11 Takeaways From United’s New $18,000 Elite Status

United Airlines has declared that miles no longer matter at all – a strange position for MileagePlus to take. Distance flown no longer matters for earning miles. Redeeming miles is more revenue-based with the elimination of award charts. And now even qualifying for elite status will be based on spending starting next year.

You can earn status by spending more than before and counting up the number of flights you take, or just based on spending alone:

Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) + 
Level Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) Premier Qualifying Points Only
Silver 4000 PQP + 12 PQF 5000 PQP
Gold 8000 PQP + 24 PQF 10,000 PQP
Platinum 12,000 PQP + 36 PQF 15,000 PQP
1K 18,000 PQP + 54 PQF 24,000 PQP

Here are 11 takeaways from this historic change:

  1. United is asking for more money but won’t give you anything more in exchange. It’s a one way street.

  2. They say this will mean more elites, so status will be worth even less. Upgrades are hard enough to get already.

  3. United has an interesting definition of ‘most loyal’. They say this change will help the most loyal members get the most benefits, but that there will be more elites competing for those benefits. The only way to square that circle is that United believes the ‘most loyal’ members are those who spend a lot of money but don’t fly very much – who will see higher status under this new structure.

  4. Loyalty programs used to be about getting customers to spend more time on an airline, taking less convenient flights, and treating customers better who spend their year with you. This is about giving rewards not to people that have been influenced to choose United by the program but who happened to buy just a couple expensive roundtrips a year (with the rest going to another airline). In other words, it’s less about influencing consumer behavior at the margin.

  5. United brings back the mileage run. They say they’re ending gaming and mileage runs, but by introducing qualifying dollars on partner flights they’re actually reducing the cost of earning status – as with American and Delta the new mileage run is discounted business class tickets on partner airlines.

  6. Refusing to count credit card spend towards 1K status is petty. The maximum earn is $1000 out of $18,000 spend, would it kill them to keep them simple the way they say they want?

  7. Speaking of 1K, it should really renamed 18K. 1K was short for 100,000 but the old computer systems only had two digits they could use for the name so it was ‘1K’ instead of ‘100K’. But the status no longer has anything to do with flying 100,000 miles. Instead it requires at least $18,000 in spend or ’18K’. Presumably United’s computer systems are (a little?) bit more sophisticated than they were 30 years ago.

  8. Capping credit card contribution to 1/4th of spend for silver is picayune. This seems squarely aimed at Chase, from which United is trying to squeeze more revenue.

  9. This is still too complicated. Why not just call it “qualifying spend” and “flights.” There’d be no need for PQP and PQF acronyms if all flights counted. What’s the point in excluding basic economy segments when you have to spend $18,000 for 1K? And since United’s Luc Bondar tells me they took inspiration from hotel programs with their new qualifying rules, why not count award flight segments towards the minimum?

  10. United manages to make delta look good. $15,000 spend and 125,000 qualifying miles for top status can be earned mostly via credit card with SkyMiles.

  11. Why would you choose to earn United status if you don’t live in an uncontested United hub? This sure makes Alaska look good in the Bay Area, Delta in New York.. The point is that customers still have choices. Customers United is firing (or demoting) should look elsewhere.

There are people who will benefit from this move, of course. Someone flying San Francisco – Amsterdam roundtrip in business class twice a year may make top tier status through spend alone (while meeting the minimum 4 flights on United). Indeed, once 1K they might even choose United for some of their other flights domestically rather than sticking with Alaska. Well played, Andrew Nocella!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. OMG – Seriously number 9! I “like” mileage news and reading about this and my head was hurting keeping all these terms straight.

  2. Count me totally confused here. Flying two RT biz class flights SFO to Amsterdam, at say, 9K a pop, still leaves you needing 52 PKFs? Also, this new plan seems to benefit the very wealthy or the person whose company pays for the flights.
    I’m currently gold and will be gold again next year, but really, am I not better off just purchasing my Biz and FC tickets domestically and not worrying about upgrades or status?

  3. @bvz – Under the new program status can be earned through spend alone ($24,000 for 1K). Although, I’d imagine it’s more likely that 3 trips would be required to reach that.

  4. I get everything they are doing here, EXCEPT for the segment requirements. What they will end up doing is forcing more people onto flights like LGA-ORD, LGA-IAD, SFO-DEN, etc, just because people need those segments, and the price is the same. This will end up costing UA more money, as its more aircraft, etc. This is not even considering partner values.

