When United Airlines announced a revised loyalty program based almost entirely on spend, rather than how far or how often you fly, there was one last opportunity to relish the old concept of loyalty. If you flew on a partner airline, like Air Canada, Lufthansa or ANA, you could earn elite status based on the miles you’d earn, divided by either 5 or 6.

It meant someone flying on a cheaper ticket, or stuck often flying on other airlines, but flying far or often could still earn valuable perks.

You can now say that United’s loyalty program is entirely based on a concept of “show me the money”, because that last loophole which rewarded flying in any other way is now gone. You want perks? Show United the money…

united-airlines-tailUnited Premier Qualifying Points

United ia making loyalty incredibly simple to understand, even if it fails to address or rewards many of the key tenets of loyalty. The airline will give you one Premier Qualifying Point (PQP’s) for every dollar you spend, and has set thresholds where these PQP trigger elite status, and the associated benefits.

Spend $12,000, earn 12,000 PQP – which in light of current times, earns top tier 1K status.

Basically: United doesn’t care if you fly every week on a cheap ticket, just how much you spend. Someone flying once, but paying an egregious amount of money could enjoy better perks for a year than someone devoting themselves to the United brand. That’s one way of doing it.

a bed in a planeThe Last PQP Loophole Gets Curbed

Flying on partner airlines, with tickets issued by Star Alliance airlines other than United was the last way to rack up United MileagePlus elite status based on distance flown, with the price of the ticket playing a much smaller part.

To curb that behavior, or opportunity, Loyalty Lobby notes United is capping what can be earned via this method of earning elite status. United is effectively punishing those who fly on partner airlines, but earn miles with United. For tickets issued after April 29th, 2020, caps will be placed which limit PQP earning to 1,500 points, or less.

a screenshot of a screen

The airline could claim its to weed out status chasers, but in reality it’s just making its loyalty program less attractive to those who end up flying internationally often, and prefer better on board customer service, or products.

Reading the fine print, you’ll even need to reach out proactively to the airline if you want your flights counted properly in the interim!

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger?

United continues to march headstrong into a world where loyalty simply means customers who spend the most. There are, of course, arguments of why this is a fair system. On the other hand, flying is a game of choice and one where emotional attachments exist.

Telling people who were never going to spend $25k a year, but gave the airline their business day in, day out, week to week that they can go pound dirt just sends awful messages. Without the ability for that customer to still earn top tier perks, it creates an aviation market based purely on price, and that’s unlikely a war United will win.

Is this program harder, better, faster and stronger than the others, or just harder to enjoy?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. New rules, so time for new strategies. The cycle continues. As everyone says, loyalty is a choice. More than likely those who can continue to make 1K or Platinum will continue, and others may go other place. I live in DC, so UA is a great resource for me. Status or no, I’ll continue to fly them, and maybe I’ll reach Gold or higher. If not, that’s ok too.

  2. I can’t see why this encourages anything the airline wouldn’t want to.

    If someone spends 12k on one first class trip, (a) they’re likely to spend big on any other trips booked, and (b) even if not, their profit on that passenger for the year is ~$11,700.

    For someone flying round-trip once a week to not make 12k, each flight would have to average $115 or less (each trip $230 or less). With flights that cheap, profit calculated at 10% is $11.50 per flight, or just under $1200 for the year. Looking at this the other way, they’d have to get a profit of $112.50 per flight (all 104 of them) to match the same profit-per-passenger metric as the first scenario. I doubt that an actual cost to the airline of $2.50/flight is valid. Additionally, with so much flying, the chances of an incident that will require intervention and using some of those perks (that cost the airline money) is much higher.

    If I’m right, it means they’ll be sticking with this plan for a while…the fewer flights an airline can give to get to a $12k spend, the happier it is.

    1. You’re not wrong, the issue is just entirely turning off one form of achieving status, rather than just making it harder (miles flown).

      Accor allows money or nights, and it allows both sides to win.

  3. I used to be regular Platinum or 1K and appreciated the benefits, to the extent that I would actively choose United even when not the most convenient (and really appreciate that status is extended to 2021). However, the optimal benefits I found to be Star Alliance Gold status when travelling internationally…

    My strategy to date has been to maintain AA EXP (and Oneworld Emerald) by making use of the $6k EQD and 10K EQM through credit card. And really AA has stepped up a bit with regard to their treatment of EXPs which is an added benefit. The United status addressed the Star Alliance Gold aspect.

    However I have no intention whatsoever of handing over $12k to United to maintain mediocre Gold status, so in 2021 I will be doing a status match with another Star Alliance carrier and will then get access to the gold benefits plus United Clubs…

    We shall see whether United’s approach is valid, but I, for one, am not going to go out of my way to fly with them in future… And maybe that is exactly what they want to achieve!

  4. I’ve been a 1K flyer for years. Much of my flying is into the EU and onward to Africa. I always stay in the Start Alliance network. With this new change and United’s massive reduction into the EU, I just can’t see staying with them any more.
    Pretty sure I’ll be a Delta guy very soon. At least I can get into Africa without being punished.
    As soon as the stock prices go back up, I’m done with that as well.

  5. I’m a million miler and fly weekly from LAX to EWR. New policy means I fly 5.000 miles per week, but with tickets in economy plus for $333 v. $1400 business. JetBlue is my new friend (they actually fly into NY, not NJ).

  6. United is in the business to earn money like other large corporations. So if this has the affect of helping them do that then it is a good policy. If it hurts that then it is bad. Only time will tell.

    One thing that has happened over the past decade is the deteriorating perks for being ‘special’ in the airline’s eyes. So one thing this should make is there will be fewer elites and thus hopefully they will be treated more special with the perks United offer. If this happens then those that are able to earn the status will feel better about what they are given and hopefully choose them when they fly.

    I gave up long ago trying to earn status and chose just to go with the best offer for my buck based on service. I can’t see this changing that but it might for some of the bigger spenders.

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