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To earn United Airlines Premier elite status, you’ll need to collect Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs). These are the two metrics that United uses to calculate elite status levels.
Of these, technically only PQPs are required. Earning PQFs simply reduces the number of PQPs you need to earn to get elite status in United's program, MileagePlus Premier.
Let's dig into what United Premier Qualifying Points are and how you can earn them.
What are United Premier Qualifying Points?
United PQPs are a metric of how much you've spent with United and its partners. The primary way to earn PQPs is by flying on United or its Star Alliance partners. But you can also earn PQPs on the ground. Eligible United credit card holders can earn a limited number of PQPs by spending on their co-branded airline credit card.
Each method of earning Premier Qualifying Points works a bit differently. And partner flights and credit card spending have caps and limitations that you'll need to keep in mind.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards
Earning Premier Qualifying Points on United flights
For flights on United, you'll earn PQPs on the cost of:
Seat purchases and subscriptions.
Co-pays on mileage upgrades and paid upgrades.
You won't earn PQPs on your entire airfare purchase; that's because airport taxes, security fees and other mandatory fees don't count toward PQP earnings. These taxes and fees can slice a decent portion of the potential PQP earnings.
For example, on a one-way flight from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, the taxes and fees range from $20 to $90:
Basic economy: $94 (74 PQPs).
Economy: $119 (97 PQPs).
Refundable economy: $169 (144 PQPs).
Business class: $1,096 (1,006 PQPs).
On international routes, these taxes and fees can significantly reduce the number of PQPs you earn per dollar spent.
For example, you'd earn just a fraction of the PQPs for what you pay for a flight from San Francisco to London. You'd pay $625 round-trip for a basic economy ticket but earn just 391 PQPs after subtracting $234 in taxes and fees. For premium economy, you'd pay $1,390 round-trip but earn only 1,021 PQPs after subtracting $369 in taxes and fees.
How to earn United PQPs on flights booked through partner airlines
In addition to flying on United, you can earn PQPs toward elite status when booking flights through United's partner airlines. The miles earned are based on fare class and flight distance instead of cost.
You'll earn PQPs based on a fraction of the total award miles you earn on a partner flight:
Preferred partners: Award miles divided by 5.
Other partners: Award miles divided by 6.
There are caps on the number of PQPs that can be earned for these flights, which we'll discuss in the next section.
Say you earn 3,000 award miles by flying with a preferred partner. Dividing these mileage earnings by 5, you'd earn 600 PQPs for this flight. For the same 3,000-mile earnings on a nonpreferred partner, you'd instead earn 500 PQPs.
United lists its partners on its website. Here’s a list of current United preferred and nonpreferred partners for earning PQPs.
If earning United elite status is your goal, crunch the numbers before booking your flight. For example, if you’re flying with a preferred partner, you can maximize the number of miles flown by booking flights with a layover — rather than nonstop flights — since the number of PQPs will be based on the number of miles flown.
Alternatively, if United flies the same route, check if the number of PQPs earned will be higher. Since flying with United earns you PQPs based on the cost of the flight (before taxes and fees), you may net more PQPs if the cost is higher than the number of miles flown with a partner.
Limitations on earning PQPs on preferred and nonpreferred partner flights
United limits how many PQPs you can earn on each partner flight.
Maximum PQPs per flight
First or business class
Economy or premium economy
To see how this limitation can come into play, let's run the numbers. Nonpreferred partner Singapore Airlines operates the world's longest flight between Newark and Singapore — which clocks in at 9,534 miles. Singapore Airlines premium economy fares earn 100% of flight miles as award miles. So you'll earn 9,534 United MileagePlus miles each way.
As a nonpreferred partner, divide these earnings by 6 to get the potential earnings of 1,589 PQPs each way. However, as a premium economy flight on a nonpreferred partner, you'll earn only the maximum of 500 PQPs on this flight. That's less than one-third of the potential earnings.