  5. I really think there’s a void for AA to fill. Delta started the race to the bottom. United has now outdone Delta. American should come through the middle, abandon their dreams of a revenue based award chart, and be the only major airline to offer real rewards for loyalty.

    Of course they won’t do that though.

  6. I have been weighing switching to UA or DL from AA after several years of being EXP. This is due to the Oasis retrofit (I fly PE or J internationally, but company requires me to fly economy domestically). I’ll hit 2M miles by the end of this year, (lifetime PLT) so have been researching my 2020 plan.

    Just pulled UA off that list! Now, between switching to DL or sticking with AA (hoping for some executive and strategy changes, particularly a reversal of Oasis and I might give it another year to see how things shape up).

  7. AS recently cut a lot of bay area routes. However, I moved my business over to them after United devalued to dynamic pricing. I’m a MVP Gold 75K with Alaska and like the airline.

  8. So not a Mileage Plus program…not even a FREQUENT FLYER program, its a spending money, your corporation pays for full fare or business class only rewards system… huh. Yeah Ill be a free agent after 10 years of United platinum or 1k. No point any more. I’ll just buy the cheapest business class ticket, period. I mean I spent $18,000 on United this year and just on principle won’t keep trying to keep up with this nonsense.

  9. @Joelfreak – When Luc Bondar told me they were ending mileage runs with this, I told him they were just pushing mileage runs onto partners and encouraging segment runs, I remember my first true mileage run was on United… I wanted to squeeze every mile possible out of a $200 rt DCA-ORD-DFW-DEN-PHX and v.v.

  10. @DTG – Good point about Scott Kirby. As the guy has no idea what “loyalty” means, his message about being loyal to Oscar has zero value.

    Also takeaway #12 – United is able to make their own decision. They no longer only copy Delta. Now they just need to take it one step further and try to make _good_ decisions but that appears unlikely in the near future.

  11. “There are people who will benefit from this move, of course. Someone flying San Francisco – Amsterdam roundtrip in business class twice a year may make top tier status through spend alone (while meeting the minimum 4 flights on United). Indeed, once 1K they might even choose United for some of their other flights domestically rather than sticking with Alaska. Well played, Andrew Nocella!”

    – Gary, isn’t this a smart strategy by United? A couple of months ago, United was giving out status to those in NYC that made a few EWR to LHR flights in paid business class. This seems like an extension of that strategy. For NYC Delta fliers that travel business class internationally on a regular basis, United is making a strong case for your business – take two of those flights a year, and we will treat you well on all of your domestic flights too with 1K status. I think it is shrewd way to compete for high value fliers

  12. @Gary – all true, but you always knock the Big 3 for following and United is certainly doing something different. To me…this seems like a HUGE win for corporate travelers, many of whom will now easily qualify for bottom and mid tier status (not sure that’s worth much…but still).

    We often have people with…
    1) Intl biz class flights that cost a ton
    2) Lots of domestic flights that only earn 1-2K MQM (Delta) or PQM (United). Impossible to make status doing these hops…but this system actually rewards you for choosing United on that last minute NYC-CVG ticket at $980 (which used to just get you the minimum 1K PQM or MQM)…

  13. For those saying “DL or AA are looking better” what makes you think DL or AA won’t change in the future? The Big 3 tend to copy each other’s frequent flier program changes.

  14. This is a change I hope American Airlines makes. It works for me. I fly paid first class. I’m Lifetime Platinum with AA and currently have enough Elite Qualifying Dollars for Platinum Pro but not enough miles or segments for even re-qualifying (if it were needed) for Platinum. Make the change. There might be more higher-level elites but it shouldn’t make a big difference to other elites since those higher-level elites qualifying on dollars alone are flying much fewer flights.

  15. Loyalty program ??……. What Loyalty program ? …….oh you mean Disloyalty program surely. For that is what UA should be calling it. The incentives are all there now to be disloyal and seek status elsewhere!

  16. Gave up my 1k two years ago for AS Gold 75 and don’t regret it for a second. 35 years of Mileage “Plus” membership with rare upgrades and annual complementary upgrades I could never use. Upgraded now 80-90% of my Alaska flights. I get looks for my zigzag routing through SAETAC but it is worth every flying minute.

