, American and United made additional changes to their loyalty programs, such as updating award change fees and lowering elite-qualifying thresholds for the remainder of the year.

And now, United’s back with a stealthy devaluation to its Premier program. Specifically, it’s limiting how many Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) you can earn from partner tickets according to an update to its website.

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Specifically, for flights on or after July 1, 2020 and issued on or after April 29, 2020, United’s capping the maximum PQPs that you can earn on tickets issued and operated by its Star Alliance airline partners as follows:

Class of service Preferred partner PQP MileagePlus partner PQP
First/Business 1,500 1,000
Economy/Premium Economy 750 500

A United spokesperson confirmed that these caps apply per segment for tickets purchased through a partner. Additionally, these changes are not related to the reduced Premier qualifying thresholds for 2020, so expect them to stick around.

For context, United overhauled its Premier program late last year to focus on two metrics — PQPs and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs). You can earn status based on a combination of the two, or solely by earning a higher number of PQPs.

Related: United makes big changes to how we earn elite status

You earn PQPs in six ways. The simplest is 1 PQP for every dollar of base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges on United-issued tickets. You can also earn PQPs from Economy Plus and Preferred seating purchases. And new in 2020 is the ability to earn PQPs from MileagePlus Upgrade Award co-pays, paid upgrades on United flights and flights ticketed and operated by Star Alliance partners.

As we explained earlier this year, the best way to maximize your PQP earnings was by purchasing relatively inexpensive long-haul Star Alliance flights in premium cabins. This way, you’d earn many more PQPs by buying your ticket with a partner, as opposed to United itself.

But now, the airline has almost removed that opportunity by imposing limits on how many PQPs you can earn per segment from partner tickets.

Related: How to earn United elite status for less by flying partner airlines

Take for example the world’s longest flight from Newark to Singapore, which regularly sells for about $1,300 or so round-trip in premium economy. To calculate how many PQPs you’d earn, you first need to figure out how many award miles you’d earn, and then divide by 5 or 6 depending on whether the airline is Preferred or regular MileagePlus partner, respectively.

So, taking a look at the Singapore Airlines partner page, we see that you earn 100% award miles for every mile flown in premium economy. At 9,534 miles each way, you’d earn 9,534 award miles for each direction. Since Singapore Airlines is just a regular MileagePlus partner, you divide those award miles by 6 to get your PQP earnings, which equals 1,589 PQP.

But, now that MileagePlus partner PQPs are capped at 500 per segment for premium economy, you’d earn the maximum of 500, instead of 1,589 PQP.

If you purchased your ticket on a partner prior to these new rules, you can submit receipts showing tickets were issued prior to April 29, 2020, to mileageplus@united.com with the subject line “OA PQP Review” to get your PQP earnings adjusted. Receipts shouldn’t be submitted until after travel is completed for flights on or after July 1, 2020.

All in all, this is a big devaluation for those looking to earn United status through partner flying. If you were planning to qualify for Premier status during the second half of the year, it’s time to reevaluate your strategy.

All photos by the author.

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