Last-Minute Elite Status Strategies for United Premier Elite Status

Nov 22, 2018

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Now that we have just over a month left in 2018, your time is running out to qualify or re-qualify for airline elite status in 2019. This is the moment to check your mileage balances, calculate your travel for the rest of the year, and see where you will end up in terms of elite-status qualification for 2019.

If you think you will finish short of your goal, here are some ideas for earning the qualifying miles, segments and dollars you need before the end of the year. Today will focus on United Premier status, but you can check out our other guides to last-minute elite status qualification on American and Delta, too.

Here is what you need to know about United’s Premier elite program, including qualification requirements, tier benefits, and ideas for earning the status you want for another year.

Useful Posts

Before we dive in, take a look at these helpful posts for information you should have on hand as we enter the final countdown.

Now it’s time to put your plan together for the end of the year.

United Premier Qualification and Benefits

Let’s begin with the basics of United Premier elite status. You can find information on the Premier program and its membership tiers here. Below, we’ll look at the qualification requirements and benefits of each tier.

Flyers earn United award miles based on their airfare, elite status and whether or not they use a United co-branded credit card. However, when it comes to Premier-Qualifying Miles (PQMs), flyers still earn them based on the fare code of their ticket and the distance of a flight.

Partner flights are a different story. You generally earn both redeemable and Premier-Qualifying miles based on the distance of your flight. However, you will only earn Premier-Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) on fares purchased through United, so keep that in mind if partner flying is part of your plan. You can find out earning details here.

Premier Silver

United’s first tier of elite status requires you to earn 25,000 PQMS or 30 Premier-Qualifying Segments (PQSs) and earn $3,000 PQDs during the calendar year. You can get that spending requirement waived by making $25,000 or more in purchases on a United MileagePlus credit card, if you have a United MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card or if you use a military or diplomatic address.

Here are the benefits of this tier:

  • Earn 7 miles per dollar spent (a 40% bonus)
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus for self and 1 companion at check-in
  • Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades on day of departure
  • Instant upgrades on Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets
  • 500 PQM minimum accrual
  • Priority check-in, security screening, boarding and baggage handling
  • One complimentary checked bag (70 lbs) for domestic economy tickets, two to Europe
  • Premier priority desk phone line
  • Access to most sold-out flights
  • Award priority including: award waitlisting, standby for international awards, better availability for United Saver Awards in economy, unrestricted access to United Standard Awards on United and United Express
  • Reduced close-in award booking fee, award redeposit fee and award change fees ($25 off)
  • Star Alliance Silver status benefits
  • RewardsPlus benefits. Silver Premier members get some basic benefits from the RewardsPlus partnership between Marriott and United, like a 10% bonus when converting Marriott Rewards points to United MileagePlus miles, and 10% more United miles when redeeming Marriott points for flight and hotel travel packages.
Forego PQD requirements by spending enough on a United credit card.

Premier Gold

The next tier of United Premier status requires flying 50,000 PQMs or 60 PQSs and earning $6,000 PQDs in a calendar year. The same credit card spending waivers apply.

Additional benefits at this tier include:

  • Earn 8 miles per dollar spent (60% bonus)
  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus for self and 1 companion at booking
  • Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades as early as 48 hours in advance
  • Two complimentary checked bags (70 lbs each) for domestic economy tickets
  • Lounge access when traveling internationally
  • Waived same-day flight changes
  • Reduced close-in award booking fee, award redeposit fee and award change fees ($50 off)
  • Star Alliance Gold status benefits including lounge access when traveling internationally
  • Marriott Gold status benefits via RewardsPlus. These include benefits like room upgrades, late check-out and a 25% bonus on points earned for every stay.

Premier Platinum

To qualify for this tier, you need to fly 75,000 PQMs or 100 PQSs, and earn $9,000 PQDs, with the same credit card spending waiver.

