Anyone who flies Business or First Class regularly probably won’t have a problem — the minimum amounts are $2,500, along with 25,000 miles for Premier Silver, $5,000, along with 50,000 miles for Gold, $7,500, along with 75,000 miles for Platinum, and $10,000, along with 100,000 miles for 1k status.
(Global Services remains a closely guarded formula, but it has always been reserved for the biggest spenders.)
On the other hand, these minimum spends will certainly affect the biggest bargain hunters, who have been known to do discounted mileage runs to Australia, Europe or Asia, just to qualify.
United will tally your money spent on the website, but there are a few catches travelers should be aware of now, especially as the dollar amounts will not show until after travel.
1. The Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) are calculated only with base fare and “carrier imposed surcharges,” such as peak day surcharges and fuel surcharges. Not tax. And while fuel surcharges are generally the biggest added charge onto an international ticket, taxes can be significant.
2. Consolidator and other unpublished fares don’t count; even business class consolidator fares. Group fares are also excluded, even if they are only at a 5 percent discount. Ditto for tickets purchased on sites like Priceline or Hotwire, if they are not published fares. (When in doubt, ASK before buying.)
3. Having a Mileage Plus credit card and spending at least $25,000 on it will get you out of the dollar restrictions for the lower Premier categories, but not 1k.
4. Travelers who are used to gaining status by only flying United Partner carriers are out of luck, as you must fly at least four segments on United, United Express or Copa Airlines. (Don’t ask why about Copa.) For those who travel within the U.S. this should be pretty easy. But if you only travel internationally on, say, Lufthansa, you will need to add a domestic trip or two to qualify. (There are a few exceptions for qualification during the first year, mostly around having a United branded credit card.)
5. This is a really tricky one — Premier Qualifying Dollars can be accrued for Star Alliance carriers and other United Partners, IF AND ONLY IF, the ticket is on United stock. For the uninitiated, this means a ticket validated on United, where United gets sent the money first and then parcels it out to other carriers.
Anyone who buys a ticket on United.com will have it automatically validated on United but, for example, if you fly from the U.S. to Europe on Swiss, a United partner, and return on United, most travel agents, online and brick and mortar, will automatically validate the ticket on the first carrier. In the past, that hasn’t mattered, but if you have, say, a $5,000 ticket validated on Swiss or Lufthansa or whoever the outbound carrier is, you’ll only get PDQ’s for the return on United.
In addition, this validation rule means that if you book on a United partner’s website, even if it’s a United-operated flight, but with say an Air New Zealand or Austrian Air flight number, you will get zero PDQs.
(This last issue is going to be a big deal. There will be a lot of very unhappy people because they didn’t see this part of the fine print. Personally, as a travel agent, I’m planning to validate my Mileage Plus clients’ tickets on United, when possible. And watch the code-shares, even sometimes when they are less expensive.)
An interesting question will be whether United decides to be generous and grant any waivers to longtime frequent fliers who fall afoul of one of these rules and barely make it. But, if you think you’ll be close to the elite qualifying line, the time to start being careful is now.