  17. It’s sort of amazing, at the beginning of the year I did research on the US FF programs and United was the best.

    Since then:
    dynamic award pricing means idk what I’d have to do for a trip.
    gpu->points mean those will probably get rekt next. (not that it matters as a silver)

    Removing mileage and upping price means I may stay silver but gold is basically out of reach forever.

    As someone on the younger end of my career who sits in E+, it seems United doesn’t really want me. Oh well.

  18. @Controller1. Maybe you did not notice. However, lifetime platinum elites have already had their status shaved at American Airlines by making upgrades contingent on spending over the last 12 months and introduction of Platinum Pro level, a whole classification over you, and by reducing the number of seats available for upgrade. Maybe you forgot. In my opinion, once American Airlines finishes wacking its elite qualifying program, it will be looking around for more benefits to cut. No doubt lifetime elites will look ripe for the picking, yet again.

  19. Huge opportunity for AS ! They still have the “original “ model for loyalty programs and a plethora of partners to aid in achieving status . If they keep their loyalty model , then I think they are the ultimate winner .

    This move by UA is a clear signal that they only care about the high dollar corporate traveler or the individual “unicorn “ traveler . The rest of the world can fly elsewhere .
    The slight capitulation to the “most favored” nation partners such as LH and NH is , at least to me , an acknowledgment that they don’t want to upset corporate contracts that include partners .

  20. @OtherJustSaying, I didn’t miss anything. I’m aware of Platinum Pro being above my Lifetime Platinum level and as I said (and you must not have noticed) I currently have the EQDs (dollars spent) to qualify for Platinum Pro but I don’t have the segments or miles. Therefore, if AA were to go to more of a dollars spent program I would be getting back to where I was prior to the introduction of Platinum Pro which knocked me and other Lifetime Platinums down a notch.

  21. Lots of people upset (me too, at first), but looking at this further, it will make getting status extremely cheaper and easier. Granted I can see regular flyers being upset over the influx of new elite members. If you don’t fly often though and need status, this is the best. Doing a cursory look I see a ORD to BKK RT flight in January that nets 3650 miles. I’m sure it can be done for much cheaper too. Everyone is basically 1 or 2 mistake fares away from status on United. United will be the easiest airline to obtain star alliance gold.

  22. Air travel is a commodity. FFPs are passe. Time to admit it. I’m life Plat with AA and get free aisle seats, joy. Using the last of the wife’s AA miles Tuesday HEL to BOS in J. Been grand. I’ll burn some Amex and Chase points next year but the dream is over. Hotel programs blow goats and the airlines are right behind. Thanks, churners, it was grand but y’all put a bullet in it. Gonna have to pay for travel, it would seem. Which I can do. I won’t miss the “influencers” polluting the cabins and lounges.

  23. From the Fake United Customer Public Relations Desk
    (What they meant to say honestly )
    We here at United are tired of you overly self entitled elites who are
    all mostly bottom feeders buying up our cheap flights for obtaining status
    This new policy clears the runway for our real customers that actually matter
    Now we can get back to our core values that matter
    Smashing guitars,dragging passengers down the aisle bloody and serving some of the most vile dining we can provide in our ultra premium cabins

    As always feel free to reach out to our world crass customer service where we are ready to serve you one day a week between the hours of Noon and 12:15 PM
    If we need to put you on hold call back the following week
    As always we value and look forward to your feedback & continued loyalty!
    And sorry if today is not your day or the day after that
    We aim for high consistency in everything we do
    Now open up your bloody wallets cheapskates
    From your greedy friends & travel partners @ Untied Airlines

  24. “This is about giving rewards not to people that have been influenced to choose United by the program but who happened to buy just a couple expensive roundtrips a year (with the rest going to another airline”

    To be fair, the original (pre-PQD) system of only using mileage gave rewards to people who happened to buy just a couple cheap roundtrips a year that were long distance. Two deep discount transPac roundtrips weren’t any more a sign of loyalty.

    “They say this will mean more elites, so status will be worth even less.”

    They say that this will mean more Silvers and Golds, but fewer 1Ks. I think I believe them on that.

