United MileagePlus Makes It Harder To Earn Elite Status On Partner Airlines

Filed Under: United

United MileagePlus has just made it harder to earn status if you’re traveling on partner airlines. I’m not sure what’s stranger — that they’re making this change while global travel is non-existent, or that they’re making this change just months after having introduced this system for earning status.

United’s new system for earning status

As of 2020, United has made major changes to how you earn MileagePlus elite status:

  • Prior to 2020 you earned status based on a combination of how many Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) or Premier Qualifying Segments (PQSs) you earned, plus how many Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) you earned
  • As of 2020 you earn status based on a combination of how many Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) you earn

For travel on United:

  • You earn one PQP for every dollar you spend
  • You earn one PQF for every flight you take

Here’s the chart showing how status is earned based on the above:

If you’re traveling on a partner airline on a ticket not issued by United, you earn PQPs as follows:

  • Your PQPs will be equal to award miles earned divided by five if traveling on a preferred partner
  • Your PQPs will be equal to award miles earned divided by six if traveling on another partner

United’s new limit for partner PQP earning

United MileagePlus is putting a cap on how many PQPs you can earn for travel on partner airlines, as follows:

Note that:

  • This applies for tickets issued by airlines other than United
  • This applies for flights as of July 1, 2020
  • The limits are per segment, not per ticket
  • MileagePlus members who purchased tickets prior to April 29, 2020, can still earn PQPs beyond the cap by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “OA PQP Review”

The above potentially greatly limits how many PQPs you can earn for travel on partner airlines. To give a couple of examples…

If you fly roundtrip from Newark to Singapore on Singapore Airlines in premium economy:

  • You’d ordinarily earn 19,068 redeemable miles (100% of the distance flown)
  • You’d ordinarily earn 3,178 PQPs (the award miles earned divided by six)
  • With the new cap you’d earn just 1,000 PQPs, which is about a 70% reduction in PQP earning

To give a less extreme example, if you fly roundtrip from New York to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in first class:

  • You’d ordinarily earn 15,376 redeemable miles (200% of the distance flown)
  • You’d ordinarily earn 3,075 PQPs (the award miles earned divided by five)
  • With the new cap you’d earn 3,000 PQPs, which is only a very mild reduction in PQP earning

Bottom line

United MileagePlus is making it significantly harder to earn status based on partner airline travel as of July 1, 2020. Not only is the timing of this strange (given the state of the global airline industry — it’s not even the only negative change they’re making), but I also am surprised by the fact that MileagePlus didn’t consider this when introducing the program a few months ago.

It’s not like they’re changing the rules on a program years after it was introduced, but rather this change comes just months after the new mileage earning style was introduced.

Arbitrage opportunities when crediting partner flights to a complicated program have long existed, so how did United not account for this when introducing the program in the first place?

Will you be impacted by these MileagePlus rule changes?

(Tip of the hat to Zach Griff)

  1. Ben,

    could not find that information, is that the cap per flight (segment), per ticket or per year per partner or per year for all partners together?

    Thx for clarifying, if possible.

  2. The change is really bad, but we have to see how PQPs are calculated. If PQPs are calculated per segment, you would earn 1000 PQPs in the SQ example you gave.

  3. Damn. Before the crisis I was planning to fly LH PE roundtrip EWR-FRA-DEL, which would have meant significant UA status progress. That’s why I chose LH.

    Of course the virus had other plans, but this still just seems mean-spirited.

  4. Unsurprising and fully in form with how UA operates. There is total focus on singularly attacking revenue at the expense of marketing, comfort, and customer service. They are attempting to grab a greater share of $ once international travel comes back. As one data point, they’ve lost me for good. I will get my additional year of 1K next year due to the virus, but I’ve already left UA based on their new program rules. Once UA completely stripped all benefits, I simply went with the best airline/equipment for any given trip. I’m EWR captive, but that’s still rarely UA.

    I loved CO, and UA was tolerable for a time. But the Kirby UA is an active avoid for me. I think it’s counterintuitive and maybe a little mean….but I hope UA and AA experience tremendous pain during this time. They’ve earned it.

