The Basics Travel Deals

How You Could Earn Top Tier United Status in 2020 for HALF the United Cost

Mileage goals
Written by Charlie

United has changed the way that travelers will gain elite status in 2020 but here is an example of how you can earn top tier United status for half what United wants you to spend with them!

A couple of weeks ago, we learned of United’s plan to change their frequent flyer program – actually, they are eliminating the frequent flyer part of it and making it all about the money. But, that doesn’t mean that you cannot still get their top tier status (Premier 1K) for less than United wants you to think you need to pay! Here is an example that shows how you can still earn top tier United status for less than half what United wants you to spend with them!

Spending Half the United Cost for United Premier 1K in 2020

There are two ways to achieve elite status with United in 2020 and beyond. One is by flying a certain amount of segments and spending a certain amount of money. The other way is just flying the minimum of 4 United flights and spending a lot more money on flights.

But, thanks to how United has to handle partner flights, there is a way to spend even less than United wants you to think you need to spend – in fact, less than half the United cost! If you really want United Premier 1K status (their top tier status), here is a suggested way to achieve it for half of what United wants you to spend with them.

Is It Worth Trying?

Before we get into it, there are probably many that say, “why even try to get Premier 1K status if United is making it so difficult?” My answer would be that United tried to justify some of these changes by saying they want to reward customers like 1K in a stronger way. So, it could be valuable to anyone that really likes the benefits of top tier status – but it is still a lot of money and time!

Example of Earning Top Tier United Status for Half the Cost

The secret to spending less than United wants you to spend is to fly partners. They have their “Preferred” partners and their “MileagePlus” partners. If you fly a Preferred partner, you will divide the total award miles earned by 5. If you fly a MileagePlus partner, you will divide the total award miles earned by 6.

But, just remember that if you are going to earn it all with partners, there are 2 things to look at:

  • You still need to fly a minimum of 4 United flights
  • You will need to go by the “PQP Only” side of the chart above (so, 24,000 PQP for Premier 1K)
    • This is because you are opting to not spend 54 flights aboard United airplanes

The good news is that the total award miles you are dividing includes bonus miles earned by class of service/fare class. So, if you fly in some premium class cabins, you can earn even more miles.

The route I used for this example is the somewhat new Singapore Airlines flight between Newark and Singapore. That is a brutally long flight, so long, in fact, that Singapore does not sell economy on this route – just business and premium economy. Premium economy is fare class “R” – which earns 100% of the miles flown. So, let’s see how many miles you would earn on a roundtrip ticket!

According to GCMap, you would earn 19,068 miles. Since “R” (or, Premium Economy on this flight) earns 100% of the miles flown, you would wind up with 19,068 miles. To find out how this translates to the new PQP for earning elite status, we would divide that number by “6” since Singapore is a MileagePlus partner.

Our total from that is 3,178 PQPs. So, let’s see how many of these roundtrip flights with Singapore we would need to make to hit the various elite levels as well as how much it would cost with the above example.

Note: If you need less than 500 PQPs, I am just indicating the lower number of flights since you still need to fly United flights and that would be a fair number. If a one-way on this route would do it, I will mark it as .5 since you could always use miles to return, etc.

Elite Status LevelNumber of Trips to MakeTotal Cost
Premier Silver2$2,360
Premier Gold3$3,540
Premier Platinum5$5,900
Premier 1K8$9,440

Yeah, that is a lot of money and travel to hit United Premier 1K with the above itinerary/example! But, I just wanted to lay out how it is possible to achieve elite status with the United program for much less than what United wants you to spend with them. In fact, in the above example, you could earn Premier 1K for less than half what United wants you to spend with them and you could do it with only flying on 4 United flights and 18 Singapore flights – less than half the number of flights United wants for 1K the other way!

So, am I suggesting that someone do this? Absolutely not! That is a ton of time on planes and money when you could just buy miles in a partner program and likely get the kind of travel you want from that instead. But, I did want to highlight it as an example that is possible to still qualify under the United 2020 elite rules without spending as much as United wants you to spend.

Can you think of other airlines/routes that may present some sweet spots for hitting elite status?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • @ Charlie — LH F for about $3,000 per round trip during sales EUR-ASIA is the only way to go. Earn 60% of miles flown on the long hauls.

  • Air China is a preferred partner and offers an even better way to earn status. $2331 business class (R) earns 125% UA miles. IAD-BKK r/t (17,994 miles) will get you 4488 PQP via Matt at Live & Let’s Fly. I, personally, am utilizing this for my upcoming trip to SIN. IAH>PEK>SIN R/T $2900 in business (19,949 miles) will get me 4987 PQP. I was 1K and didn’t find it that beneficial, but that is up to every individual to decide for themselves. Simple SA Gold offers enough benefits for me, personally.

  • If you fly United metal, I assume you still only get PQPs on the base fare (not on the taxes, surcharges, etc.). Is that correct? If you fly one of their partner airlines, will they ding you on PQPs for fuel surcharges, etc.? or will they truly honor “butt in the seat” actual mileage?

    • No, it really is the butt-in-seat miles (plus fare class bonus but not elite bonuses). The only thing is if you ticket it through United and the ticket number starts with 016 – in that case, it has been issued by United so goes by the base fare for PQP amount. But, if you are issued a ticket from a partner, it is the PQPs = miles flown x fare class bonus / partner number of 5 or 6.

  • Partner airline premium cabins’ extra-special fare deals are going to be extraordinarily lucrative again for earning elite status in the UA program. The only question then may be whether UA elite status is better than the alternatives out there for the individual.

  • Boston- Tel Aviv on Air canada in Business can be had for $2600 RT. so that is 12,000×2(bonus for any business class fare) /5 which equals – 4800 PQP- if each segment gets at least 500×2 then you would get 5000 PQP