  25. This does seem oriented towards giving higher status to those with the highest Revenue Per Mile, and I would guess that is what they want to reward, while not handing out status to low-profit per mail flyers. But as you note, devaluing the benefits of status while putting 1K out of reach does not do anything to influence someone on the margin to choose a UA flight over another airline. I suspect that people who pay $9K for international business class two or three times a year are not likely to be influenced by FFPs, while people who buy $3K tickets five to six times a year and looking for upgrades might be. In my experience, just because a lot of time, money and consulting goes into a change like this does not necessarily mean it will lead to the intended result. Time will tell.

  26. I know Delta tends to only make decisions that are good for Delta. But somehow, they’ve stumbled on a positive by-product effect for their customers while simply being selfish. On time arrivals, and completed flights help with the revenue premium and attracting business flyers. Keeping experience either consistent or upgrading it versus peers, has kep even cheap flyers happy at little to no additional cost to Delta. Decimating the Skymiles program while keeping the recognition side intact, has kept loyalists at bay. They even listened to people that were outraged at needing to spend $250k as a waiver to DM MQD spend by increasing the amount of MQM’s available by spending on their credit cards. Not only earning them a better deal with Amex but threading the compromise needle for Medallions.

    It’s incredibly interesting to watch AA and United continue to think their point of differentiation towards the negative can somehow go so negative that it turns positive again? What am I missing here? United misfired on Basic Economy. AA misfired on operational controls. And they all think nothing is broken?

  27. I am a 1M mile person with UA, so Gold for Life (if tUA does not change this as well in the future…) earned a few years back. I had entirely stopped to fly UA unless I had no choices, a few years back due to their lack of customer service. I had transitioned to Southwest for their ease of travel, i.e. no change fees, no luggage fee, decent reward program, etc… Every year or so, I earned Elite status with SW for the last 8-9 years… Over the last 4 months, I have come back to UA for my flights as I wanted to give them a try again. This decision is pushing me right back to SW. Why dealing with the hassle when SW is an airline so easy to deal with and most of the time very competitive…

  28. Jetblue is celebrating. Mosaic status instantly became much more valuable than any MileagePlus status. For East Coast elites there is no reason whatsoever anymore to fly United over Jetblue (or Delta).

  29. I’m curious to see what will happen with the “Flexible Premier Miles” accumulated through spending with the United Club Mastercard. It may be best to go all in, unless they will count as PQF or PQP.

  30. @arthur I will politely disagree with you, somehow stumble upon a wee bit of genius on the part of UA. This will influence the 2 or 3 trip per year Corp paid travelers in Business Class to choose UA over others. If you only travel is a handful of business class trips over the ponds you never accrue enough miles or segments to get ‘real’ status, at best you get the first tier of premier status. So there Is no loyalty benefit for this passenger, and they will likely choose the airline within the Corp policy that has the best service (so never UA). But now, book all 2-4 trips with UA and you have top tier status without having to put in all that flying time. And when you take the family somewhere it will be on UA since you are now a big shot and get the family some perks.

  31. Looks like there’s no reason for me to fly United anymore…as said before, this new program seems very specifically geared to business travelers who probably buy first/business tickets to begin with so the elite perks don’t even matter to them. Why bother having any ‘loyalty’ program at all? If the goal was just to get big spending customers they should add real perks like car service, lounge access on domestic first tickets – although UA lounges are the worst so that shouldn’t even count – , etc.. Without my elite status, my united points become way less valuable (on top of how much they already have with the deval). Also makes me feel like my UR points aren’t worth as much. What’s the value in my co-branded cards now? If United were some great airline I could maybe understand them putting such a high price on loyalty, but come on United, really?

    This is so disappointing as someone who has been a United member since ’83…guess that loyalty means nothing now if I don’t spend a fortune ever year. Oh an by the way, silver status is totally worthless even before this announcement (you basically have it with a $95 Chase card).

    I think I’ll give Delta a try.

  32. I’m just wondering how many UA customers will even UNDERSTAND what it takes to qualify for each elite level. This is become more complex than the US tax code. How many people will care? I would think most elites will be “accidental” — it’s hard to imagine many customers will “work” to earn a status level. The contrast of this program to, say, World of Hyatt, is remarkable. With Hyatt, you know that if you stay a certain number of nights, you have a certain status. They send you email updates as you go along to remind you of where you stand. That seems like a reasonable loyalty program that regular folks can understand. Stuff like this UA program seem insane to me.