  5. I interpret this change as @Ronaldo notes – since PQPs are calculated per flight, it seems like it would be 1,000 and 3,000 in the examples above. Still negative and United needs to clarify, but if true, not as egregious as the examples above.

  6. Won’t change me buying business revenue tickets on LH, Austrian or Swiss over UA (always). I fly SWA domestically, and when going overseas, I’ll suffer a United connection to get on a Star Alliance partner. Kirby is doing a great job pouring gasoline onto the dumpster fire.

  7. WHAT?!? Seriously, United! What is the matter with you guys? We are struggling with world’s crisis and millions of people lost their jobs. I doubt that we will bounce quickly when crisis settle down. Good job to find a way to keep them away from UA. SMH.

  8. U.S. Government should rescind grants from United Airlines till they bring old pre-EQD days!

  9. UA has really turned into a shit airline, with an even worse “alliance” participation.

    Star Alliance should give them the boot.

  10. I’d already decided to dump UA MP for SQ Krisflyer so this just supports that decision, but I agree that neither the change nor its timing makes much sense after United just did a bunch of things to try to retain its elite members. Let’s wait for the details…

  11. United is going straight up nuts under Scott Kirby. Even as a million miler Gold I may start avoiding the airline. I can’t see why anyone would want to fly it without any kind of status when their basic economy product is more restrictive than both AA’s and Delta’s, their prices are consistently higher, and they devalued their miles to be on-par with Delta (the value of the miles was the one good thing about MileagePlus). I hope they hurt big and never recover so that they can fire Scott Kirby because the man is evil, greedy, and is ruining the airline worse than Smisek or any of his predecessors.

  12. P.S. According to OMAAT’s source for this story: “A United spokesperson confirmed that these caps apply *per segment* for tickets purchased through a partner.”

  13. Couldn’t agree more with everyone. All the effort they seemed to put into the new earning scheme – which wasn’t all that bad – and then to change it before it’s really even in effect. Nothing says ‘we have no idea what we’re doing’ better. I didn’t have much incentive to fly UA domestically where I generally buy F, but now the incentive to fly partners on international trips is gone. UA went with a strategy that only focused on the highest spending business passengers, so when hit with a situation that made the strategy a sure loser (in fairness, out of their control) – they decide to double down on it??? WTF UA. Their status thresholds are so high you basically have fly F on every flight anyway to make it to a meaningful level. Last straw for me, no more going out of my way to fly any SA airline.

  14. Ben – thanks for sharing.

    This is the nail in the coffin for UA. This is a SEVERE cut to the options to earn in the program – hidden and released in the middle of COVID-19. If I’m reading correctly, it’s actually a drastic change saying that you may only get 1/4 -1/8 of what you could have earned on some business class partner flights! It’s per ticket as well, not per segment, or direction.

    UA has now lost me for good – this is actually insulting and very upsetting – I’ve been 1K for 10+ years, but this rule is forcing us to fly only UA – which is difficult to do when most of your flying is international.

    Best of luck UA with the recovery after you’ve upset all of your loyal passengers. You’ve made it abundantly clear that loyalty means nothing – insane strategy in these tough time for airlines.

    From this point forward, I will be buying the best option available for international business travel on any airline, and not prioritizing UA and Star when possible. There’s just no reason anymore.

  15. 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. Let’s see how this shakes out. It may be time to switch to another alliance or partner. United is making this too difficult.

  16. This sucks and I really hope it’s just a temporary patch to: (1) limit the number of new elites that might materialize given the recent reductions in PQP thresholds and (2) encourage would-be travelers in the latter half of 2020 to provide revenue to UA vs. a *A partner. If I weren’t a current UA shareholder…with 1K MM status…living at a UA hub…with a stockpile of almost a million of their FF miles…over $1000 in UA electronic travel certificates due to canceled flights…and two United co-branded credit cards with Chase…I would wish UA into immediate bankruptcy!

