Guide to United Airlines Premier Elite Status

If you’ve experienced the perks of elite status (i.e., free upgrades, extra baggage allowance, lounge

If you’ve experienced the perks of elite status (i.e., free upgrades, extra baggage allowance, lounge access), you’ll understand why it’s so valuable. United Airlines’ elite status program is called MileagePlus Premier, and it can be very rewarding not just for United flyers but also for those who travel on Star Alliance partner airlines.

Follow along as we discuss the perks that come with each elite tier, show you how to attain it and help you decide if it’s right for you — whether you’re a United Airlines loyalist or just a travel credit card novice. We will also cover the positive changes United announced to help elites due to the travel changes related to COVID-19.

In this guide

On April 5, 2020, United announced positive changes to help its loyalists, including:

  • Elite status for members extended by one year to Jan. 31, 2022.

  • Requirements for 2021 elite status lowered by 50%.

  • PlusPoints expiration dates extended by 180 days.

  • More availability for Skip Waitlist upgrades.

  • Certain United credit cards now earn extra Premier Qualifying Points.

  • Award redeposit fees waived for the rest of 2020 on all award tickets canceled at least 30 days in advance.

  • United Club, Economy Plus, United Wi-Fi and checked bag subscriptions extended by six months.

  • Any travel certificates issued after April 1, 2020, are valid for 24 months.

How to achieve elite status with United Airlines

This section will cover how to earn elite status with United by flying and through credit card spending.

What do you need to achieve elite status with United Airlines?

To achieve status with United, you will need to earn a specific number of premier qualifying flights (PQF) and premier qualifying points (PQP), or just a higher number of PQP. You will also need to complete four flights on United or United Express. This is a requirement for every status level.

One PQF is equal to one flight. So, if you fly on a paid one-way ticket from New York to Paris but have a connection in London, that trip will earn 2 PQF because there are two flights.

PQP generally correlate to the money spent on plane tickets and certain other categories, but taxes are excluded. You earn 1 PQP for every $1 spent on the following purchases:

  • Economy Plus seats or subscriptions.

  • Preferred seat purchases.

  • MileagePlus upgrade award copays.

  • Upgrades on United and United Express flights.

  • Star Alliance partner flights based on a specific earn rate.

PQF and PQP requirements for 2021 United elite status

Remember: Four flights are always required for any level, regardless of other qualifications.

These requirements are actually 50% lower than normal, given that United reduced thresholds to help customers attain status in a year marked by coronavirus-related travel bans.

How can I see how many PQP and PQF a flight will earn?

When you’re looking at the search results for a specific route, you will see the number of PQP and PQF that will be earned on each flight. For example, here is a one-way nonstop flight from Newark to San Francisco:

The Basic Economy ticket, which is the most restrictive, earns no PQF and 128 PQP. Although the ticket costs $139, you earn only 128 PQP due to about $11 in taxes (which earn no PQP). In contrast, a Business/First ticket earns 698 PQP and 1 PQF.

How can I achieve elite status with United Airlines quicker?

The fastest way to earn elite status is to buy more expensive tickets. As seen in the example above, the business/first class flight earns 698 PQP compared to only 128 PQP for the basic economy fare.

Another way to expedite your path to status is to meet spending thresholds on some United credit cards.

If you have the United℠ Explorer Card, United℠ Explorer Business Card or the new United℠ Business Card, you can earn up to 2,000 PQP by spending $48,000. Initially, you were able to earn only 1,000 maximum PQP — but in April 2020, United announced the additional PQP promotion. The spend requirement isn’t right for everyone, but if you have a lot of chargeable expenses, this promotion could be valuable.

Although this would be enough PQP to reach Gold status, you would still need to earn the required 12 PQF, or earn an additional 1,000 PQP. You could also snag Silver after just four United/United Express flights.

Levels of elite status in the United Airlines rewards program

United offers four elite status levels, from lowest to highest: Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K.

What are the differences between levels in the United Airlines rewards program?

The differences between the lowest (Silver) and highest (1K) elite levels are meaningful (upgrade access, earning rates and seat selection), and you can review United’s full list of every single elite benefit. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most important perks of each tier.

