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United Airlines Premier® Program Changes: What It Means To You

The recent announcement of the United Premier program changes resulted in some confusion among its members. Aviation Journalist Kurt Jacobson is a member of this program. Here’s his report on the changes.

Back in November of 2019, United Mileage Plus Premier members received notice that significant program changes were coming in 2020.

Although United Airlines padded the notice to say this new and improved program would be fairer, it was a shock to me and other Premier members.

United Airlines 2020 Premier Qualification. Video: United/YouTube.

Highlights of United’s Premier program changes

Apparently, some passengers have been getting the short end of the stick when flying several short hops within the U.S. or regionally.

With the new program, these short-hop flyers will have a better chance of earning Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum, or 1-K status.

United’s new Premier program is confusing

The new program is confusing many Premier members with terms like PQF (premier qualification flights) and PQP (premier qualification points). 

United customers will need a combination of PQFs and PQPs to earn status in 2020, instead of miles flown and dollars spent. Or, if the customers earn enough PQPs, the amount of PQF points won’t matter.

What it takes to earn each Premier® level in 2020

Silver

Customers must earn 12 PQFs and 4,000 PQPs to make it to this entry-level Premier® status.

Top benefits include one free checked bag, complimentary access to Economy Plus seating 24 hours prior to your flight, and 7x miles earned on each flight- not to be confused with PQP points.

Note: that by spending enough dollars to earn 5,000 PQPs eliminates the need to accrue PQF points.

Gold

To reach Gold status, the level where significant benefits begin, customers need to earn 24 PQFs and 8,000 PQPs, or earn 10,000 PQPs and not need any PQF points.

Top benefits at this level of Premier are:

two free checked bags up to 70 pounds each, complimentary access to Economy Plus seating at booking, Star Alliance Gold status, a special Gold Line to call for customer service, and some ability to change flights without fees on the day of travel. Award miles increase at 8 x miles earned on every flight.

Platinum

For frequent flyers trying to reach Platinum status, you’ll need to earn 36 PQFs and 12,000 PQPs, or 15,000 PQPs eliminates the need for PQF points.

Platinum members earn 40 Plus Points used to upgrade to the next cabin level above Economy Plus, three free checked bags, complimentary access to Economy Plus for up to eight companions, and 9x miles earned on every flight.

United 1 K Status

If you want to reach 1 K status, you’ll need to earn 54 PQFs and 18,000 PQPs or 24,000 PQPs.

At this lofty level of Premier, you get 280 Plus Points, priority boarding, three checked bags, free membership to CLEAR, 11x award miles earned on every flight, free cancellation of award travel tickets within 61 or more days from departure, and one free drink and snack in economy.

All of the above levels of Premier qualification can reduce the amount of PQPs needed by using the United Mileage Plus Explorer Credit Card.

United Mileage Plus Explorer Credit Card

For each $12,000 spent, you get 500 PQPs towards Premier status but can only earn a total of 1,000 PQPs per year from the credit card.

Customers can reduce the amount of PQPs needed for reaching all of the above levels of Premier® qualification by using the United Mileage Plus Explorer Credit Card. For each $12,000 spent, you get 500 PQPs towards Premier® status but can only earn a total of 1,000 PQPs (from spending $24,000 on the Mileage Plus credit card) per year.

Still, for those of us that spend $24,000 or more a year on the Explorer credit card, this is a decent benefit towards reaching Premier® status.

united mileage plus premier program changes, Polaris Cabin
United Airlines Polaris Cabin. Photo: United Airlines.

Clearing the air

As complicated as this new program seems, it’s quite simple if you look at it as one dollar spent, one PQP earned. Note that taxes and fees attached to ticket purchases don’t count towards PQPs. If you pay for upgrades to a higher cabin like business or first class, the amount paid goes towards accruing PQP points.

United customers flying on Star Alliance partners

Customers flying on Star Alliance partners accrue PQF and PQP points but those points might be less than if you flew on United.

There are so many variables to this way (Star Alliance partners) of earning PQPs; I recommend calling United customer service to get an exact amount of points you’d earn on any given partner flight.

Gold Members

For Gold members like me, I see this new program costing much more money to reach Gold status in 2020.

For simple computing, I used to be able to fly ten round trip flights from my home port of Baltimore to West Coast airports like LAX (Los Angeles) or SFO (San Francisco) and reach Gold status. Each flight would cost around $400 for a total outlay of $4,000 to achieve Gold.

With the new program, I’ll need to spend at least $7,000 to maintain Gold status. On a recent flight, I asked two passengers, one Gold, the other a Platinum member, their thoughts on the program. Both of them were not pleased with the rule changes. The Platinum member told me he wouldn’t even try and reach Platinum this year and would fly less on United.

United Mileage Plus updates

This is a small and random sampling but interesting that between the two passengers and me, we don’t like the new rules for Premier qualification.

On United’s website page explaining the new rules, they say that they expect to increase the number of Premier customers from these rule changes. It will be interesting to see if that prediction comes true. Time will tell who the winners and losers of the new Premier program are.

Kurt Jacobson, Author & Aviation Journalist

Kurt Jacobson Aviation Journalist
Kurt Jacobson.

The author is a man of many talents. His first career was as a professional cook and spanned 20 years and several states. Kurt also attended Colorado Aero Tech to obtain an A&P license and flew 55 hours on a student pilot license before hanging it up to buy an Alaska sportfishing boat. Kurt currently works as a freelance travel writer and has published more than 400 articles in just over four years. His articles appear in publications like Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine, Gonomad.com, trip101.com, and Mother Earth News, to name a few. Kurt lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife, dog, and big black cat.

What do you think about the United premier program changes? Your comments and questions can be submitted to the author here.

Featured Image: United Airlines Boeing 787.

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