Five things United Mileage Plus members must pay attention to with the new 2014 Premier qualifying rules

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For 2014, United Airlines joined Delta as a legacy carrier requiring a minimum spend as well as miles for various levels of Premier Status.

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 Consolidator and other unpublished fares don’t count; even business class consolidator fares.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.

  • mike313

    The last point about using United stock is most interesting and a bummer.
    I fly about 200,000 miles each year (95% international), and very often the same flight on say Lufthansa or LOT or Turkish is often 1/3 to 1/2 cheaper when purchased on their websites, than when purchased through the United website – even if the actual aircraft is United. So I often purchase on say the Swiss website for a flight that is code share with United and actually uses UA aircraft and make substantial savings. As I said this will hit my pocket. Perhaps its time to stop being UA Global Services and start switching to being a Lufthansa (which is also Swiss and Austrian) HON member – equivalent to United’s Global services – but much better as far as ground services (lounges, etc.) are concerned.

  • VELS14

    And this won’t drive many fliers to other airlines where possible, including the cherished business flier?

  • Carchar

    Thank you, Janice, for laying the terms out in simple, easy-to-read language. I fly mostly United, as Newark is my hub and I get the most non-stops from there.

  • janice

    mike313, thanks for commenting. Now an interesting side issue is booking say, Lufthansa with a United flight number on the United site or through a travel agent using United stock. Will mean you get PQDs, but it can be hard to upgrade Lufthansa flights booked as United, and certainly harder to change with Lufthansa. (Our sales office can’t help with problems in that case either….) Sometimes I wonder what they are thinking.

  • charlieo

    This was a great article; it answered my questions about earning PQD’s. Thank you, I really appreciate the clarification.

    I didn’t think the Continental/United merger was going to be a great thing for FF’s and now, of course, I know it wasn’t – it didn’t benefit the average flyer nor those of us who maintain Elite FF Status at the “lowest” level; and I believe the merger took the worse of both airlines and combined them. The company is no better than any other U.S. Airline and much worse than most foreign carriers. I continue to fly United in order to maintain my Elite Statue even though the benefits are minimal (boarding and no luggage fee). However, I fly on my own dollar, not a company’s and the way I see it now, attempting to remain a loyal customer to maintain my Elite status will most likely not be worth it for me.

    I had a long and often, believe it or not, fun time flying with Continental.
    And, the upside is flying with the foreign carriers mostly a better deal and they are really good to their clients.

  • David Mueller

    Copa gets special treatment because Mileage Plus is their frequent flyer program; they don’t have their own separate one. They originally adopted OnePass as their frequent flyer program after Continental acquired a major stake in Copa.

  • janice

    Thanks David!

  • jim6555

    This is all getting too complicated. I won’t be surprised if many travelers move to other carriers which would significantly affect UAL’s bottom line. Using miles to get free travel and upgrades used to be easy. I would guess that right after the Continental takeover, United started a new internal unit called the Business Avoidance Department (also known as BAD).

  • mike313

    A tangential point, but illustrative of the UA problems. Last night I flew Chicago to Johannesburg (from where I am writing this) via Washington DC. Bought the ticket on UA’s web-site with UA flight numbers (UA 7918) realizing that the leg IAD-JNB was actually on South African airlines (SA 208) equipment.
    In Dulles I tried to use United’s Global International Lounge opposite gate C3, but even though flying business on a UA ticket and being Global Service I was denied entry as the aircraft itself was no UA. I was advised to use the regular club at gate C7 – where they told me I was entitled to use the Global International Lounge (from whence I had come at C3), or to use the Lufthansa Senator lounge at B40 (shared with South African).
    I used the Lufthansa lounge, which really does put the UA Global International lounge to shame – the Lufthansa meal and bar selections and total ambience are just plain superior. Looks like UA really has decided they do not want business.
    Even more strange is that Star Alliance Gold status (which UA 1K and Global Services are qualified for) is supposed to allow a passenger to use any StarAlliance lounge.
    Can anybody explain this UA insanity?