United Airlines is known for two things:
- having a ton of flight routes (including ultra long haul flights)
- and having one of the best (if not the best) frequent flyer programs.
MileagePlus is well known for having valuable miles that don’t expire and a wide variety of awards to choose from. Even basic members who don’t travel often get preferential treatment and save more when flying, but fans of the airline know that being an elite member is the way to go.
Here’s how to reach elite status with United Airlines loyalty program, MileagePlus, and what elite membership with this particular airline looks like.
In this post you'll learn:
About MileagePlus Membership
If you’re not already a MileagePlus member, this is your sign to enroll.
There is no fee for becoming a MileagePlus member. Just fill out this form with your personal information to create an account. You must be over the age of 18 to join, but parents can create an account on their children’s behalf.
Miles you rack up as a MileagePlus member can be used to book award travel, pay for seat upgrades, stay at hotels, pay for rental cars, and so much more. You can also use your miles to book travel for someone else, whether that’s flight tickets or hotel reservations. But we’ll go into more detail about how to use your miles later on in this article.
MileagePlus miles don’t expire as of 2019, but you do need to keep your account in good standing in order to make sure they’re still there when you need them. Always update your personal information when it changes and respond to communication from United Airlines promptly if there is a problem to avoid having your account closed. While some people have had success in getting their miles back in these scenarios, it’s not guaranteed and may cost you.
Anyone can earn miles, but premier members earn the most. To become a premier member, you need points.
Earn Points to Reach Elite Status
From now through January 31, 2023, it’s actually easier than ever to reach premier status within the MileagePlus program. This is because United has lowered the point and flight requirements to reach elite status and allowed United credit cardholders to earn points on their spending too.
Here are some of the best ways to earn enough points to qualify for premier status through the MileagePlus program.
Fly With United Airlines
Starting with the obvious, you can earn miles by taking flights through United Airlines.
For United flights and tickets issued by United for flights on partner airlines, points are not calculated by distance traveled but by Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) and Premier Qualifying Flights (in other words, it goes by how much you spend not how far you fly). For partner flights booked outside of United, points are calculated by distance.
You can increase your status with a combination of PQF and PQP or PQP. Here are the points and flight thresholds for each premier membership tier.
- 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
Contrary to how it seems, you can’t qualify for premier status with PQP alone. Even with the minimum number of PQP required you need to fly at least four segments on United or United Express flights to be eligible to bump up your level.
Lifetime Gold, Platinum, and 1K status are possible. If you reach one million miles, you will be a Premier Gold member for life. If you reach two million miles, you will be a Premier Platinum member for life. And if you reach three million miles, you will be a Premier 1K member for life. Unless you reach lifetime status, you need to qualify for premier each year.
In addition to earning points when you fly, members earn miles (but you already knew that).
Certain flight classes and routes are eligible to earn more miles than others. For example, business and first class tickets earn you more miles than economy tickets. In fact, Basic Economy tickets earn 50% premier qualifying miles while Premium Plus tickets earn 150% premier qualifying miles. Here’s what each fare class earns in bonus miles.
You also earn points more easily with premier status regardless of what flight classes you choose. For example, base MileagePlus members do not earn any bonus miles when they fly, but Premier Platinum members earn four miles per dollar on top of the five miles per dollar granted to everyone for a total of nine miles per dollar spent.
- Base members: 5 miles/dollar
- Premier Silver members: 7 miles/dollar
- Premier Gold members: 8 miles/dollar
- Premier Platinum members: 9 miles/dollar
- Premier 1K members: 11 miles/dollar
No matter what your membership status, you can only earn up to 75,000 miles on any single flight.
Please note that you only earn miles when you’re the one doing the traveling. If you, for example, book a flight for another MileagePlus member or non-member, you will not receive points in your account for that trip unless you also take it yourself.
Purchase Preferred Seats
You can earn more PQP per ticket when you pay for seat upgrades. Economy Plus seating and subscriptions and other types of preferred seating qualify you for more points, and you can earn even more when you pay for upgrades. Upgrade to a higher flight class such as Polaris or First Class or pay for a seat with more legroom or closer to the door.
Not all flights offer seat upgrades and some make them available after booking rather than during. Premier members, those who have booked premium seating, and Chase cardholders who spend at least $25,000 per year are prioritized for upgrades on the waitlist. You are not guaranteed an upgraded seat unless you receive confirmation from United before checking in.
Only upgrades you pay for earn you PQP. You can use your miles to purchase MileagePlus Upgrade Awards, but you won’t get any points for it. And if your loyalty status qualifies you for free upgrades, these won’t earn points either.
