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The top tier of United Airlines' elite status ladder is dubbed United Premier 1K — or just United 1K. In exchange for this loyalty, United will reward you with top-tier perks, including first-class upgrades, free checked bags, pre-boarding and even free Clear membership.
However, you'll need to be really loyal to United to score this elite status. NerdWallet analysis figures that the cost to earn United 1K elite status requires spending over $21,000 a year. Thankfully, there are some shortcuts to cutting this cost a bit.
Let's dig into the extensive United 1K perks and benefits to see if it's worth the cost.
1. How United 1K perks work
Accelerated mileage earning rates
11 miles per dollar spent on United: Earn 11 MileagePlus miles per qualifying dollar spent on flights booked through United.
100% bonus miles on partners: When you book through partners, United 1K members get a 100% bonus on the typical earning rate.
First-class upgrades: Get upgraded to United first class as early as 96 hours before departure — or upon booking when booking a Y, B or M fare — on qualifying flights within North and Central America.
Companion upgrades: Complimentary upgrades for one companion traveling with you on the same qualifying flight.
280 PlusPoints: Get 280 PlusPoints that can be used toward premium economy and Polaris business class upgrades on international flights.
» Learn more: What are United PlusPoints?
Free bags: Get three free checked bags up to 70 pounds each — even when flying economy.
Board first: Forget Group 1 boarding. Instead, United 1K elites pre-board each United flight.
Premier check-in and security: Check in at exclusive United 1K desks and access priority security in airports where it's available.
Free Clear membership: United waives the Clear membership fee for United 1K elites, helping them speed through the airport even faster.
Lounge access: Access Star Alliance business class lounges as a Star Alliance Gold member when flying on international flights.
United Club membership discount: Save $100 off the standard price of a United Club annual membership.
Best available economy seats: At booking, you can select extra-legroom "Economy Plus" or preferred seats for free for you and up to eight travel companions.
Free alcoholic drink and snack: Get a free alcoholic beverage and snack in economy.
Extra award availability: United Premier members get additional United award availability. United 1K members also get additional premium cabin award availability.
Fly on sold-out flights: Book a Y- or B-fare ticket up to 1.5 hours before departure.
Complimentary same-day flight change: Get free confirmed changes to another flight within 24 hours of your original flight if it has availability in the same fare class you booked.
Waived change fees on award tickets: United still charges members for award ticket changes within 30 days of departure. But you don't have to worry about that as a United 1K elite.
Marriott Gold Elite status: Enroll with Marriott Bonvoy and earn instant Gold Elite status.
Avis President's Club status: Enroll to get Avis' top-tier President's Club elite status.
Timeshifter annual subscription: Get a free annual membership to the Timeshift jet lag app.
» Learn more: The complete guide to United MileagePlus
2. There are two ways to become a United 1K
Here's how to earn United 1K elite status starting in 2023:
Earn 24,000 Premier Qualifying Points, or
Earn 18,000 PQP plus 54 Premier Qualifying Flights.
No matter your method, you'll need to fly at least four flight segments on United or United Express to earn Premier elite status.
Premier Qualifying Points are earned by booking United or Star Alliance flights. You'll earn one PQP per dollar spent (before taxes and government fees) on United-booked flights. PQP earnings on partners are computed based on the number of miles earned on the flight divided by five or six — depending on whether that partner is preferred. If you book a flight with miles, you will earn every 100 miles redeemed will count as 1 PQP. So, if you redeemed 10,000 United miles for a free flight, you’d receive 100 PQPs.
United cardholders can also earn PQP by spending on most United co-branded credit cards. Cardholders, generally, earn 500 PQP per $12,000 spent on their eligible card during a calendar year. Limitations on the maximum number of PQPs earned through card spending vary based on the card. Some eligible cards include:
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
Premier Qualifying Flight credits are earned for each segment flown on:
Star Alliance partners.
Azul Brazilian Airlines.
3. The value of United 1K status is over $12,000
NerdWallet determined values for each of the many United 1K perks and then crunched the numbers to see just how much United 1K is worth. Our comprehensive analysis concluded that United Premier 1K is worth approximately $12,510.20 each year. That makes United 1K the most-valuable airline elite status of any airline we analyzed.
However, you may value and use perks differently. So, it's worth digging into the perks of United 1K yourself to see just how valuable it is to you.
Based on our valuations, United Premier 1K offers the biggest return on the spending required to earn United elite status:
United elite status level
Value of benefits
Cost to earn
Return on cost
4. You'll earn PlusPoints more quickly for more upgrades
United MileagePlus members will earn a total of 320 PlusPoints once they earn United 1K elite status — 40 when earning Platinum and another 280 points upon reaching United 1K status.
However, that's not the end of your PlusPoints earning potential. United 1K elites will earn an additional 20 PlusPoints for every 2,000 PQPs earned beyond the 15,000 PQPs required for United 1K status.
You can pay bonus PlusPoints to skip the waitlist
No upgrade availability? No worries. United 1K elite members can pay extra PlusPoints to skip the waitlist and clear an upgrade even when there isn't upgrade space. This ability is only available to United 1K elites.
However, United still places several restrictions on this perk:
You must request the upgrade more than 30 days before departure.
You must have booked at least a W-fare class to upgrade from economy to business class.
Skip the waitlist isn't available on all flights.
5. It's possible to earn a lifetime United 1K
Super-frequent flyers can earn United 1K for life. All you need to do is earn 3 million miles through the United Million Miler program. Then, elevate to United Global Services for life by hitting 4 million miles.
That's a ton of miles, but United's lifetime elite status program is much more rewarding than its competition. For example, Delta requires that you earn six million lifetime miles to earn Diamond Medallion elite status for life. Meanwhile, American Airlines doesn't offer more than mid-tier Platinum elite status through its million miler program.
The bottom line
United 1K elite status is the most-valuable elite status in NerdWallet analysis. From free checked bags to upgrades, you'll get top-tier treatment on United and plenty of perks on partners. Plus, you'll get elite status at Marriott and Avis and speed through the airport thanks to a complimentary Clear membership.
This elite status doesn't come cheap. United 1K requires a substantial amount of spending to earn. But, frequent flyers will find that United 1K is worth the cost.
The information related to the United MileagePlus® Awards Card, United MileagePlus® Card, The United MileagePlus® Select Card, The United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Card and United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Business Card credit cards has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
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 2022, 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