Economy Plus seats at check-in

Economy Plus seats feature up to 6 inches of extra legroom, are located in front of the economy cabin and offer free food and alcohol. Complimentary access to these seats (for the member and one companion) really comes in handy when you’re traveling internationally, especially since upgrades to these seats have been reported to cost as much as $200. One caveat is that they are not available on Basic Economy tickets, which is United’s most restrictive fare.

Preferred seats at booking

Preferred seats are standard economy seats but are right behind Economy Plus, and ahead of all the other economy seats. As a Silver elite, you can select these seats for free at booking, for yourself and up to eight companions.

Free 70-pound checked bag

You can check one 70-pound bag no matter what ticket you’re flying on. While checked bag fees vary, you can expect to pay $25-$35 for your first bag for a one-way flight, so this perk of Silver status can add up fast.

Complimentary premier upgrades day of departure

Although complimentary premier upgrades are possible, the likelihood of getting one is pretty slim, especially since Silver elites are prioritized below customers paying for upgrades and all other elites. If you have a United co-branded credit card, your award tickets will also qualify for complimentary upgrades to business or first class.

Reduced fees

  • Award change fees on flights 61 days or more from departure are reduced to $50 ($75 for non-elites).

  • Award change fees on flights less than 60 days from departure are reduced to $100 ($125 for non-elites).

Complimentary Hertz Gold Five Star status

Hertz’s Five Star status level is normally attained after 12 rentals or spending $2,400 (excluding taxes and fees) within a 12-month period. The main benefit here is the ability to earn 25% extra Gold Plus Rewards points on rentals and one-class car upgrades. If you rent cars often, this benefit could be useful.

Earn 7x United miles and 25% bonus award miles

Silver elites earn 7x United miles when buying airfare and a 25% mileage bonus. These miles count toward the MileagePlus account balance as redeemable miles but do not count toward elite status. Non-elites earn only 5x miles and no bonus.

United’s next status level offers some benefits beyond Silver, including one very important perk: Star Alliance Gold status.

Star Alliance Gold status

United Gold status corresponds to Star Alliance Gold, which is a really neat perk because it means you will have some aspects of your United elite status recognized when flying on Star Alliance partner airlines. With the exception of the extra baggage allowance, which has some airline restrictions, Star Alliance Gold provides the following key benefits no matter which Star Alliance carrier you fly with:

  • Complimentary access to over 1,000 Star Alliance lounges.

  • Extra 44-pound baggage allowance (when the weight limit applies) or an extra checked bag (when the quantity applies) on most partner airlines.

Lounge access is generally viewed as the most important perk of Star Alliance Gold. With Star Alliance being the largest global alliance (26 member airlines), you can find a Star Alliance lounge in many airports. Because these lounges have more restrictive entry requirements than Priority Pass lounges, you may have a much quieter experience when visiting a Star Alliance lounge.

Note: Although United Silver correlates to Star Alliance Silver status, the benefits — which include priority waitlist and priority airport standby — are barely worth mentioning.

Economy Plus seats at booking

Gold elites can select Economy Plus seats for themselves and one companion at booking. The main advantage over Silver is that these seats can be selected at booking versus at check-in, providing more opportunities to snag the seat you want, especially if you’re traveling with a companion and want to sit together.

Preferred seats at booking

As a Gold elite, you can select these seats at booking for free for yourself and up to eight companions.

Two free 70-pound checked bags

You can check two 70-pound bags, which is double the amount permitted for Silver members.

Complimentary premier upgrades 48 hours before departure

Gold elites are eligible for complimentary premier upgrades from full-fare economy tickets to business/first class, 48 hours before departure on select domestic and a few short-distance international routes. As a Gold elite, the upgrade probability is better than for Silver members, who can only upgrade the day of departure. If you have a United co-branded credit card, your award tickets will also qualify for complimentary upgrades to business or first class.

Waived / reduced fees

  • Award change fees on flights 61 days or more from departure are reduced to $25 ($75 for non-elites and $50 for Silver).

  • Award change fees on flights less than 60 days from departure are reduced to $75 ($125 for non-elites and $100 for Silver).

  • Same-day flight change fees are waived (general members and Silver elites pay $75).

Complimentary Hertz Gold Five Star status

Hertz Five Star status is also provided to Gold elites.

Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status

United Gold elites receive Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, which comes with a host of useful perks like late checkout, extra points earned on stays and room upgrades.

Earn 8x United miles and 50% bonus award miles

Gold elites earn 8x United miles when buying airfare and a 50% mileage bonus. These miles count toward the MileagePlus account balance as redeemable miles but do not count toward elite status.

Premier Platinum is United’s second-highest elite status, and it offers a key benefit that the previous status levels do not have: access to 40 PlusPoints.

40 PlusPoints

When you reach Platinum status, you receive 40 PlusPoints, which can be used to upgrade your seat. The number of points required varies by destination and what cabin you’re upgrading from and to. PlusPoints expire when your status expires — however, if you were a Platinum elite on April 5, 2020, any PlusPoints that were set to expire on Jan. 31, 2021, will be extended for another 180 days.

These 40 PlusPoints are sufficient for one upgrade from economy to business class on a long-haul flight, or two upgrades from economy to first or business class on short-haul flights.

Economy Plus seats at booking

Platinum elites can select Economy Plus seats at booking for themselves and up to eight companions (versus only one companion for Gold and Silver members). This is an important perk, especially if you’re traveling with family or friends who are also on your reservation and you want to try to have the entire group sit together in Economy Plus.

Preferred seats at booking

As a Platinum elite, you can select these seats for free at booking for yourself and up to eight companions.

Three free 70-pound checked bags

Platinum elites get an additional 70-pound checked bag for free (as compared to two at Silver and one at Gold).

Complimentary premier upgrades 72 hours before departure

Platinum elites are eligible for complimentary premier upgrades from full-fare economy tickets to business/first class 72 hours prior to departure on select domestic and a few short-distance international routes. Since the upgrade window at this level opens three days before departure, your chance of an upgrade is significantly better than for Gold and Silver elites.

Waived / reduced fees

  • Platinum members do not have to pay the $25 phone booking fee, which is assessed on all reservations made over the phone in the U.S. and Canada.

  • Award change fees on flights 61 days or more from departure are waived ($75 for non-elites, $50 for Silver and $25 for Gold).

  • Award change fees on flights less than 60 days out are reduced to $50 ($125 for non-elites, $100 for Silver and $75 for Gold).

  • Same-day flight change fees are waived (general members and Silver elites pay $75).

Complimentary Hertz Gold President’s Circle status

Hertz President’s Circle status level is normally attained after 20 rentals or spending $4,000 (excluding taxes and fees) within a 12-month period. The main benefit here is earning 50% extra Gold Plus Rewards points on rentals, a dedicated President’s Circle phone number and Hertz Valet airport drive-back service up to four times per year.

Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status

Platinum elites receive Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, which comes with a host of useful perks like late checkout, extra points earned on stays, and room upgrades.

Earn 9x United miles and 75% bonus award miles

Platinum elites earn 9x United miles when buying airfare and a 75% mileage bonus. These miles count toward the MileagePlus account balance as redeemable miles and do not count toward elite status.

Premier 1K — United’s top-level status — offers the most benefits, including 280 PlusPoints and the Skip Waitlist feature.

280 extra PlusPoints

When you reach a 1K elite status, you receive an additional 280 PlusPoints. Combined with the 40 PlusPoints earned at Platinum, you could have a total of 320 PlusPoints. This is a significant benefit over Platinum status, and provides numerous opportunities for upgrading your seats.

Your 320 PlusPoints can go a long way, including these examples:

  • 4 long-haul upgrades from discounted economy to business class.

  • 8 long-haul upgrades from economy to business class.

  • 10 long-haul upgrades from premium plus to business class.

  • 16 long-haul upgrades from economy to premium plus.

  • 16 short-haul upgrades from economy to first class.

Premier 1K elites will receive an additional 20 PlusPoints for every 3,000 PQP earned.

Skip Waitlist

Exclusive to 1Ks, this feature allows elites to skip the waitlist on select international routes for an additional number of PlusPoints. The upgrade must be requested at least 30 days ahead of departure. For flights that offer Skip Waitlist, 1Ks will be able to request an upgrade using a reduced number of PlusPoints or use additional PlusPoints to confirm an upgrade, even if there is no upgrade space available.

Economy Plus seats at booking

Like Platinum elites, 1Ks can select Economy Plus seats at booking for themselves and up to eight companions.