  17. @ Ben — Per the comments above and my reading of the rules (before I even saw your post), this cap seems to apply per segment. Therefore, the example you provide above is likely incorrect. Maybe you are waiting for clarification before you confirm or change?

  18. I hope DL doesn’t follow the same. A good premium economy flight from NA to Asia via Europe AF/KLM can potentially get me 6500 MQDs!

    But didn’t UA ony include PQD/PQP earning on partner flights this year?

  19. Because the caps are per cabin and *per segment*, the change is not as bad as it would have been if the caps were per cabin and *per trip direction*.

    In fact, the change offers some opportunities to revive and use mileage runs creatively, as direct flights would be no good for earning PQPs or PQFs. Multi-segment mileage runs on partner airlines would maximize both PQFs and PQPs.

    From that perspective, what UA just did is to close a loophole that would have made it easy to earn UA status by flying mostly with partners…REALLY. The only consideration/limitation would the cost of a more direct flight vs. that of an elaborate mileage run…

    Please do not insult me. But if you must, first consider this scenario…

    Direct flight: EWR-SIN-EWR on SQ in premium cabin: 2,000 PQPs, 2 PQFs
    As a MR: JFK-FRA-SIN-FRA-JFK on SQ in premium cabin: 4,000 PQPs, 4 PQFs

    …and then insult me…if you must.


  20. UA does not mind if you earn 1PQP per $ with LH. They minded that the earlier formula for earning PQPs based on miles flown /5 or /6 resulted in members flying with partner airlines earning more than 1 PQP per $.

    That is why they made the change at this time, making it seem strange. The change was necessary because UA just discovered, after the fact, a huge loophole that disadvantaged them because it encouraged travel with their partners.

  21. @DCS. It’s the better product that encourages my travel with United’s partners, at least for me.

    When a business class fare runs between $5K and $8K, I’m going for the product quality and schedule every time. Swiss and Austrian do really well here, especially if you get the throne seat.

  22. @FF78 – That is fine, and the change that UA just made does not affect the earning of PQPs for flying in premium cabins with partners as badly as was originally thought…

    Flying on LH with a LH ticket from JFK through MUC or FRA to SIN and back at a cost of $5K – $8K for a premium cabin ticket would get you 6,000 PQPs, which would be competitive with doing the same thing on UA with a UA ticket. That’s is what UA wanted to accomplish with this rule change. It was not meant to make it tough to make elite status, but rather to avoid making it much *easier* to make elite status by flying mostly with partners.

  23. Ok, that does it for me for United. Once we can start traveling again, i’m likely going to switch to AA/OneWorld.
    Even if the limit is per segment, the logic will be that you do now do not want to fly with a partner airline if a particular segment is more than 3750 for preferred partners and 3000 for other partners (assuming you are getting 100% mileage credit on Y/PE) and for premium class, it becomes even more complicated since some partners like AC get your 200% mileage credit vs LH and others likely give 100% on cheap J’s.

    All said and done, United just got too greedy so time to part ways

  24. That pushes it too far and I guess I need to start looking into other options to earn *A status for 2022. Does anyone have any recommendations?

    There still seems to be some confusion it that is per ticket or per segment. I just checked the UA homepage and it clearly states there that the cap applies per ticket, not per segment. Seems strange though, so curiouse if that changes again.

  25. @ arshi007 — I am leaving UA for SQ because I decided that the new requirements for making 1K, which for my travel pattern and circumstances would require that I spend $24K/year, made top UA elite status no longer worth pursuing. For $24K, I could book and fly mostly in premium cabins all year while also getting the benefits that I would get as a 1K. Why then bother hopping on the hamster wheel or treadmill in pursuit of status?

    However, if one did not mind the new requirements for making elite, then the change that UA just announced should not be a reason for dumping them. 3750 vs. 3000 PQPs should not make a difference to one who is willing to pay $24,000 to earn 24,000 PQP to make 1K.

  26. Have to say, the new program didn’t make sense in some cases. It was an incentive to purchase a ticket from ET rather than UA for travel to ADD, qualification wise that is.

