United Makes Elite Status Harder To Earn When Flying Partner Airlines

United has made a change to elite qualification, making status harder to earn, and they’re putting the change into effect in the middle of this year. Travel on partner airlines won’t count as much towards earning MileagePlus premier levels – the amount of qualifying dollars you can earn will be capped.

United’s new revenue-based elite status already requires a minimum of 4 flight segments to actually be on United but now flying on partners, even joint venture partners like Lufthansa, will count less.

So even as the airline extends elite status due to the global coronavirus pandemic they’re sneaking in another devaluation which they’ve posted on their website but haven’t yet informed members of.

For flights purchased starting April 29, for travel July 1 onward, the number of qualifying dollars you can earn on partner flights is being capped – based on class of service and whether the partner airline is ‘preferred’ or ‘non-preferred’.

Class of service Preferred partner cap Non-preferred partner cap
First/Business 1,500 1,000
Premium economy/coach 750 500

Moreover if you purchased prior to April 29 and don’t want the cap to apply to you, you will proactively have to ask United for the extra qualifying dollars, they aren’t bothering to program their systems to get this right (partner ticket date of purchase isn’t easy for them to access).

MileagePlus members who purchased tickets on eligible partners prior to these new rules may submit receipts showing tickets were issued prior to April 29, 2020, to mileageplus@united.com with the subject line “OA PQP Review” to be considered for PQP earning under the prior rules. Receipts should not be submitted until after travel is completed for flights on or after July 1, 2020.

Non-U.S. members didn’t even have minimum spending for elite status required, when partner travel didn’t count towards qualifying dollars. Minimum spend was extended to these members precisely because partner travel would now count. Now that’s being capped.

I’ve expected airline loyalty programs to become more generous overall as they work to entice customers back. Here United is trying to social engineer their members away from flying partners, trying to keep the business themselves.

For limits of partner mileage earning where they’re splitting the revenue with those partners, this change suggests they thought they were being too generous and making status too easy to earn. In other words why would United need MileagePlus members as customers when the airline can take the money anyway from them taxpayers?

(HT: Loyalty Lobby)

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. Dear Gary,
    Can I assume that this does not apply to travel purchased on united.com but actually on a codeshare (e.g. Lufthansa) airplane?
    Thanks,
    Peter.

  2. I flew 65,000 miles with Star Alliance partners (primarily Singapore the long way around the world) in the first 2.5 months of 2020 just to renew my status with United, spending 2x the usual amount I spend in the process. Let’s see how this shakes out. It may be time to switch to another alliance or partner. United is making this too difficult for customers who are loyal but fly in economy/PE.

  3. @Peter, this change applies to all star alliance flights flown with a non-united ticket number. If it’s a codeshare but you bought it with a united ticket number, there’s no cap and you earn points by the normal calculation.

  4. Might as well mark down the intangible value of Mileage Plus to $0.

    This is even dumber than AA’s bag fee raise.

    As always, I think about Mark Cuban’s quote about the NFL: “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered”. Quite applicable to UA.

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