United Is Giving Elites 3 Promotions To Choose From, Makes Status Easier To Earn

Travel is starting to pick back up in earnest, and it’s about 60% of the volume it was in pre-pandemic times in the U.S. While some people will earn elite status this year, 2021 is mostly a wash out for an airline’s best customers. And that means airlines need to extend status again and start over next year or they’ll risk pushing these members into free agency.

  • Business travel won’t return to 2019 levels this year. Even as it comes back, it’ll be slowly – in waves – rather than all at once. Some trips will remain displaced by zoon, client visits have to wait until offices are fully reopened.
  • To the extent business travel returns to a meaningful level, it will be later in the year (perhaps September onward). Companies won’t require travel right away, many companies have committed to remote work until later in the year making trips to headquarters unnecessary, and conventions and meetings come back last (large indoor gatherings in poorly ventilated spaces).
  • International travel will remain significantly more restricted than domestic travel. That means much of the distance, and heavy spend for long haul business class, just isn’t an option.

Canada has been more locked down than the United States, but notably Air Canada went ahead and straight extended elite status through 2022 and also offered to count current flying towards earning status in 2022 on top of rollover elite qualifying miles that co-brand cardmembers can have (so flying now counts double towards next year).

Delta is bonusing travel 50% – 75% towards status and counting award travel as well.

Last fall United announced 2021 elite qualifying would entail:

  • lower status requirements
  • a hard start for current elites towards status
  • bonus qualifying spend for status in the first quarter
  • relaxed restriction on using credit card-earned elite qualifying spend towards top status

Here’s the reduced qualification levels for 2021:

Status Normal Qualifying Spend/Flights 2021 Qualifying Spend/Flights
Silver $4000 + 12 Segments or $5,000 $3,000 + 8 Flights or $3,500
Gold $8,000 + 24 Flights or $10,000 $6,000 + 16 Flights or $7,000
Platinum $12,000 + 36 Flights or $15,000 $9,000 + 24 Flights or $10,000
1K $18,000 + 54 Flights or $24,000 $13,500 + 36 Flights or $15,000

Existing elite members got an automatic head start towards earning status next year, based on the current status they hold:

2021 Status Qualifying Spend Deposit
Premier Silver 875
Premier Gold 1,750
Premier Platinum 2,500
Premier 1K 3,750

Now United has introduced a choice of promotions for current elite members. Members with elite status as of April 19, 2021 can choose one of these three offers by May 13 (or will have the first ‘welcome back’ offer selected by default).

  1. Welcome-back Bonus PQP Earn up to 25% of the required points for a member’s current status level (on top of the 25% that have already been deposited) with your next three trips. Your first three trips (separate itineraries/tickets) taken April 29 – July 27, 2021 count for this promotion. Fortunately they aren’t requiring new bookings, existing tickets will qualify. Unlike Delta this year, award trips don’t count.
    Trip 1 Trip 2 Trip 3
    Premier Silver 525 175 175
    Premier Gold 1,050 350 350
    Premier Platinum 1,500 500 500
    Premier 1K 2,250 750 750
  2. Easy PQP A bonus of 10% of the requirements to requalify for current status, without any required activity (350 – 1500 premier qualifying points depending on current status).Premier members who aren’t planning any travel before July 27, 2021 can choose to receive a 10% deposit of the outright PQP requirement for their current status level with the Easy PQP option. Members will automatically receive between 350 and 1,500 PQPs depending on their status level.

  3. Bonus Miles Instead of Extra Qualifying Miles If you’re going to earn status anyway or have no change (or interest) in earning status, U.S.-based Premiers can earn double miles, up to 10,000 bonus miles total, on MileagePlus X transactions for shopping and dining through July 27, 2021. They ought to be more creative here, with non-flight miles counting towards elite status the way Singapore Airlines is doing.

American AAdvantage, which so far has just modestly reduced status requirements, has been cold calling members to sell them qualifying miles. That makes it tough to extend status (without offering refunds!). But American now stands as the least generous and proactive maintaining relationships with elites, and needs to take action.

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. Pretty generous of them. I’m flying international next week so I signed up for the “Welcome Back” PQP bonus. This and the trip next week put me very close to 1K for the year. Now if we could just get out more and burn some of the upgrades accrued the last two years.

  2. Gary
    This is nuts
    They have driven us the old Presidential Plus card holders away
    Now they want all elites back
    A
    Make those flexPQP count to 1k
    B
    Prevent the FlexPQP from expiring

  3. For the Welcome-back bonus, do you know if a “flight” can be one way, or does it need to be RT? Wondering if three individual one way tickets could stack up into a PQP miles run.

  4. @Mike – if you book a roundtrip on a single itinerary, that’s one trip. However a one way booked separately appears to be a trip.

    ““Trip” is defined as a unique travel itinerary that includes at least one PQP-eligible flight segment operated by United or United Express, as documented by a unique ticket number, and that earns PQP and is flown within the Promotional Period.”

  5. United could persuade me they are serious about loyalty if they simply restored unrestricted United Club access to people who paid cash for Lifetime memberships. Requiring purchase of a United or Star Alliance ticket for club entry was never part of the deal until United went Darth Vader on us.

    AA and DL allow their Lifetime club members unrestricted access. United is the only carrier perpetuating this theft. United has no shame.

  6. @ Gary — This is useless for this Million Miler who basically stopped flying United at 1,000,001 lifetime miles.

  7. This makes it very clear that they’re going to thin the herd. The fact that they’re making these offers means that they won’t extend status again next year. Hopefully though at least they’ll offer soft landings for those who have no option to try for status this year.

  8. @gene – anything is useless to someone who never flies with them. What would you want?

  9. Not sure any of this moves the needle for me. I will continue to book whatever is best, and for international, it is not enough to move me off my plan for 2021 to burn miles rather than pay cash. If international travel is back to reasonably full throttle for 2022, then I will consider whether it is worth getting loyalty back and which program then. Right now, I think flying more BA is likely.

  10. I wish United would just renew people’s status for another year. This seems half assed

  11. What airlines need to do is copy hotels and make redemptions (on the alliance) elite qualifying.

    There’s no way I am not burning all my miles before the inevitable devaluation for my travels, most of them visiting friends and family (Zoom is working well for now for my employer). So next year I probably won’t be elite, and once business travel picks up again and/or start paying for tickets again I will have the freedom to choose any carrier to rebuild elite on, and it will most likely be Delta who’s a better airline.

  12. Currently a 1K but bad news for United: I don’t care. I’m exhausted by all the program changes and devaluations over the years so when I read these kinds of offers I can’t even be bothered to try to understand them.

    Fortunately I’m an international flyer with lots of options so instead of caring about GPUs/CPUS/SWUs or whatever they are called I just book a discount business ticket on a carrier that best meets my needs. For all those chasing 1K or any kind of status do the math. The free agent life is way more fun.

  13. That is the most complex hard to understand program I have ever seen . Makes no sense at all .
    And yes, us million milers are still l3ft out in the cold.

  14. @Mike W – million milers already have guaranteed Gold status even with zero flights! You’re extremely well taken care of!

  15. Maybe Antonio is not aware … as a million miler we were promised 1k for life, not the lower gold status …
    How is that …”EXTREMELY well taken care of ?”

  16. Great if your married . That promise was pre merger snd even a law suit was issued , however lost in Chicago courts … of course

  17. I have an upcoming flight with Turkish, with a United segment. Booked thru Turkish. Would this qualify as eligible activity, or is it ineligible since Turkish issued ticket?

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