Table of Contents
How we got here:
The airline industry is proof of what happens when an oligopoly is allowed to dominate the market through buying up their competition. The loss of airlines like America West, Airtran, Continental, Northwest, and USAirways have meant that the remaining carriers have carte blanche to devalue their mileage programs, knowing that the Big 3 carriers are in lockstep so that they won’t lose customers to the competition.
Delta was first to eliminate earning miles based on flight distance and the first to eliminate award charts. American and United then copied Delta’s earning changes.
2019 abbreviations that are being phased out:
- PQM (Premier qualifying miles) is the current terminology used when you earn miles that qualify for elite status based on miles flown on flights. This way of earning elite status is being eliminated.
- PQS (Premier qualifying segments) is the current terminology used for earning elite status based on how many flight segments (1 PQS earned for each takeoff you fly, plus bonuses for premium cabin segments), which is an alternate way or earning status instead of with PQMs based on miles flown.
- PQD (Premier qualifying dollars) is the current terminology used for earning elite status based on how much you spend, on United flights which is required on top of earning status based on miles flown.
- PQP (Premier qualifying points) replaces PQDs in the elite status earning equation. This will continue to be earned based on how much money you spend on United flights, but will also include spending on upgrades and partner flights, as described below. You can now earn status solely with PQPs plus 4 flight segments on United.
- PQF (Premier qualifying flights) replaces PQS. United will no longer look at how many miles you fly, but if you fly a minimum number of flight segments (1 PQF earned for each takeoff you fly), it will reduce how many PQPs you need to earn.
Goodbye to PQMs:
Starting on 1/1/20 United will eliminate the PQM (Premier qualifying miles) requirement needed for elite status. Currently you need to fly 25K, 50K, 75K, or 100K miles in order to earn status, but United will eliminate this PQM requirement.
Delta was the first to eliminate mileage based flight earnings before American and United copied and now United leads the pack in removing this from the elite side of the equation.
Hello PQF and PQP:
In its place are PQF (premier qualifying flights) and PQP (premier qualifying points). United claims this will simplify things, but things seem just as confusing as they have ever been.
Each flight segment on United or a partner airline will earn 1 PQF. Basic economy, light fares, and award tickets won’t earn PQF. You will also need a minimum of 4 PQFs on United flights in order to earn status.
Each dollar (except taxes) you spend on United flights will earn 1 PQP. You will earn PQPs includes basic economy and light fares. Additionally economy plus seat and subscriptions, preferred seat purchases, upgrades, and upgrade award co-pays will earn 1 PQP per dollar spent.
Earning PQPs on partner airlines:
Previously, United account holders with an international address were exempt from PQD (Premier qualifying dollars, the precursor to PQPs) requirements as they couldn’t earn PQDs on partner award flights. They will not be exempt from PQP requirements as they can earn PQPs on partner award flights. The equation for earning PQPs on partner flights will be the award miles earned divided by 5 on preferred partners and award miles divided by 6 on non-preferred partners. You can see which of United’s partners are considered preferred on this page.
Bulk United tickets will also earn PQPs equal to the award miles divided by 5.
Calculating PQPs on partner airlines:
For example, a flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv from December 2-10 is C$949 (US$718). ITA Matrix shows that this is a K class fare:
If you go to the Air Canada earning page on United.com you can see how many miles you’ll earn based on your fare class:
As you can see, K Class earns 50% of the flown miles on international flights. A round-trip flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv is 11,577 miles in distance, so you would earn 5,789 miles when you credit that flight to United after the 50% cutback.
Air Canada is a preferred partner for PQP calculation. That means you can calculate the PQPs earned by dividing the 5,789 miles earned by 5. You’ll earn 1,158 PQPs for this flight. (Had Air Canada been a non-preferred partner you would divide 5,789 by 6, or 965 PQPs). That’s much better than the 650 PQPs you would earn if this were a United flight ($650 flight plus $68 in taxes).
That’s right, flying on inexpensive preferred partner fares is much more rewarding then flying on United flights. Go figure.
Partner award flight, such as discounted business class flights, will also earn a good number of PQPs.