The additional benefits you enjoy upon reaching this tier include:

  • Earn 9 miles per dollar spent (80% bonus)
  • Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades as early as 72 hours in advance
  • Up to 8 Economy Plus companions
  • Three complimentary checked bags (70 lbs each) for domestic economy tickets
  • Two Regional Premier Upgrades
  • Waived/reduced close-in award booking fee, award redeposit fee and award change fees (award redeposit within 60 days of departure is $50)
  • Waived phone service charge
  • Better availability for United Saver Awards in select premium cabins
  • Discounted United Club membership rates ($50 off)
United's 787-10 offers a modified version of the airline's Polaris business seat. Photo by Zach Honig.
Hopefully upgrades will start coming through once you hit the upper echelons of elite status.


Premier 1K

For United’s top tier of elite status, you need to fly 100,000 PQMs or 120 PQSs, and earn $12,000 PQDs in the calendar year (this will be raised to $15,000 next year). There is no credit card spending waiver for this tier.

At this level, the additional benefits you receive include:

  • Earn 11 miles per dollar spent (120% bonus)
  • Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades as early as 96 hours in advance
  • Instant upgrades on M-class economy tickets
  • Two additional Regional Premier Upgrades
  • Six Global Premier Upgrades and the ability to earn more upon each additional 25,000 PQMs earned (beginning 2019; otherwise, each additional 50,000 PQMs)
  • Premier priority desk phone line with dedicated 1K line
  • Waived award redeposit fees
  • Complimentary drinks and food in economy
  • Discounted United Club membership rates ($100 off)

Now that you have all the qualification information, it’s time to put together a plan for the end of the year so you achieve the highest elite status possible.

Last-Minute Earning Strategies

Time is running out, but there is still a month left to rack up some Premier-qualifying activity if you need it. Here are some ideas to help put you over the top.

Buy Premier-Qualifying Miles

This is probably the most expensive option, but might be just what you need in a pinch if you already have your travel for the end of the year blocked out.

United’s Premier Accelerator is a program that lets you earn extra PQMs along with extra award miles on eligible itineraries. To use it, you must have purchased flights and then you can log into your MileagePlus account. Once there, you should see an option to purchase accelerator miles.

Buying miles through United’s Accelerator is an expensive way to hit the next tier.

Unfortunately, the prices for PQMs are also outrageously high, in the range of 10-33 cents apiece according to this FlyerTalk thread. On the plus side, they do post to your account within a matter of days, no matter when your flight is scheduled to depart, so accelerator miles you purchase now should count toward your 2018 qualification requirements even if your flights aren’t until next year.

Also note that these purchases do not count toward your Premier-Qualifying Dollar total.

Credit Card Spending

The only United credit cards that allow you to earn PQMs are the United MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card and the United MileagePlus Select Card, which are no longer available to new applicants.

If you are an existing Presidential Plus cardholder, you can earn 1,000 Flexible Preferred Qualifying Miles (Flex PQMs) for every $5,000 you spend. That’s an earning rate of 1 PQM per $5 spent, so not fantastic, but still something to consider. Flex PQMs can then be converted to regular PQMs to help qualify for status up to and including Premier Platinum, but not 1K or Global Services. Flex PQMs are convertible in the calendar year in which they are earned plus an additional 39 months.

The United Mileage Plus Select card earns 1 PQM per $1 spent on with a cap of 5,000 PQMs per calendar year.

Status Challenge

While the end of the year is not the best time to complete a status challenge since your status will just be good through the following status year, it might still be worth considering if you have a lot of year-end travel coming up.

Per United’s public status challenge page, here are the matching tiers and earning requirements you must complete within 90 days:

  • Premier Silver: Challenge from American AAdvantage Gold, or Delta Silver Medallion and earn 7,000 PQMs or 8 PQSs on flights operated by United/United Express.
  • Premier Gold: Challenge from American AAdvantage Platinum or Delta Gold Medallion and earn 12,500 PQMs or 15 PQSs on flights operated by United/United Express.
  • Premier Platinum: Challenge from American AAdvantage Platinum Pro or Delta Platinum Medallion and earn 18,000 PQMs or 22 PQSs on flights operated by United/United Express.

Although they are not officially listed, it’s been reported that you can challenge from other programs like Alaska Mileage Plan as well, though you might have to call the MileagePlus desk to register.