    So they take our tax dollars then bend us over and…….What BS!

  27. I am not happy with this change, but if you don’t want to fly on UA metal, why do you care about UA status? There are easier programs with which one can earn Star Alliance Gold. It is reasonable for United to motivate passengers to fly on its metal rather than competitors’. It is unreasonable to complain that United doesn’t make it easier for you to fly with competitors.

  28. UA now also removing partner award charts…SMFH at this company

    Oh HenryLAX (poorly paid UA “influencer”), where art thou to defend UA?

  29. I’m a little confused. Are you saying I would be penalized if I flew the following itinerary when I have no choice? I fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia several times a year. I always purchase my ticket on the United site. Denver – Tokyo (on United). Tokyo – Phnom Penh (on ANA as there is no other choice). This is all ticketed on a United Ticket with the ANA portion being a codeshare.

  30. I have been on the elite status hamster wheel for many years paying a lot more and flying inconvenient routes and mediocre flights. The only reason elite status is valuable is because I fly 150,000 miles a year, mostly in economy or PE. I wouldn’t care for status if I flew 100% business or first class. But with this change, I will drop from 1K down to silver or gold. Maybe better to cut my losses and just become a free agent. Or switch to another airline/alliance. Ben, what do you suggest instead?

  31. @Jeff — You are fine. The rule change does not affect flights on partner metal with UA-issued tickets (016xxxxxxx), which your ANA codeshare portion would be.

    It applies to flights on partner airlines ticketed by partners for which one wishes to credit PQPs to a UA MileagePlus account.

  32. @Jeff

    You bought it from UA (016- ticket) so nothing changes for you.
    Depending on your fare, you would be penalized if you bought it from other airlines. If someday your ticket is cheaper on AC, NH, OZ you might have to consider the miles you get. The worse offenders are the more expensive tickets like business class.

  33. Thanks DCS! That’s what I thought. Well, in that case I would never have to worry. I fly about 200,000 miles a year almost exclusively on United and with partner airlines with their codeshare. As a 1K Million Miler this is the way I do ALL my ticketing with United. Why would I do it any other way? In spite of all the negatives from many people, I am one of those who LOVE United and have almost always been treated well. Sure, once in a while I get an UA employee who should look for employment elsewhere, but I don’t blame the entire UA workforce for the few who screw up. I love flying on the partner airlines too, but I am totally committed to United. Thanks again and stay healthy and safe!

  34. @Eskimo – Thanks Eskimo (don’t know if your name is due to being Alaska). I fly to ANC about 6 times a year. I have no problem paying extra (even a few hundred extra) for my tickets to be fully ticketed at 016. I NEVER purchase business or first class. The reason I do it the way I do is to keep my 1K status each year so I can get the upgrades. I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s rare when I’m not upgraded whether it be on Domestic or International flights.

  35. @Jeff

    The new problem for UA is the cost of maintaining status from now on.
    Since you never pay for business or first, the partner earning doesn’t affect much as most other partners typically will give fewer miles in coach. If you paid for partner premium cabins you still can get decent multipliers when you credit back to UA.

    The example is this post illustrate how you get penalized. If you compare to the older ‘PQM’ method you will see a huge difference. Imagine you get 200% PQM on ‘partner’ miles flown on EWR-NRT-DPS return. That’s 40k PQM or almost Gold on the old system. Under this new system you get less than 4000 PQP or not even Silver.

    Now back to your case, your annual 200k miles might not get you 1K anymore if you didn’t spend $24,000 for the PQP. For people who are not hub captive, or don’t mind some transit, it might save you thousands and still maintain top tier status on other airlines. With 6 ANC trips annually you might want to consider AA or AS (soon Oneworld). Just to let you know you do have an alternative. Luckily for you, your 1K got extended and you can use this opportunity to try out other airlines through status match. Hey, UA might still be your best fit.

  36. @Eskimo — Believe it or not, I agree with what you just stated above. Stick to the facts, avoid psychobabble and you just might be an interesting commenter 😉

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