Back in 2019 the airlines were gearing up to thin their elite ranks. Travel was booming, though not the unbelievable demand we’re seeing this year. Late in 2019 United announced a pretty significant revamp of how customers would earn elite status. Just a few months later, the reality of COVID-19 caused the airlines to rapidly change direction. In essence, the tougher qualification requirements wouldn’t see the light of day in 2020. Nor 2021 or 2022. As we head into 2023, United has announced that they will be adopting the increased qualification for status qualification, though with a few twists.
New Requirements For Elite Status
By now United elites are used to the terminology United rolled out in 2019. Gone is the need to achieve a certain number of miles of flight. The only two metrics that really matter are PQP (Premier Qualifying Points) and PQF (Premier Qualifying Flights). PQPs are essentially base dollars spent on flights with United and some extras. A PQF is one flight segment on a United flight. If you’re a regular United traveler, your status requirements will be lower the more times you fly United. I put together a chart back in 2019 to help explain:
|PQP & PQF||PQP Only|
|Silver||4,000 PQP + 12 PQF||5,000 PQP|
|Gold||8,000 PQP + 24 PQF||10,000 PQP|
|Platinum||12,000 PQP + 36 PQF||15,000 PQP|
|1K||18,000 PQP + 54 PQF||24,000 PQP|
As you can see, there’s a healthy difference between what it costs for a road warrior committed to United to earn status versus the occasional United flier. This means folks who split their travel (me) will struggle to hit the new requirements. This is also true with Delta’s new increased requirements to earn status.
As an example, I’m a United 1K who generally flies United. Based near Washington-Dulles airport, a United hub, I prefer nonstop flights and United features the majority from my airport. Due to some inefficient schedule changes for business travelers during the pandemic, I’ve been flying Delta quite a bit. If I want to retain my 1K status in 2024 I’ll need to think twice about flying Delta. But, United is throwing their elite members a couple of lifelines to make it easier to achieve status going forward.
United Introduces Elite Status Credit For Award Flights
Following in the footsteps of Delta, United will give some elite credit for award flights in 2023 and beyond. For flights operated by United and United Express, you’ll earn 1 PQP for each 100 miles redeemed as well as 1 PQF for each segment flown on a United plane.
The PQP earning is okay, if not great. 40,000 miles is the new 25,000, in that you’re unlikely to find a round-trip in the continental US for less than 40K. If you redeemed 40,000 miles for a United flight, you’d earn 400 PQPs. That’s not horrible. More importantly, the PQF earning is key. A round-trip with a connection in each direction would earn you almost 10% of the PQFs needed for 1K status.
Increased PQP Earning Through Credit Card Spend
United has never been the most generous at earning status through credit card spend but they are making it a bit easier going forward. Starting in 2023 you’ll be able to earn up to 6,000 PQPs on the United Quest card and up to 8,000 PQPs on the United Infinite Club card. They are also raising the cap on the total number of PQPs you can earn from credit card spend to 15,000 PQPs.
I haven’t found any information on older credit cards such as the United Mileage Plus Select card that still sits in my wallet.
The downside? The earning rate is atrocious, with $12,000 in spending earning you 500 PQPs. You’re giving up a lot of value by spending on United credit cards in less generous bonus categories in order to earn PQPs.
The announcement this morning notes that existing elites (those who earned the status, not folks who used a status match) will get a headstart in 2023 and 2024. I didn’t see these amounts in the announcement from United this morning, but One Mile at a Time had them in their recap. At the beginning of the year, United will deposit the following PQPs into elite members’ accounts:
- Silver: 500 PQPs
- Gold: 1,000 PQPs
- Platinum: 1,500 PQPs
- 1K: 2,500 PQPs
That essentially means an existing 1K will need either 15,500 PQPs & 54 PQFs or a total of 21,500 PQPs to qualify for 1K status in 2023.
The Final Two Pennies
As I noted above, I’m fairly committed to United because of my status as “hub captive”. Against a requirement of 54 PQFs, I have 42 segments flown on United thus far in 2022. My guess is that I probably close out very close to 54 PQFs over the course of the year. It’s certainly a bit backwards to think that it may be more beneficial for me to book a connecting flight or two to squeeze over the finish line in future years.
The addition of elite status recognition on award flights is a nice plus. More importantly, it’s another sign of how important co-branded credit cards and selling miles is for the airlines. As more and more miles are printed, the airlines are recognizing that customers redeeming miles are incredibly valuable to them. American Airlines took this to an extreme level with their recent program re-launch.
We knew these changes were coming. It was really just a matter of whether United would give us enough time to react for 2023. They have, and now travelers can plan accordingly.
We’ll be discussing this more in detail on the podcast next week, so tune in for in-depth analysis.
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