Should I Stay Loyal to United Under the Airline’s COVID-Era Rules?

Same-day standby and changing your flight are now free, so travelers have more flexibility if they fly United.
Alisha McDarrisMar 26, 2021

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A farewell to change fees. Free standby. An easier path to elite status. Airline rules changed a lot in 2020, potentially upending the reasons you favor one airline over another.

If you fly United Airlines, it’s time to ask: “Should I keep choosing United in 2021 and beyond?” To help you decide, here’s a closer look at the airline’s new rules.

No more change fees

Like most other U.S. airlines, United has stopped charging a fee to change your flight if you want to reschedule. That applies to main cabin and premium cabin fares for flights within the U.S. and to international destinations for flights that originated in the U.S. It does not apply to basic economy, which offers waived change fees only on tickets issued before March 31, 2021.

But if you cancel your flight outright with no plans to reschedule, cancellation fees may still apply. If the cancellation had to do with COVID-related issues, you may be able to request a refund for travel purchased (except for basic economy fares, which are refundable only within 24 hours after booking).

Booking a ticket with United MileagePlus miles instead of cash? You benefit, too. The airline is waiving the fees to redeposit miles if you cancel your booking more than 30 days before departure. Southwest, American and other major U.S. airlines have also waived fees for refunding points if you cancel an award flight.

Stand by for free

Another welcome change: You can now stand by for a different same-day flight for free. Grab a seat, if available, on a different flight to and from the same cities you originally booked without paying for the privilege.

You can request standby at the airport or through United’s app or website, making it easy to adjust plans and catch an earlier flight if your schedule changes or enjoy a little extra time at your destination.

Easier elite status requirements

United made it easier for frequent flyers to achieve elite status in 2021 (for 2022). Premier Qualifying Point (PQP) and Premier Qualifying Flight (PQF) thresholds are now reduced. Plus, current Premier members get 25% of their needed PQPs for 2021 (based on 2021 Premier status level) automatically deposited into their accounts.

2021 Premier status


or higher PQP goal

Premier Silver.

8 PQF and 3,000 PQP.

or 3,500 PQP.

Premier Gold.

16 PQF and 6,000 PQP.

or 7,000 PQP.

Premier Platinum.

24 PQF and 9,000 PQP.

or 10,000 PQP.

Premier 1K.

36 PQF and 13,500 PQP.

or 15,000 PQP.

For Premier Silver status, take 8 PQFs and earn 3,000 PQPs, or earn 3,500 PQPs. The requirements double for Premier Gold status. Premier Platinum aspirants will need to fly on 24 PQFs and earn 9,000 PQPs, or earn 10,000 PQPs. The top tier, Premier 1K, requires status holders to fly on 36 PQFs and earn 13,500 PQPs — or 15,000 PQPs to bypass the flight requirement.

All MileagePlus members get bonus PQPs (50% for non-status MileagePlus members, 100% for Premier members) for the first three trips they take between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2021, getting members even closer to achieving status (or Premier members back on track to requalify).

Other U.S. airlines have also made it easier to earn or maintain elite status in their frequent flyer programs, with some offering terms better than United’s. American, for example, is reducing elite qualification requirements while also extending elite status an additional year for frequent flyers whose status was set to expire in January 2021.

Delta is also extending status for qualifying members for an extra year, as well as allowing Medallion Qualifying Miles to roll over from 2020 to 2021. Southwest has given Rapid Rewards members a boost to get them closer to qualifying for elite status and extended status expiration to the end of 2021 for those who qualified by the end of 2020.

Other COVID-era changes

There have been other changes to United’s operating procedures that, hopefully, will stick around for good.

Touchless check-in allows passengers to check in for their flights without any person-to-person contact. As of 2020, you can use the airline’s check-in kiosks at over 200 airports (and growing) to scan your boarding pass or mobile app and print your own luggage tags. All that’s left is to drop your bags at the designated location, no contact required.

Back-to-front boarding streamlines the boarding process, making it quicker and easier for all passengers. With United’s new policy, after pre-boarding, the remaining passengers are called to board from back to front and in smaller groups so it’s easier to maintain a safe social distance. United has also stepped up its cleaning and disinfection procedures, using advanced antimicrobial technology, and provides hand sanitizing wipes for passengers.

The bottom line

Overall, United Airlines’ new rules are a change for the better. Elite status is easier to achieve (at least for now), cleaning standards are higher, same-day standby is now available and change fees for most fares are gone for good. These new rules and policies are on par with other airlines and all amount to good reasons to stick with United if it's your airline of choice.

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