You also have the option to purchase additional award miles at a reduced price when you are making a booking with United’s “Accelerator” products. These are specifically designed to help you pad your account with miles (not points).
Award Accelerator lets you add award miles to your purchase when making a flight booking. These are discounted off their base price and go right into your account within 24 hours. Premier Accelerator lets you specifically by elite qualifying miles. You need to purchase miles through Award Accelerator in order to apply Premier Accelerator boosts.
Fly With a Partner Airline
United partners with a number of other airlines through the Star Alliance network. You are eligible to earn premier qualifying credit on flights you take through partner airlines when you are a MileagePlus member of any status.
Preferred partners within the Star Alliance network include (but are not limited to) Air China, All Nippon Airways, Air Canada, SWISS International Airlines, and Lufthansa. MileagePlus partners include Singapore Airlines, SAS, Aegean Airlines, EgyptAir, Olympic Air, and Air India.
See a complete list of United Airlines preferred Star Alliance partners and MileagePlus partners here. Note that Aer Lingus, Aeromar, Boutique Air, Cape Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Vistara, and Silver Airways, though currently or previously part of the Star Alliance network or MileagePlus network, do not participate in the MileagePlus program.
Preferred partner flights earn more than MileagePlus partner flights. You can earn up to 1,500 PQP when you fly first or business class with a preferred partner or 1,000 when you fly first or business with a MileagePlus partner. Economy and Premium Economy points are capped at 750 for preferred partner flights and 500 for MileagePlus partner flights.
To determine how many PQP a partner flight will earn, determine how many award miles you would be eligible for if you were booking a United Airlines flight (reference the previous section to see how many miles per dollar you’ll earn based on your loyalty status) and:
- Divide by five for preferred partners or
- Divide by six for MileagePlus partners
Your award status may make you eligible for miles bonuses as well, though they may not exceed the maximums above and do not count as part of your base miles.
Certain flight classes such as Basic Economy and certain destinations such as Cuba and Venezuela are not eligible to earn PQP at this time (subject to change).
If you book a flight on a partner airline but purchase the ticket through United, your award miles will be calculated using the price of your fare. If you book a flight on a partner airline and purchase the ticket through that airline, your award miles will be calculated using the flight distance and fare class.
Tickets purchased from United usually earn more miles than tickets purchased through a partner, but that shouldn’t stop you from capitalizing on opportunities to earn MileagePlus points when flying internationally.
Use Your Credit Card
United MileagePlus Chase Cardmembers are now eligible to earn points on their annual spending in addition to bonus miles for their accounts. PQP earned through card spending can be applied up to 1K status as long as you still have enough PQF to level up. Only United Presidential Plus and United Presidential Plus Business cardmembers can work their way up to 1K with card PQP and other PQP without having to meet PQF requirements.
The more elite your card, the more you can earn.
All cardholders can earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 they spend, up to 1,000 points per year for the majority of cardholders but up to 3,000 points per year for MileagePlus Select, Club, Club Infinite, and Quest cardholders. Presidential Plus cardholders can earn up to 10,000 a year by earning 500 PQP for every $12,000 they spend.
All cardholders except Presidential Plus cardholders can earn up to 5,000 PQP in a year. Presidential Plus cardholders can earn up to 10,000.
You still need to have enough PQF or ther PQP to qualify for Premier 1K status because it’s not possible to get there through just credit card spending, but points you get using your card can really add up.
United Airlines offers several different branded credit cards in partnership with Chase Bank. These include the following:
Note that the United MileagePlus Select has been discontinued and is no longer available to new customers and the Club card is now the Club Infinite card. Read more about these cards below. You may also be interested in our best credit cards for United Airlines frequent flyers guide as well.
United Gateway Card
This card earns two miles for every dollar spent on United purchases, fuel purchases, and transportation and rideshare purchases and one mile for every dollar spent on everything else. Earn up to 30,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 or more within three months of opening your account. There is no annual fee.
United Explorer Card
This card earns two miles for every dollar spent on United purchases, dining, and hotels and one miles on everything else. Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more within three months of opening your account. The annual fee for the United Explorer card is $95 after the first year.
United Quest Card
This is the newest card in the lineup. Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $5,000 or more within three months of opening your account. This card earns three miles for every dollar spent on United purchases (including airfare, cruises, hotel bookings, car rentals, transportation, etc.); two miles for every dollar spent on all other travel, dining, and streaming services; and one mile for every dollar spent on everything else.