For example, a business class flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv for Pesach from April 7-20 is an incredible bargain at just C$3,616 (US$2,739). ITA Matrix shows that this is a P class fare:
As you can see above, P Class earns 200% of the flown miles. A round-trip flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv is 11,577 miles in distance, so you would earn 23,154 miles when you credit that flight to United after the bonus.
Air Canada is a preferred partner for PQP calculation. That means you can calculate the PQPs earned by dividing the 23,154 miles earned by 5. You’ll earn 4,631 PQPs for this flight. That’s much better than the 2,670 PQPs you would earn if this were a United flight ($2,670 flight plus $69 in taxes).
Earning PQPs on partner flights is a nice improvement, but United is also using this as an excuse for high PQP requirements and the elimination of waivers.
You can earn status based on PQPs only or a combination of PQFs and PQPs. The PQP requirements are eye-wateringly high and are a significant jump from current requirements. Prepare to spend a lot more to earn United status:
Here is a comparison for how you can earn elite status in 2019 versus 2020:
These changes do benefit those who spend a lot on a few United flights, as they will be able to earn higher status levels than they were able to when elite status required more flying.
It will also benefit people who spend a lot on short flights.
United Card Waivers:
- Currently, if you spent $25K annually on a United card you are able to waive the requirement to spend minimum amounts (PQDs) in order to earn elite status. This will be eliminated on 1/1/20.
- Currently, some United cards offer the ability to earn United status without having 4 PQFs on United. This will be eliminated on 1/1/20.
- The United Explorer, Club, and Awards cards will earn 500 PQPs for spending $12K annually or 1,000 PQPs for spending $24K annually. These PQPs are now a fraction of what you’ll need to spend in order to earn United status. They also can only be applied for earning Silver, Gold, or Platinum status.
- See this post for information on combining PQPs from multiple cards.
- The grandfathered United Select and Platinum cards will earn 500 PQPs annually for every $12K spend, but these cards can earn up to 3,000 PQPs annually and they can be applied to any status, including 1K.
- The grandfathered United Presidential Plus card will earn 500 PQPs annually for every $12K spend, but these cards can earn up to 10,000 PQPs annually and they can be applied to any status, including 1K. That’s an improvement over the current cap of Platinum.
- Flex PQMs can be earned until 12/31/19 and will be converted into Flex PQPs on 4/1/20 at a ratio of 5:1, so 10K flex PQMs will become 2K flex PQPs. Flex PQPs can only be applied to earn Silver, Gold, or Platinum status.
- Currently cardholders can have expiring and non-expiring flex PQMs and they will continue to have the same expiration date. You may want to increase your spending through 12/31/19 in order to earn more flex PQPs for future use.
- Note that as of 1/1/20, the card will no longer earn flex PQPs that can applied in the year of your choice. All earnings will be applied in the calendar year in which they are earned. This is a massive devaluation of this card.
Plus Points Earnings:
Currently 1K members can earn additional upgrades through flight miles. Now they will have to earn increments of 3,000 PQPs to earn each additional 20 PlusPoints.
Million Miler Status:
United will continue to track lifetime flown miles (PQMs) for the purposes of earning million miler status only. You and a companion will continue to earn lifetime Gold at 1MM, lifetime Platinum at 2MM, lifetime 1K at 3MM, and lifetime Global Services at 4MM.
This status has effectively become more valuable as it becomes harder to qualify for annual status.
It’s going to be a lot more expensive to earn elite status going forward, especially if you have relied on credit card or international waivers to earn status. You’ll have to calculate to see if dwindling status benefits are really worth the cost to obtain it, or if you would be better off just being a free agent.
If you fly a lot and don’t spend a ton, then jumping to another airline may make sense in the short-term, but the odds are strong that American and Delta will emulate United in the future and eliminate earning status from flown miles as well.
United has whined to Chase about how people weren’t spending on their cards. These changes will likely mean that people will spend even less, as the PQD waivers are being eliminated. This is likely to drive more spending to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Quinfecta. There are far more rewarding cards to use that earn hybrid points which aren’t locked into United miles. The United cards remain valuable for their benefits, but they’re less valuable than ever for spending.
How will these changes affect which cards you use and which status you earn?