Earning PQP points with United credit cards
Some United credit cards help you earn PQPs, which could make qualifying for elite status faster. The earn rate is 500 Premier Qualifying Points for every $12,000 you spend, regardless of which of the eligible cards you hold. However, the maximum amount of PQPs you can earn in each calendar year differs by card:
1,000 PQPs: United℠ Explorer Card, United Explorer Business Card, United Club℠ Business Card, United MileagePlus Awards Card, United MileagePlus Card with annual fee, United℠ Business Card and the United MileagePlus Business Card.
3,000 PQPs: The United MileagePlus® Select Card.
6,000 PQPs: United Quest℠ Card.
8,000 PQPs: United Club℠ Infinite Card.
10,000 PQPs: The United Presidential Plus Card and the United Presidential Plus Business Card.
So how would this actually work? Let’s say you wanted to use this strategy to help you achieve Gold status (which requires 8,000 PQPs and 24 PQFs, or 10,000 PQPs) with the least amount of flying. Since all cardholders must fly at least four segments with United or United Express to be eligible for elite status, let’s assume that you would earn 1,500 PQPs combined from those flights.
With only those four flights, you’d need to earn status at the higher PQP threshold of 10,000 PQPs. The remaining 8,500 PQPs that you would need to earn means that you would need to spend a whopping $204,000 on your eligible card in a calendar year.
Spending that kind of money isn’t achievable for the majority of people, so this method isn’t great for achieving elite status through mostly credit card spending. However, if you’re 500 or 1,000 PQPs shy of an elite status level, and you have one of these credit cards, you could leverage this benefit to help you meet your goal.
Important considerations for using this strategy
If you have more than one of these cards, the maximum number of PQPs you can earn is 15,000 per calendar year. Only the United Presidential Plus Card and United Presidential Plus Business Card are excluded from this cap, but these cards are not currently accepting new applicants.
Additionally, if you’re aiming for United Premier 1K, you will also need to meet the PQF requirement (54 PQFs).
Can I buy PQPs on United?
You can top off your United PQPs account balance by purchasing a Premier Accelerator from United. This option is available only when you're also buying an Award Accelerator — which is only offered when booking a United flight.
Rates and options may vary depending on the flight. For example, when doing a flight search for a round-trip flight from San Francisco to London for a Premier Silver elite, United gives a choice between two Premier Accelerator options:
500 bonus PQPs for $470 (94 cents per PQP).
1,000 bonus PQPs for $930 (93 cents per PQP).
You should generally do a Premier Accelerator as a last resort. Rather than simply handing your money over to United, see if you can earn PQPs by flying on United or its partners instead. That way, you'll get something for your hard-earned money.
If you're unable to take a flight, try earning PQPs by spending on eligible United credit cards. The type of United credit card you have determines how much you'll need to spend to get a PQP boost and the number of PQPs you'll earn.
» Learn more: Which United credit card should you get?
United's PQF and PQP requirements in 2023
United raised status requirements in 2023, like many airlines dealing with increased demand for travel and inflation following the COVID-19 pandemic.
PQF + PQP
12 PQF + 4,000 PQP.
24 PQF + 8,000 PQP.
36 PQF + 12,000 PQP.
54 PQF + 18,000 PQP.
You can qualify for each Premier status level through Jan. 31, 2025, based on your activity between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2023. In addition to meeting these requirements, you will need to fly a minimum of four segments on United or United Express to qualify for status.
Earning United PQPs recapped
United PQPs are the key metric to earning elite status with the airline, so it's essential to know the ins and outs of how you'll earn PQPs.
For United flights, you'll earn PQPs on purchases such as:
The base airfare.
Seat subscriptions and upgrades.
Co-pays on mileage upgrades and paid upgrades.
For flights booked through partners, you'll earn PQPs based on a fraction of the award miles earned. These earnings depend on whether the partner is considered "preferred" and are subject to per-flight limits.
And if you're coming up short of the next elite status tier, you can purchase United PQPs through Premier Accelerator or by spending on eligible United credit cards.
(Top photo courtesy of United Airlines)
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card