Elite Status Travel News

The New United Airlines 2020 Elite Program Also Devalues Partner Airlines

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Written by Charlie

Heads up – not only is United making their customers pay more for status but they are also devaluating partner airlines for earning those elite points also!

Last week, United made the announcement slipped out a video and webpage about the new elite requirements for 2020 and beyond. I have already written about the details of this new plan as well as how United goes to great lengths to try and confuse us to spin their negative changes.

United’s New Elite Program Also Devalues Partner Airlines

But, there was something else that I had overlooked at the time that I noticed as I was doing a deeper examination into the new program (trying to find some ways to still make it cheap for status!). It turns out that the current United elites that show their loyalty by flying thousands of miles are not the only ones that will be devalued. United Airlines is actually devaluing some of their own partner airlines as well.

How are they doing that? Well, to try and make their math work with partner airlines according to their new “PQP” (which is the amount of money you need to spend to earn status), they have broken down partner airlines into two groups. Then, you would divide the total miles awarded on those partner airlines by either 5 or 6 to get the PQP number (yeah, United says this is less confusing than the current way).

I had gone through it quickly at first and thought that the “Preferred” airlines were alliance partners and the other partners are called “MileagePlus” partners. The “Preferred” partners will divide that award mileage amount by 5 (which is the better option) while “MileagePlus” partners will divide by 6 – giving you fewer PQPs if you fly a MileagePlus partner vs Preferred partners.

Well, it turns out that United did not break that apart by alliance partners. No, instead, they actually broke out airlines from the alliance that they call “Preferred” and designate all others (including non-alliance airlines) as “MileagePlus” partners. Here are the lists of the new partner classifications:

Preferred Partners (which divide the award miles by 5):

  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Azul Brazilian Airlines
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Eurowings
  • Lufthansa
  • SWISS International Airlines

MileagePlus Partners (which divide the award miles by 6):

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Dolomiti
  • Air India
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Edelweiss
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • Juneyao Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Olympic Air
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai Airways International
  • Turkish Airlines
Why Is United Doing This?

One thing that jumps out right away is that there are many airlines on the MileagePlus list that have historically had more economy fare classes that awarded at 100% or near that the the airlines on the Preferred list. For example, South African, Singapore, Ethiopian, SAS, Thai, and Turkish have all had more fare classes at higher earnings in economy (in the past) than airlines like Lufthansa and Austrian.

So, is this how United plans to combat those earning tables? Possibly but you can also take notice that most of the airlines on the Preferred list also offer shorter flights to the US than several airlines on the MileagePlus list. For example, Singapore (which has generous fares, fare classes, and long-distance flights) has been relegated to “just” the MileagePlus Partner tablet as opposed to the Preferred partner tables.


Going forward with the new program, just take a careful look at not only the fare class earning table for your upcoming trip (before buying a ticket) but also which airline it is being ticketed with. A 20,000 mile trip (where you would earn 20,000 award miles) could be worth either 4,000 PQP (and Silver status) or 3,333 PQP – all depending on whether the airline is “Preferred” or not.

I’ve got to say – is it not enough that United tries to frustrate and annoy loyal customers with these changes? Apparently not as they have now devalued even their alliance partners by telling some of them that they are not “Preferred Partners” but just program partners. Who else can United annoy this week? 🙂

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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.


  • yea don’t see you screaming when Delta downgraded Korean Air to Group 4 before with nearly zero earnings.

    • Yea, I gave up on Delta as an elite program, personally, years ago and don’t follow it as close as I do Star Alliance now.
      But that too was a ridiculous move that penalized many flyers. Delta was never super fond of Korean anyway.

  • The “preferred” partners are – with one exception – all joint venture partners, proposed JV partners (Copa, Avianca) and airlines in which UAL has an equity stake (Avianca, Azul). EuroWings is a Lufthansa subsidiary and Lufty is a JV partner.

    Nothing unusual about that; if you’re going to buy tickets on other carriers UA would prefer you did so on their JV and equity partners as they’d get a share of the revenue.

    The one (glaring) exception is Air China and no one knows for sure why they’re on the list (maybe just sucking up to the PRC?).

    • Great points – I had not thought about that. They should still have come up with a different name than “Preferred” if they are going to ditch their alliance partners from that. 🙂

  • It seems that UA is simply kicking itself in the teeth though. Why would I buy, for example, a $2,000 UA ticket for a 20,000 mile flight and earn less than 2,000 PQPs when I can get the same ticket in a partner and get 4,000 (or 3333) PQPs? Am I missing something?