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

Apr 28, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

For more travel tips and news, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.