United Airlines adds spend to elite qualification requirements

Money talks. The airlines have been clear about that for some time now, each tweaking their programs a bit to make it more and more obvious. Today’s major move comes from United Airlines which is matching Delta‘s plan to track spending as a part of qualification for elite status in 2014 (towards 2015 status). Much like Delta the rule of thumb will be 10 cents per PQM; you’ll have to spend $10,000 to be a 1K going forward.


The following charges count towards the spending requirement:

  • Base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges
  • Flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines
  • Flights operated by a Star Alliance or a MileagePlus partner airline and issued on a United ticket (ticket number starting with 016)
  • Economy Plus purchases

Similar to Delta there will be an exemption for $25,000 annual spend on a co-branded credit card. Unlike Delta, however, United will not allow the CC spend to get you in to 1K (DL does for Diamond). Also similar to Delta, the spend requirement only applies for members with a mailing address in the 50 United States.

I get why they’re doing this. It sucks for me personally and 2014 will likely be my last year as a 1K. But I get it. And for the few people holding out hope that Delta would reverse course, this pretty much seals the deal on that one.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Seth- Would be shocked if you don’t find a way to have a different mailing address.

  2. Its a shame, but the way upgrades are going (or gone), I wonder if that will be helped any by a thinning of the ranks. But its hard to say, given that the upgrades drying up seem to have more to do with selling them cheaply.

    @Greg – good point.

  3. How does this work for tickets purchased from travel agents or American Express? Will these charges count towards elite or not? How will UAMP know how much a ticket bought through any of these sources cost?

  4. Yeah, I can probably change my address. Not sure if I will or not, but I probably can.

    @Mike from Berlin: The travel agency used doesn’t matter so much as which airline is responsible for issuing the ticket. So long as United issues the ticket (travel agencies never do, they just interface to the airlines which do) then you’re OK. That’s what the 016 ticket number bit means.

  5. So much much for me moving to UA as primary, I don’t want to actually fly them, just their partners, and without 1k credit card waiver it would be a pain even with biz travel, though I have lived abroad before and could again.

  6. The T&C’s seem to say that the PQD requirement only applies to residents of the 50 contiguous plus DC. Time to find an non-US mailing address?

  7. I’m honestly surprised, with the amount of flying you do, that you don’t actually hit or approach the PQDs anyway.

    Was going to point out that you could join the dark side of manufactured credit card spend, but of course they’ve specifically exempted 1K.

  8. I’m sure they’ll catch up with you on you “move” to Toronto, and always fly out of EWR

  9. Aren’t you a GS? How did you get GS if you didn’t spend more than $10,000 a year?

  10. Not really surprising. I wonder if there are significant numbers of members at each tier level who wouldn’t have met the spend requirement. If you are pure mile runner, maybe, but if do any material amount of work travel or inflexible-date travel, chances are that you are spending close to the required amounts.

    I do hope that the website will include a tool to monitor progress on the dollar requirement.

    To the extent that this hits people who are mainly milerunners, it is kind of a hit at the Flyertalk & Milepoint communities, but maybe from UA’s perspective they don’t mind culling the folks skilled at hacking the travel programs

  11. Whoa, talking about a game changer! Just qualified for 1k which hopefully will last until early 2015.

    Like @Rapid Travel Chai, I have also lived abroad before and business in going global, so who knows what the next domicile might be!

  12. And inevitably US-AA will follow suit, but perhaps not for an add’l year, as they hope to reap DL/UA defectors during their merger implementation mess.

    Honestly, these spending thresholds are quite low. Even a person who flies on discount fares exclusively for their travel would hit them. The only people who won’t are mileage runners. But even they can manufacture 25K in credit card spend, right?

    Honestly, the more I think about it, the only elites this policy will likely hurt are the hard-core gamers, the obsessive cheapskates who want something for nothing who will invest hundreds of hours of their time in pursuit of the benefit, and the dead-enders with nothing better to do.

    But how many people really is that? A couple thousand?

    I know this comes off as harsh, but the more time I spend around this hobby, the more I see how the interests of those of us regular people who fly for work and pleasure and want to make the most of loyalty programs are at odds with this fraction of a fraction who live to build an itinerary with nine connections.

  13. Its certainly more than a couple of thousand elites they are looking to flush out since building the infrastructure to monitor the PQDs must cost UA some serious cash. Just evaluating 016 stock is tough enough.

  14. @Oliver2002, this is a long term thing… They are definitely going to gradually increase the requirements once the program has been implemented and refined. That is where the ROI will come from, not from dropping the Mileage Runners.

    I don’t do MRs often anymore, but I still do pay $400-500 fares and $1K for flights to Europe, yet I will fall short of the $10K. Most likely between $6-7K.

  15. As a 5 odd year 1k who has never done a mileage run, I’ve never met the spending requirement (although, as fares rise, I’m getting closer). If you added the taxes, this year I will hit about $9000 for an estimated 105,000 miles BIS, but without taxes it’s nearer $7500.

  16. At least they are counting YQ in the revenue calculation.

    Yeah, this will bias 1K toward people who either fly more or pay higher fares. Probably a reasonable business decision.

    If you are at $7500 and 105K BIS… I guess the choice is take Platinum, or maybe shift an international trip to P class. UA is happy either way.

  17. One option would just be to “double down” How much flying can you get in for $10K, I guess it’s a matter of having the time and resources.

  18. Anyone want to rent a bedroom in my Canadian House? So very thankful at this point to be living outside the US!

    I too would fall short of the 10k spend threshold by a few thousand, but if the numbers drop that significantly, then theoretically would there not be greater benefit at lower tiers, for at least domestic upgrades?

  19. I just don’t think these revenue thresholds are very high. Last year, I only flew about 60,000 miles, yet spent close to $13,000. All domestic, non refundable economy, non-last minute fares, mix of business and personal travel.

  20. Well I am already Platinum until 2/15 and in the next couple of months will bump up to 1K. I should hit MM status by April of 2014. After that I will change my strategy. I have always enjoyed the mileage runs as I make them weekend getaways or 5 nt mini vacays. I know with 1 PHL-HNL I got 10K miles for $333.00 my 4 SAN trip were almost 5K miles for $120. each. On the other hand I do have a couple of J/P mileage runs that while still cheap (compared to usual pricing) for 29K it cost me $2400. I’ll have to go back and check other fares.

    Ah, I remember the good old days! Glad I am retiring at the end of the month. More time to spend on being creative.

  21. Typically, I make it to 100K miles based on a few cross-countries, a few locals, and a trip to Oceania, plus three annual round-trips to Korea on government fares. The government fares are YCA and give 1.5 PQMs per mile, but they’re only about $1500 each. Put it all together, and I see myself getting to $7000-8000 per year, tops.

    I’m on track to hit a million lifetime miles this year, but, like several others who have posted here, I expect that 2014 will be my last year as a 1K given the PQD requirements. I’m always up for a flight somewhere when the price is good. Seeking out higher prices, on the other hand…that goes against my nature.

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