How to manufacture United elite status

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Most airlines offer extra benefits to their most valuable customers. If you fly enough with an airline, you can become “elite”.  Of course, not all elites are equal.  Most airlines have multiple elite tiers to differentiate their valuable customers from their really valuable customers.  And, of course, airlines offer the best perks to their highest tier elites.

United is no different.  They offer elite tiers ranging from Premier Silver status (25,000 miles per year flown) to Premier 1K status (100,000 miles flown).  As with all airlines, perks improve as you move up the elite ladder.

CRJ700 Economy Plus--Full Size
United elites get free access to Economy Plus seating with extra legroom.

Unlike Delta, you can’t earn United’s top tier elite status through credit card spend alone (see “How to manufacture Delta elite status”).  If you happen to be a MileagePlus Presidential Plus Credit Card holder (no longer available to new applicants), you can spend your way to Premier Platinum status, but not to top tier Premier 1K status.  With this card, you’ll earn 1,000 PQMs for every $5,000 in spend.  So, using this card to achieve Premier Platinum status would require a mere $375,000 of spend.

What if you don’t have that old Presidential Plus card?  Even without it, you can earn Silver status through spend.  And, you can fast track to high tier status through a combination of credit card spend and flying.  I’ll show you how.

United Elite Requirements

The following chart shows United’s elite status requirements:

UnitedEliteRequirements

Definitions:

  • PQMs: Premier Qualifying Miles can be roughly thought of as the actual miles flown on United and Star Alliance partner flights.  It’s important to understand that these are different from redeemable miles which can be used to book award flights.  PQMs are only used for earning elite status.
  • PQSs: Premier Qualifying Segments are a count of the number of United and Star Alliance segments flown.  Unless you fly a very large number of short flights, your are unlikely to earn elite status through PQSs.
  • PQDs: Premier Qualifying Dollars are the sum total of your spend on United and Copa marketed flights.

Explanation:

In general, to reach each elite tier, United MileagePlus members must earn the stated number of PQMs or PQSs and spend the targeted amount of PQDs.  In other words, its not enough to just fly far or often, you also need to spend a lot of money with United.

There’s an easy exception to the PQD requirement: spend $25,000 or more with United branded credit cards and the PQD requirement goes away for all tiers except top tier Premier 1K.

Elite Benefits

United’s complete chart of elite benefits can be found here.  Here’s an excerpt showing some of the benefits:

UnitedEliteBenefits1

And, this chart shows reduced award related fees for elites (click the chart to view details):

UnitedEliteBenefits2

Manufacture United Premier Silver status

The key to manufacturing Premier Silver status is to manufacture Marriott Platinum status.  The reason for this is that United and Marriott have a partnership called RewardsPlus (found here).  With RewardsPlus, Marriott Platinum members can sign up to get complimentary United MileagePlus Premier Silver status.

To manufacture Marriott Platinum status, the trick is as follows:

  1. Get the Ritz Carlton credit card.
  2. Spend $75,000 within one account year to earn Platinum status.
  3. Signup for RewardsPlus to get United Premier Silver status.
  4. Maintain Marriott Platinum status (and, therefore, United Premier Silver status) in future years with as little as $8,000 per year spend.

Please see “How to manufacture Marriott elite status” for full details.

Fast track to Premier Gold or Premier Platinum

One way to fast track to United elite status is to start with status on a competing airline and then enroll in a status match challenge.  United’s status match challenge requirements can be found here.

At the time of this writing, United will match from either Delta or US Airways elite status as follows:

United_status_challenge1

If you meet the criteria, your United account will be upgraded to the corresponding elite level for 90 days.  During those 90 days, if you fly enough on United (or Copa), you can keep status.  The flight requirements increase with higher levels of elite status sought:

United_status_challenge2

The trick is to meet the flight requirements close to but after July 1st so that your elite status will continue for the rest of that calendar year and all of the next year.

What if you don’t already have Delta or US Airways elite status?  As I detailed recently, it is possible to earn high level Delta elite status entirely through spend.  Please see this post for full details: How to manufacture Delta elite status.

Note that the United status match is close to a one time deal.  They only allow these status matches once every 5 years.

For details about the status match program, please click here.

Conclusion

I’ve presented here the ideas and tools needed to fast track to United elite status. Whether or not you should do so depends heavily upon your situation.  Do you fly enough with United to make it worth it?  In my case, I hardly ever fly United, but I’ve found it easy to maintain Marriott Platinum status through their elite buy back program (details here) so I’ve also kept United Silver status.  What about you?  Do you see any benefit in reaching for United elite status?

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