Determining What Spending Counts Toward United’s Premier Qualifying Dollars

Jul 29, 2013

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Following Delta’s lead, United  announced earlier this year that they would start instituting a new revenue-based elite status program in 2014. As a recap, in addition to flying the normal amount of Premier-qualifying miles or segments for each elite tier, US-based United Premier members will need to either spend $25,000 dollars a year on a United MileagePlus credit card such as the United Explorer or United Club cards (no waiver for 1K members – you must spend $10,000 on the airline), or spend the following amount of money on United fares for the following tiers:

Silver Gold Platinum 1K
PQDs $2,500 $5,000


and and and and
PQMs 25,000 50,000 75,000 100,000
or or or or
PQSs 30 60 90 120

With these new requirements being implemented next year, I wanted to go over what qualifies towards United spending, because it may not be as easy as you think to qualify for your elite status starting next year, and now is as a good time to status match if you don’t think the future PQD program will be right for your needs.

The following spending counts toward the PQD requirement:

  • Base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges
  • Flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines
  • Flights operated by a Star Alliance or a MileagePlus partner airline and issued on a United ticket (ticket number starting with 016)
  • Economy Plus purchases
New United Premier Qualification Chart.
New United Premier Qualification Chart.

You will earn PQD for the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges on qualifying tickets. Certain specialty tickets, including but not limited to unpublished, consolidator, group/tour, and opaque fares do not earn PQD. Government-imposed taxes, fees, and charges are not eligible for Premier qualifying dollars (PQD).

The only non-ticket purchases that may earn Premier qualifying dollars (PQD) in 2014 are Economy Plus purchases, meaning baggage fees, United Club membership fees, change and cancellation fees will not apply.

Also, like Premier-qualifying miles and segments, PQD’s will be credited to the member who travels, not the person who purchases the ticket if you buy the ticket for someone else.

One major difference between United’s Premier Qualifying Dollars and Delta’s Medallion Qualifying Dollars is that on Delta, MQD’s only count for purchases actually made in 2014, however per the UA Insider on this FlyerTalk thread, with United, “PQD counts towards the year in which you take the flight. If you booked a PQD eligible ticket in 2013 with a departure date in 2014, you will earn PQDs towards 2014 qualification upon completing each flight segment. This is how PQM and PQS are applied today.” So even if you’ve already bought your ticket for 2014, you’ll get spending credit on them just as you would get mileage and segment credit in the year in which you actually fly.

Getting Codeshares and Partner Flights To Count

Air Canada Los Angeles-Vancouver flight booked through United.
Air Canada Los Angeles-Vancouver flight booked through United.

Most of United’s partner airlines flights are available through United as a codeshare, so that makes it easier to confirm that they count toward your spending threshold. For instance, booking the above Air Canada flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver purchased through United would count toward the spending.

Lufthansa Frankfurt- Amsterdam flights would count if booked through United.
Lufthansa Frankfurt- Amsterdam flights would count if booked through United.

If you wanted to book some intra-European flights on Lufthansa through United’s site, they would also count since flights operated by a Star Alliance partner airline and issued on a United ticket count towards Premier Qualifying Dollars.

If you know you’ll be taking a flight on a Star Alliance partner that should be bookable through United but cannot get the flight to show on, you can always try calling up the airline directly and booking the flight that way so that your airfare counts towards your PQD spending.

United JFK-LAX option.
United JFK-LAX option.

In terms of non-airline fees and taxes, such charges are usually low on United tickets, so in most cases the portion of your fare that doesn’t count towards PQD spending should be just a small part of the overall price. For example, in the itinerary above, just $21 of the $415 ticket are government-imposed taxes and fees, meaning that $394 will count towards PQD’s.

United from Los Angeles to London - expensive, but at least most of it counts towards PSD's.
United from Los Angeles to London – expensive, but at least most of it counts towards PSD’s.

Or in another example of an airport notorious for surcharges and fees – London Heathrow – if you were to book this Los Angeles to Heathrow flight in October, note that though the ticket is expensive at $1,135, $222 is taxes and government-imposed fees, so onlhy $913 would count towards PQD’s.

Still Able to Triple Dip With An Online Travel Agency
Although the easiest way to ensure that your spending on United counts towards PQD’s, one reason you might want to book through an online travel agency as opposed to directly with United is that it might be possible to triple dip on points earning by going through the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, earning loyalty program credits with an online travel agency, and still having your spend count with United.

One way to triple dip is to book your flights on an OTA through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
One way to triple dip is to book your flights on an OTA through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

For example, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity are all clickable for bonuses through the Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards site. Sapphire Preferred cardholders can earn 2 extra points per dollar for booking with Travelocity and 1 extra point per dollar for booking with Orbitz or Expedia, which are in addition to the points you would normally earn with the Ultimate Rewards card you carry.

So if you used your Sapphire Preferred to book a ticket, you’d earn 4 points per dollar with Travelocity and 3 points per dollar with the other two OTA’s thanks to the card’s 2X category spending bonus on travel. I’d take 4 Ultimate Rewards points (4.28 if you include the 7% annual dividend) – which you can transfer at a 1:1 ratio to United miles – over the 2 United miles per $1 you’d earn by booking United flights with the United Explorer (and just 1.5 miles per dollar with the Club card) any day.

In addition, Expedia offers their own loyalty program called Expedia Rewards where you can earn bonus points for flight purchases, which can then be redeemed for money off a future flight. Orbitz also offers Orbitz Rewards, which you’ll earn “Orbucks” that can be used towards future flights. So in the case of Orbitz and Expedia, you would be triple dipping since you would earn Ultimate Rewards points for booking through their shopping portal, Expedia or Orbitz Rewards for booking from them, and United miles for the actual flight.

While you don’t need to worry about this quite yet since the new requirements don’t go into place until January 1, 2014, it’s something to keep on the radar so when this does come into place, you’ll know what will count toward your Premier Qualifying Dollars and can plan your elite status strategy accordingly.

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