United quietly released a YouTube video at midnight which will reverberate throughout the frequent flyer community: they’re revamping how customers qualify for Premier status.

In an effort to “simplify” things and, mainly, to reward people who spend the most money (referred to by United and pretty much airline as “our most valued and loyal customers”), United has gotten rid of the mileage-flown requirement.  Yay, right?  Well, as long as you spend enough money.

Here are the new qualification levels

United is moving away from the longstanding EQM/EQS/EQD scheme used by most airlines recently (you need to fly a certain number of miles or segments in addition to spending a certain amount of money).  Now it’s PQP (Premier Qualifying Points), which are the same as elite-qualifying dollars, 1 USD = 1 PQP, and PQF (Premier-qualifying flights).

  • Premiere 1K = 54 PQF + 18000 PQP or 24000 PQP
  • Premiere Platinum = 36 PQF + 12000 PQP or 15000 PQP
  • Premier Gold = 24 PQF + 8000 PQP or 10000 PQP
  • Premier Silver = 12 PQF + 4000 PQP or 5000 PQP

United also added a “must fly four flights on our airline” stipulation, similar to what some other airlines have done in the past. On a positive note, paying for upgrades, co-pays on mileage upgrades, and flights on Star Alliance partners will now count towards PQP and PQF.

In a bit of interesting news for United flyers who fly other Star Alliance airlines: flying on Star Alliance partners earns PQD on a flat basis: distance flown divided by 5 for most Star Alliance airlines, so it doesn’t matter that you paid $12,000 for your Singapore Suites flight from JFK to Frankfurt, you’d earn 770 PQP.  That sucks.  But if you find some random super cheap flight on Lufthansa for $400 in February for the same routing, you’d earn more PQP than the money you spent, so that’s good.

I guess that’s the best way of describing this: it’s good because it’s more simple but sucks because the top-tier spending amount is going up.

Show me the money

That’s what United is saying, and honestly that’s what American and Delta will probably do too when they announce their 2020 programs.

“Don’t want to take 54 flights?  Just spend (an oddly low) $6000 more to just buy top-tier status!”  The spend-only requirement is actually pretty solid, I have more than a few friends who have spent well north of $25k with American but are having to take unnecessary flights because they’re short on miles to requalify for Executive Platinum, they’d be fine here.

What I dislike is the insistence, coming from all airlines, that the customers who spend the most are the most loyal.  There’s a certain class of traveler who spends a boatload on flights but they couldn’t care less which airline they fly on, they care that a flight to London tomorrow in Business is $5000 on one airline and $6000 on another.  Those premium revenue customers are coveted by airlines but, unless they’re in a hub, they’re not really loyal in return.

Are Delta and American Next?

Omg almost certainly.  I just think back to when Delta switched to their revenue-based mileage earning scheme and American and United bravely innovated copied it word for word.  Now, I’m sure Delta and American will do their own flavor of this but both airlines will almost certainly raise the spend requirement for top-tier status.  The US economy has been humming along for big corporations and there are plenty of business travelers in the sky earning lots of airline status, it’s not a surprise that airlines would want to cull the top tier to ensure the benefits they get are still actually available on flights that are more crowded than ever.



If you want to hear it from United directly, here’s their video:

And the corresponding charts you’d want to see about qualification are at the United requalification page.




What do you think of the new qualification scheme?  Tell me in the comments below!


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