Preferred seats at booking

Like all other elites, 1Ks can select these seats for free at booking for themselves and up to eight companions.

Complimentary premier upgrades 96 hours before departure

Premier 1K members are eligible for complimentary premier upgrades to business and first class 96 hours before departure on full-fare economy tickets on some domestic and a few short-distance international routes. 1Ks have priority over all other elites, and given that upgrade eligibility opens four days ahead of departure for 1Ks, the likelihood of an upgrade increases considerably.

Three free 70-pound checked bags

As a 1K member, you can check up to three 70-pound bags, which is the same allowance afforded to Platinum elites.

Waived fees

  • 1K elites do not have to pay the $25 phone booking fee for making a flight reservation over the phone in the U.S. and Canada.

  • Award change fees are waived.

  • Same-day flight change fees are waived (general members and Silver elites pay $75).

Complimentary Clear membership

Premier 1Ks can get a free membership to the Clear program, which uses biometric technology (i.e., fingerprint and eye scan) to verify your identity. Upon verification, a Clear agent escorts you to the front of the TSA Precheck or main security line, which is the main benefit of Clear.

Note: Although Clear is priced at $179 per year, Silver, Gold and Platinum elites can purchase the membership for $109.

Complimentary Hertz Gold President’s Circle status

Same as Platinum elites, 1Ks also receive a complimentary President’s Circle status level with Hertz.

Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status

Same as Gold and Platinum elites, 1Ks receive Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, which comes with a host of useful perks like late checkout, room upgrades and extra points earned on stays.

Earn 11x United miles and 100% bonus award miles

United 1Ks earn 11x miles when buying airfare and a 100% mileage bonus. These miles count toward the MileagePlus account balance as redeemable miles but do not count toward elite status.

How status matching works with United Airlines

If you have elite status with another airline and are thinking of switching to United, you could apply for a status match challenge and get matched to United Silver, Gold or Platinum. Currently, United does not offer a status match to 1K. The offer is not valid for those who have received a status match or status exception within the last five years.

What do you need to qualify for status matching with United Airlines?

The status that you are matched to depends on what status you have with another airline. For example, these are the status levels that get matched to Delta or American:

Level matched to in United MileagePlus

Delta Air Lines Medallion® level

American Airlines AAdvantage elite status

One you are approved for a status match, you will need to earn a certain number of PQP and PQF (on flights operated by United or United Express) within a specified timeframe to keep your status.

MileagePlus Premier status

Fly 4 PQF and earn 1,000 PQP

Fly 6 PQF and earn 2,000 PQP

Fly 10 PQF and earn 3,000 PQP

What do you get when status matching with United Airlines?

As soon as your status match has been approved, you will receive most of the perks that are designated to elites at that status level. For example, if you’re a Delta Platinum, you will be matched to United Platinum. Although you will receive most of the perks that come with Platinum, you will only receive 20 PlusPoints once you meet the PQP and PQF thresholds. To receive the total 40 PlusPoints that are usually awarded to Platinum elites, you will need to satisfy the normal PQF/PQP requirement for Platinum status (18 PQF and 6,000 PQP, or 7,500 PQP).

What is the process for applying for status matching with United Airlines?

  1. An updated mileage summary or the most recent membership card from the airline frequent flyer program you are matching. The expiration date will need to be visible along with your current elite status. You will need to attach this documentation when you submit your claim.

  2. Your preferred start date, which must be within 30 days before or after the current date (you can begin your match retroactively).

How to maintain your Premier status with United Airlines

The expiration date for elite status is Jan. 31 each year. To ensure that you maintain your status from year to year, you will need to complete the PQF and PQP requirements for your status level.

COVID-19 Note: If you already have status with United, your expiration has been extended to Jan. 31, 2022.

The bottom line

No matter which United status you aim for, the perks provided can significantly upgrade your flying experience. Although elite status can seem out of reach, the positive changes United initiated to help loyalists impacted by coronavirus-related travel bans should make it easier to achieve status. With these reduced requirements for elite status, if United services your home airport, aiming for elite status (or applying for a United status match) could make a lot of sense.

The information related to the United℠ Explorer Business CardUnited℠ Business Card, United Club Card and United Club℠ Business Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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