  33. Why is there such an irrational reaction to airlines actually acting like businesses and rewarding customers who add the most value to their bottom line, just as any other for-profit company would operate? If restaurants followed item 4, they would give their best treatment to those who spent the most time in their restaurant, not necessarily those who spend the most or the most profitable.

  34. Roundtrip flights LAX-SFO on United and Southwest one week out now price roughly $450. And under the current system, PQMs at the Gold premium (believe 33% bonus?) for such roundtrip flight is right at 1000 miles. So before, to just hit Gold only flying LAX-SFO, one would have to do 50 round-trip flights, forget about 1K. Under the new system, only 40 round trips gets that same traveler 1K.

    Seems not only is this a benefit for high-frequency domestic travelers, but it’s a direct attack on Southwest for those same customers. If you’re flying that much for work, it’s unlikely you’re using the companion pass much. So will be interesting to see how that customer perceives newly-available 1K perks vs. Companion Pass.

  35. I still don’t believe that the total elite population will grow, the math just doesn’t make sense. Anytime the criteria gets higher/harder for most, that means a drop.

    Sure, maybe more people dropping from 1K/Plat to Gold/Silver – but a lot of lower tier elites are now going to drop out entirely (more than newer EWR/IAH short haul, high CPM types now earning / more higher status).

  36. How many people are going to figure out the new mileage run is low -cost business class transpac on partners?
    Will it matter? If I buy business class to Asia I’m certainly not going to buy an economy transcon and hope I get upgraded. I’m going to pay for the first class domestic.
    Check that. I’m not going to fly transcon on United. I’ll fly MINT. Maybe I’ll buy economy on flights under 2 hours and not care about the upgrade

  37. If I make 6 RT flights from SFO to Amsterdam in J then I’ll book 2 on UA, 2 on Delta, and 2 on another carrier with similar earning structure, then book domestic flights with the cheapest or most convenient of the three. How does this result in loyalty? UA will only get one third of my business?

  38. The question is how much business will United loose? I’ve just qualified for 1K status again but every year am giving more of my business to other airlines. Little tip for all you United frequent Flyers take a closer look at Star and One World programs outside of the US. I’m on my way to British Airways Gold and going to become KLM Gold next year. In Star programs like Turkish look good. Citi is a transfer partner for Turkish. Chase and Citi for KLM.

    I used to think that other airline programs were harder to understand than United’s but this is no longer the case.

    United seems to be on a course to kill their brand loyalty and good will from frequent Flyers. Good luck with that.

    Next year they should be less than 5% of my spend.

  39. GG – I am not so sure that someone flying only 2-3 times in high-dollar ($9K) seats will chose to fly UA just to get 1K status. The benefits – an occasional CPU, boarding early and a tapas box are nice, but not going to move the needle. Being in paid business or F is about the same as having status.

    I think it is the person traveling internationally for work who is trying to pay discount business at 3K for a RT ticket who will see no benefit to flying UA. They may not be as profitable as the first group, but there are likely more of them.

  40. @ Satforlegroom — There’s nothing wrong with airlines acting “like businesses.” Indeed, the previous loyalty systems did over-reward pax who travelled primarily on low fare tickets. But the solution to this problem is not to devise an incomprehensible and utterly complex loyalty rewards system. That’s just bad marketing. I don’t think Gordon Bethune would have allowed it.

  41. To the extent they can select or influence the choice of flights the employer pays for, employees who are interested in achieving status (most who fly often are) have an incentive to choose more expensive flights over cheaper ones.

  42. Watching all you bloggers melt down because one of the avenues you use to game status gets capped is good fun. Those of us who travel domestic frequently for business have no issues hitting the spend. This change may cause me to switch from Delta, as I have 20,000 in annual spend, usually 90-110 segments, but only 70,000 miles flown.

  43. Are we not miserable enough with unhappy flight attendants and long claustrophobic flights on old tiny aircraft with 1 x 2 seating? We work hard to aim for loyalty and even pay more for flights (and Chase card annual fees) to take our travel dollars to United. The payback? Disrespect for the loyalty, reduction in benefits and greater cost to earn them? Looking like leaving yge love for Delta behind was a MISTAKE. United needs to earn customer loyalty and knows better. Shameful. We don’t need a Chase card if we don’t fly United either (especially since that loyalty is now less important than making more more of the cut from Chase. Glad we didn’t invest in United yet. We won’t

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