United Club Infinite
This is the most elite United credit card there is. Earn up to 75,000 bonus miles when you use your card to spend $3,000 or more within three months of opening your account. This card earns four miles for every dollar spent on United purchases, two miles for every dollar spent on dining, and one mile for everything else. The annual fee for the United Club Infinite card is $525.
How to Earn More Miles
What good is a loyalty account without a balance? Here are a few of the best ways to earn miles besides flying.
Shop and Dine Through MileagePlus
If you don’t have anywhere to go anytime soon, just stay where you are and use the MileagePlus shopping and dining portals to earn miles on purchases you’d be making anyway.
MileagePlus shopping is a portal that lets members earn miles shopping online or in-person at select stores. According to United, members earn an average of 3,123 miles annually just by shopping.
There are over 900 stores featured in the MileagePlus shopping portal and most of them earn you about a mile or half mile per dollar you spend. Different retailers offer different bonuses, and the deals always rotate. Shop online right through the portal or shop in-person by linking a credit or debit card to your MileagePlus account and paying with that.
Sometimes, you can earn as much as three or four miles per dollar. Often, however, extra miles are limited to certain spending categories. For example, you can earn up to four miles per dollar at Sam’s Club right now, but only on spending toward new memberships. Be sure to read the fine print and shop the places offering extra miles. There may also be miles caps.
If you have a co-branded United MileagePlus credit card, one of the fastest and easiest ways to earn miles is to refer people. All cardmembers can earn 10,000 bonus miles for every friend they refer up to five friends of 50,000 miles per year. Just share your unique referral link with a friend and they can use it to sign up.
People you refer have their pick of any MileagePlus credit card available and do not have to get the same card as you.
Buy More Miles
While we don’t typically recommend purchasing miles outright, this is a pretty easy way to bulk up your account. Before buying miles through MileagePlus, calculate the cost of each mile. MileagePlus miles are estimated to be worth about 1.6 cents apiece, so you’ll want to keep this in mind. Look for discounts and BOGO offers
You can use this option if you’re really close to reaching elite status but not quite there or if you see a great deal on miles. Otherwise, we suggest you try the above methods for getting award miles.
How to Use Miles
You can use your miles in a number of ways. You can use them to purchase award travel, bump up your seat class, or book hotels.
Buy Award Tickets
Most premier members use their miles to fly. To book award travel, use this link and sign into your account. This tool shows only available award tickets for your destination and preferences. Award travel is often limited to select flights and seats, so it helps to not be too picky.
Book Hotels, Cars, and Cruises
Flights aren’t the only kind of travel you can book with miles. You can also pay for hotel stays, rental cars, and even cruise trips using your MileagePlus balance by making reservations through United Hotel Awards, Cruise Awards, or Car Awards.
If you have a loyalty account with a particular rental car company or cruise or hotel chain, be sure to enter your loyalty ID when checking out to earn points for that account too.
Purchase Gift Cards and Experiences
If you download the MileagePlus X app, you can use your miles to purchase physical or electronic gift cards at stores and restaurants.
MileagePlus members also have exclusive access to events and experiences through MileagePlus Exclusives. Examples include concerts, wine tastings, and private tours. Some VIP events are reserved only for members with premier status.
Transfer Miles to Someone Else
If you’re feeling generous or want a simple gift, you can always transfer some of your miles to another MileagePlus member’s account. It costs $7.50 per 500 miles to do this.
Perks of Elite Status – Is It Worth It
You’re probably wondering whether making the effort to reach elite status is worth it. To that, we say absolutely. Because MileagePlus miles never expire, this loyalty program is definitely more rewarding than others that’ll have you scrambling to keep your miles from voiding. MileagePlus miles also don’t have as significant a markup as other airlines, so you get more for your “buck.”
And although earning points more easily as a premier member is a definite plus, elite status comes with a number of perks and advantages besides miles in your account. Premier members get:
- Priority boarding and check in
- Complimentary seat upgrades whenever they’re available
- Free checked bags on every flight
- Early access to seats for themselves and their travel companions (plus access on sold-out flights)
- Fees waived for changes and cancellations
- Premier status with Marriott Bonvoy and Hertz
Click here to see the full benefits chart for premier members.
All in all, we have to agree that the MileagePlus loyalty program is one of the best out there. Achieving premier status is not as difficult as it is for some other frequent flyer programs and rewards members with miles, perks, and savings. It’s definitely worth climbing the ladder to premier status for the miles that don’t expire and the freebies.