United MileagePlus Elite Mileage Earnings Rates Increasing

Filed Under: United

In mid-November, American announced the details of their 2016 AAdvantage program. While the changes are overwhelmingly negative, one positive change (in theory) is that American is making it easier to qualify for status, as they’ll be awarding more elite qualifying miles for premium cabin travel.

Earn more AAdvantage miles for paid premium cabin travel on American

Here’s the chart showing how American is increasing the number of elite qualifying miles you earn starting January 1, 2016:


As you can see, the major changes are that:

  • Full fare first & business class tickets will earn 300% EQMs rather than 150% EQMs
  • Discounted first & business class tickets will earn 200% EQMs rather than 150% EQMs

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but United has just announced that they’re increasing elite qualifying mileage accrual rates as of January 1, 2016:


With this change they’re matching American exactly — full fare first & business class passengers will earn 300% Premier Qualifying Miles (compared to the current 150% PQMs), while discounted first & business class passengers will earn 200% Premier Qualifying Miles (compared to the current 150% PQMs).

But United is actually one-upping American. American is only increasing elite mileage accrual rates for travel on their own flights, and not their joint venture partners. That doesn’t really make sense, given that American has a revenue sharing agreement for transatlantic flights on British Airways, for example, meaning there’s metal neutrality.

You’ll still earn more AAdvantage miles flying American first class than British Airways first class

For example, even next year, AAdvantage members only earn 150% EQMs for full fare first class travel on British Airways:


Meanwhile United MileagePlus is increasing the rate at which you earn PQMs on their joint venture partners as well. These include:

United MileagePlus is increasing mileage earning for Lufthansa business class tickets

For all these airlines, full fare first & business class tickets will also accrue 300% elite qualifying miles, while discounted first & business class tickets will accrue 200% elite qualifying miles. For example, below are the new earnings rates for MileagePlus miles for travel on Lufthansa as of January 1, 2016:


Bottom line

It’s hardly surprising to see United MileagePlus match American AAdvantage on this. What remains to be seen is:

  • If Delta SkyMiles will match American and United
  • If American AAdvantage will follow United’s lead and also offer increased premium mileage earning on their joint venture partners (which would make perfect sense)

Making it easier to qualify for status is good news for most, though at the same time awarding more elite qualifying miles for the same amount of flying does swell elite ranks. So whether this is good or bad news probably depends on how much you overqualify for status each year (with Delta SkyMiles you at least have the benefit of rollover miles, whereby any “excess” elite qualifying miles earned roll over to the next year).

What do you make of United increasing elite qualifying mileage earning on their own flights and joint venture partners?

  1. This has big SWU/RPU earning implications (in a good way) for 1K fliers… not that you will be able to use them since planes are full and if you are getting ahead here you are already booking J/F, but still worth mentioning.

  2. Very sweet!

    It will be interesting to see what Delta does, especially with rumors of then eliminating MQMs altogether.

  3. Yay!!! I just flew 5k miles on UA in the past two days to hit 100k even though I have nearly $35K in 2015 spend. This will mean no more mileage runs when I have way overachieved revenue milestones! Plus I fly NH HND-LAX in business all the time!!

    This is the best copying I could imagine.

  4. @Ben – Will AA not even offer its elite earning rates to partner flights that are ticketed as AA flight numbers?

  5. I only fly on business class tickets, and never purchase coach. These changes will allow me to reach my status faster. Seems way too generous of UA to do this, but given AA will already implement in 2016 program year, makes sense. I wonder if DL would follow?

  6. The easier they make the Premier Qualifying Miles component of getting elite status, the more dominant the Premier Qualifying Dollars component becomes… which is perfectly fine with United, I’m sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually make qualification 100% revenue dependent—which is essentially the same as giving everyone 100,000 PQMs at the beginning of the year for free, the ultimate evolution of making them easier to earn.

    Well, once Delta does it first, of course.

  7. Not sure about the bottom line. DL and AA both use a system where EQMs are earned based on how the flight is coded. As long as the flight is ticketed by DL/AA and/or marketed (with DL/AA flight numbers), their program earning rules will apply (e.g. AA coded BA flight from JFK to LHR will earn EQM based on AA rates). This is not the same as Star Alliance where the operating airline’s earning rates prevail. That’s why UA has created an earning table for JV partners separately.

  8. An important point that I hope can contribute to this discussion is that it is still potentially cheaper to earn elite status on AA compared to DL and UA because AA does not have a revenue requirement. For instance, to reach the top status with UA, you need 100,000 miles + $12,000 spend. The cheapest way to get to the top status in UA is to spend exactly $12,000 for 100,000 miles (or $0.12 per mile). For AA, you just have to get to 100,000 miles regardless of how much that costs you. That means that if you can earn 100,000 miles at an average rate of less than $0.12 per mile, then it would be cheaper to earn top status on AA than on UA. The same is true for DL (which has a higher revenue requirement for top status at $15,000).

    To give you an idea of how feasible this is, the US to Beijing deal that was posted earlier today is way cheaper than $0.12 per mile. It was $0.04 per mile (~$620 for 16,500 miles). It is not at all uncommon to find fares for $0.02-$0.03 per mile. This means that AA is probably still the cheapest way to get to the top status on one of the big 3 US carriers (assuming that you can cobble together enough cheap airfare deals throughout the year).

  9. Help me understand one thing…….why is everyone concerned about a “swell” in elite ranks based on the fact that it’s easier to become Exec Plat because of earning rate increases for Business and First Class tickets? If these people are buying business/first class seats in the first place, then they aren’t “stealing” your upgrade from economy anyway.

  10. I think the airlines colluded on the new programs. Just of matter of timing when they were able to release it.

    Earlier this year I was at a UA event and a UA person AA would be going revenue based as well, when I said I am flying AA because of RDM earnings. Now how would a UA insider know that unless there was collusion amount the airlines on this.

    Let’s hope AA matches UA 2x/3x on partners for premium travel. Make it Jan 1st if they can!

  11. Growth in elite members is not going to reduce upgrades, paid first class is already doing that and will continue to do so. Everything the big 3 has done in the past 12-24 months has been focused on getting more people to pay for premium travel and it is definitely working. On the domestic flights I’ve taken most recently on AA I would guess that at least 60% of the seats in F are revenue passengers, in some cases I’d say closer to 85%. Until the economy weakens this is going to continue. I am not expecting that my EXP status is going to get me many upgrades next year, going to need to pay for the seat and select the carrier with the best price, service and schedule.

  12. If someone is flying 33K miles on full F or 50K on J, they will be EXP – but it really doesn’t matter unless they fly more and fly coach domestically. A person buying full F or J isn’t likely the same person that buys cheap coach tickest 10 months in advance.

  13. @Brad…

    Was going to say… People getting elite qualification for buying biz and first tickets is a wash. You get all the perks of elite status with those tickets anyway.

    And at least on United, elite status does not equal club access and buying a biz class or above international ticket gives you the access anyway.

    This is a policy change that costs United very little, if anything.

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