Unfortunately, there are no challenges to Premier 1K status. But this can be a fast shortcut to Premier status at the other levels if you have a lot of upcoming travel that you can channel toward the challenge. What’s also nice is that there aren’t spending requirements, so you can achieve these with cheap long-haul flights if you so desire.

Mileage Run Scenarios

Because achieving elite status with United requires earning both Premier-Qualifying Miles or Segments and hitting spending thresholds, mileage runs are not usually a useful tool toward qualifying they once were. However, if you’re up to the PQD spending threshold for your desired status level but still lack some miles, you have some time to make up the deficit.

Cabin shot from after the flight.
You might have to do some flying to hit your goals.


If you plan to credit flights from United’s airline partners to your MileagePlus account, just be sure you’re aware of the earning rates for the specific carrier and fare class you purchase. Also remember that Basic Economy fares on United do not earn PQMs, PQSs or PQDs.

You should check the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk for news about cheap fares. In the meantime, here are a some ideas for how to rack up a few thousand extra miles before the end of 2018.

1,000 miles short:

Believe it or not, some folks who diligently spend their entire year racking up the miles necessary for elite status end up missing it by a few thousand, or even hundred, miles. Don’t let that be you.

Assuming you’re already a Premier member who earns 500-mile minimums on flights, you could do a quick single-day round-trip between Washington (IAD) and New York (LGA) for $151 and 1,000 PQMs.

West Coasters are even better off with fares between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) for just $117 and 1,000 PQMs.

5,000 miles short:

The easiest way to rack up 5,000+ PQMs quickly is probably to fly coast to coast with a possible stop in either direction.

This quick round-trip between Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO) would earn 5,130 PQMs for just $242.

You could get more creative and try to find some itineraries with one or more stops to add some more PQMs to your bottom line. For example, this overnight round-trip from Boston (BOS) to San Diego (SAN) via Chicago (ORD) and Los Angeles (LAX) would earn a total of 5,701 PQMS for $287 (including a 500-mile minimum on the SAN-LAX leg).

This itinerary from Washington (IAD) to Seattle (SEA) transits via Houston (IAH), San Francisco (SFO) and Chicago (ORD) on various legs for a grand total of $272 and 6,178 PQMs.


10,000 miles short:

Have a few more miles to rack up? You could do it on a series of short- or mid-range flights. However, given the time constraints and the crush of holiday travel that’s about to begin, you might want to try achieving this with a single, inexpensive itinerary with a couple of long-haul flights.

The best options at the moment are cheap flights from the US to China. This three-day round-trip from Denver (DEN) to Shanghai (PVG) via Los Angeles (LAX) on the outbound and Chicago (ORD) on the return would earn 15,292 PQMs for $553.

If you don’t have a China visa, you could try this round-trip from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN) via San Francisco (SFO) for $759 and 22,022 PQMs.

Apart from cheap long-hauls, if you think you might purchase tickets in premium cabins on United’s airline partners, it might be worth looking up the individual earning page for that airline and calculating just how many PQMs you could earn. Then, if possible and there is no or little fare difference, you should try to ticket it through United so you earn PQDs on your purchase as well.


If your mileage-run strategy centers on earning segments instead, check the FlyerTalk Mileage Run Forum for ideas and then use Google Flights’ Multi City search to piece it together.

This gets a little tough since you might have to purchase separate tickets for various itineraries, but I was finding it relatively easy to piece together multi-stop itineraries beginning and ending in Newark (EWR) and Washington (IAD) and traveling through Boston (BOS) Charlotte (CLT), Detroit (DTW), Houston (IAH), Chicago (ORD), St. Louis (STL) and Seattle (SEA) in various combinations for around $400-$500 for anywhere from 6-11 segments over one or two days in December. The more complicated the itinerary, the more likely it is you will have to purchase several separate tickets and put them together piece by piece.

This article originally stated that Premier 1K benefits include “six Global Premier Upgrades and the ability to earn more upon each additional 25,000 PQMs earned.” In fact, that earning threshold will be introduced beginning 2019; in 2018, one additional GPU is earned for each additional 50,000 PQMs. The article has been amended.

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