Up until now, United Airlines‘ MileagePlus frequent flyer program was known as one of the most attractive ones on earth. It was especially easy, for non-Americans, to get a good status with many benefits.
Now United has announced the most drastic devaluation of the program’s entire history: Status miles will no longer be based on distance, but will be based on revenue from 2020 onwards. Reaching a high tier will become much harder in most cases.
MileagePlus is no longer valuing “frequent flyers” – all that counts from now on is how much money you spend.
Only a few weeks ago we had reported United’s new MileagePlus upgrade benefits. It seems that this benefit is supposed to milden this huge devaluation.
United Flights: $24,000 Dollars per Year Needed for 1K-Status
Up until now, you needed 25,000 miles to reach the Silver status, 50,000 for the Gold Status (Star Alliance Gold), 75,000 for the Platinum Status, and 100,000 for the popular 1K status, in one calendar year. The actual flown miles were used for this calculation. Even in Economy Class (except Basic Economy), you would always get 100% of the flown miles as status miles.
American citizens also had to spend a certain amount of money at United, non-Americans were exempted. That made it extremely easy for us Europeans to reach the Gold or even 1K-Status.
But starting 2020, this is over. For all flights starting January 1st, 2020, the new regulations become active and so, the 2021 status will already have to be earned this way. This announcement was made only 2.5 months before becoming active and is valid even for flights that have already been booked.
The previous system, using Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) (100,000 PQM = 1K-Status) will be eliminated and replaced by Premier Qualifying Points (PQP). These are revenue-based: 1 USD spent at United, not including taxes and fees = 1 point. The following number of points will be needed in the future:
- Silver status: 5,000 PQP
- Gold status: 10,000 PQP
- Platinum status: 15,000 PQP
- 1K status: 24,000 PQP
The PQPs are exactly the same as the previous Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD), from which non-Americans had been exempt.
This means that to reach the 1K status, you would need to spend (with taxes and fees) over $24,000! At least there’s a way to reach the status using a combination of flight segments (Premier Qualifying Flights PQF – also on partner airlines) and miles:
- Silver status: 12 flights + 4,000 PQP
- Gold status: 24 flights + 8,000 PQP
- Platinum status: 36 flights + 12,000 PQP
- 1K status: 54 flights + 18,000 PQP
Up until now, a cheap roundtrip with United from Frankfurt to San Francisco in a standard economy class fare (price: roughly €500, incl. €150 taxes and fees) would get you a bit over 11,000 miles. Fly that 9 times, and you would already have been a 1K member for roughly €4,500, enjoying countless benefits, such as free upgrades into business class on long-haul flights.
If you would fly this route 9 times from 2020 onwards, you would only get (€500 – €150 fees and taxes in US-Dollars = $385 x 9) 3465 PQP and 18 PQF. That wouldn’t even get you the silver status! This example shows how crazy this devaluation is!
Partner Flights: Still Distance-Based – but With Worse Conditions
At least the partner flights, e.g. with Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Air Canada, and other Star Alliance Partners will (for now) not be revenue based. You will instead get a percentage of the award miles:
- Preferred partner (such as Lufthansa): Award miles divided by 5
- Other partners (e.g. LOT): Award miles divided by 6
You can check out which airlines are preferred partners here. Important: For your status miles to be distance-based and not revenue-based, the tickets are not allowed to be issued by United (ticket numbers starting with 016). So, don’t book on United’s website, and also not on OTAs to be sure, but instead directly at the airline, e.g. at Lufthansa’s website.
In especially cheap booking classes, the miles awarded are laughable. E.g. Lufthansa’s K class only gives 25% award miles, so only 5% of the distance as PQPs:
Premier status holders get a bonus on top of their award miles. A 1K member would, for instance, get 50% of the distance as award miles, instead of 25%. These premier bonus miles, however, do not apply for the PQPs.
Business class flights, however, are more interesting. Air Canada’s business class is a sweet spot, giving 200% of the distance as award miles, and so giving 40% of the distance as PQPs, even in its cheapest class P:
You’ll also get more miles when flying with Air Canada on transatlantic flights in the cheap K economy class (50%). It is, however, questionable, until when these mileage tables will remain as they are – another devaluation is probable.
Dreadful: Apparently Light/Basic fares (without luggage) are completely worthless for earning PQPs with partner airlines. If this only applies to transatlanti flights or also to European short-haul routes is still unknown.
Let’s return to our previous example. We’re flying from Frankfurt to San Francisco and back for €500 – in a standard economy fare. This time we decide to fly with Lufthansa instead of United Airlines. We credit the miles at MileagePlus but are careful that the ticket is issued by Lufthansa and not by United.
For the roundtrip in K, we get 25% of the distance as award miles. That is 2,800 miles. To calculate the PQPs we divide by 5: 2800/5 = 560 PQP per roundtrip. After nine trips we would have 5,040 PQPs and now we would at least – hurray – have reached the silver status. As a comparison: With the previous system we would be 1K frequent flyers and not only have the Star Alliance Gold status but also 6 long haul upgrades.
It is truly a sad day for all status and miles collectors that had been using the previously attractive MileagePlus-program. Reaching a frequent flyer status with United flying in economy class has become roughly four (!) times harder than before.
We find it bizarre, that United is selling this as a positive change – saying that this makes things easier. It is to be seen if this doesn’t backfire for United, making them lose a big amount of frequent flyers from Europe.