Elite Status Travel News

The New United Airlines Elite Qualifications Reward Your Money Spent, Not Miles Flown

Written by Charlie

There are new United elite qualifications for 2020 and they really shake up the elite program. While United thinks it will be easier, it is going to make things harder for many.

United Airlines is really shaking up their elite qualification program for 2020 and it finally reveals what most of us have known for a while – airlines don’t care how far you fly with them but how much you spend with them. This new loyalty scheme is sure to annoy many longtime loyalists of the MileagePlus program but it would seem that United does not care about that. Check out the new United elite qualifications for 2020.

The New United Airlines Elite Qualifications for 2020

Link: New United Elite Qualifications for 2020

I first saw this from Matthew at Live and Lets Fly this morning and United released this just yesterday. It is really not goods for many people – and it is even not good news for Chase as well (more on that later).

What’s Changing with United Elite Qualification?

With a sweeping change, United no longer cares how you fly but how many flights you fly and the money you spend. Over the last few years, the emphasis has been moving away from rewarding flyers for distance flown anyway as award miles were based on the cost of the ticket. But, the elite status you earned was still based on the miles you flew.

That will no longer be the case as of 2020. Instead, United is removing mileage flown and replacing it with just segments flown (a single flight) and money spent. Plus, there will be no fare class bonuses on those segments! Here is what that looks like.

In United’s words, “PQF” stands for “premier qualifying flights” (or what we would previously call a “segment”) and “PQP” stands for “premier qualifying points.” The PQP is based on money spent with United and will now include more than just the base fare but also include money spent on things like seat selection, upgrades purchased, miles purchased, etc.

This new way of calculating elite status will also be measured with partner airlines. This will eliminate using partner airlines for earning elite miles. Instead, they will award it based on the award miles earned and divided, depending on whether it is a preferred partner or MileagePlus partner:

So, if you purchased a business class ticket from Europe to the US on Turkish, you may earn 7,500 award miles (because of the base miles plus fare class bonus). That would translate to earning 1,250 PQP with the new earning structure. So, for partners, it could be a nice way to earn elite status faster – but only if you are earning a bundle of award miles (which likely means spending more on higher fare class tickets).

United Only Cares About the Money You Spend

As you can see in the chart above about status, there is the column for “PQP Only.” This means that, as long as you fly 4 United segments, you can earn elite status just with your spending. So, you would fly 4 flights and spend 24,000 PQP and earn Premier 1K, United’s highest, published elite status. But, that would mean you are spending $24,000 with United, or $6,000 per flight. If you are a big spender with United, you are about to become rewarded for that spending much quicker than before.

Goodbye, Spending Waivers

In a move that is sure to put more of a strain between Chase and United, spending $25,000 on a United Airlines co-branded credit card will no longer earn you a waiver on the amount of money you would need to spend on United. Not only that, but you will also not be allowed to earn a waiver by having an international address.

They are also removing the waiver of the 4 segment minimum for United cardholders. Instead, you will actually need to fly a minimum of the 4 segments to earn status. To replace the spending waiver, though, they will “reward” you PQPs by threshold spending – basically, you will earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 spent in a year, with a cap of 1,000 PQP and only up to Platinum.

But, if you have the United MileagePlus Select Card or Platinum Class Visa Card, you can earn up to 3,000 PQP and have it apply up to Premier 1K. If you have the Presidential Plus cards, you can earn up to 10,000 PQP in a year and those will apply up to Premier 1K.

United tries to explain this by saying that they are now making it easier to have your actual spending with United count. Here is what they have added that counts for the PQP amount:

  • Base fare + surcharge
  • Economy Plus® seating or subscriptions
  • Preferred seat purchases
  • *NEW* MileagePlus Upgrade Award co-pays
  • *NEW* Paid upgrades
  • *NEW* Flights ticketed and operated by our Star AllianceTM partners

However, like before, taxes and fees will still not be included in your spending totals.


These new United elite qualifications changes for 2020 are a disaster for the many flyers who put in the miles with United. Going forward, United does not care how far you fly with them, only how much you spend with them.

So, a current United Premier 1K who flies United internationally every 2-3 weeks will find that they may need to spend even more just to hit their current level. For example, flying Newark to Frankfurt and back 15 times a year will only give them 30 PQF (segments) – or not even enough for Platinum! In the current state of qualification, that would have netted them more than enough miles for Premier 1K. They will have to fly 24 more times in a year or spend a lot more money!

It is sad to see that a customer that flies 200,000 miles in a year with United will be less valuable going forward than a customer that spends $24,000 in a year. Sure, that $24K customer is bringing more money into United but the 200K flying customer is the one that is actually showing loyalty in terms of time spent on an airplane and interacting with United employees. Well, United does not care about you anymore – or maybe they haven’t in quite a while?

What do you think about the new United elite qualifications for 2020 and beyond?

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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.


  • I agree with it being straightforward, but the devaluations and ‘the moving of the goalposts’ continues. One thing that it’s going to make easier for me … buy overseas biz class on foreign carriers and just stick with SWA domestically (6 segments just this week 🙂 )

  • People that fly on vacations or small business owners like me that have to pay for their tickets usually do not spend 24k per year.
    What these stupid airlines in the USA do not realize is that these big corporations will keep paying for their employees tickets despite of anything, because their focus is on their business needs and they will have to pay for the travel costs whatever it might be.
    The big 3 airlines (UA,AA,DL) should be trying to please the vacationers and small business owners that cannot afford to pay for First/Business every time they fly and would like to rely on their status for benefits such as upgrades and other smaller perks.
    These are the ones that will be loyal to the airline who gives them more benefits.