United MileagePlus unveiled some changes to its Premier status program for the upcoming year – and they’re actually good news for most flyers. While the fundamental elite requirements remain unaltered, there’s an expansion in the avenues to qualify for status. Notably, United is clearly directing focus towards encouraging members to increase spending on co-branded credit cards, which is arguably a bigger cash cow for most US airlines than actual flying.
To reiterate the elite requirements for 2024, which remain unchanged from 2023 (keeping in mind that one PQP is equivalent to a dollar spent on United airfare):
- Premier Silver necessitates 12 PQF and 4,000 PQP or simply 5,000 PQP
- Premier Gold calls for 24 PQF and 8,000 PQP or merely 10,000 PQP
- Premier Platinum requires 36 PQF and 12,000 PQP or just 15,000 PQP
- Premier 1K demands 54 PQF and 18,000 PQP or merely 24,000 PQP
Existing MileagePlus elite members get a nice little bonus, too. United will proactively inject PQPs into their accounts at the beginning of 2024, determined by the status achieved in 2023. This applies to all elites, except those engaged in a status challenge or trial.
The PQP jumpstart for 2024 will be allocated as follows:
- Premier Silver members will receive a boost of 250 PQPs
- Premier Gold members will enjoy a jumpstart of 500 PQPs
- Premier Platinum members will be granted an added 750 PQPs
- Premier 1K members will get a princely sum of 1,250 PQPs
Moreover, MileagePlus elite status is becoming more attainable through credit card usage. Cardmembers can now earn 25 PQPs for every $500 in qualifying credit card transactions, enabling a 20% quicker accumulation of PQPs, in smaller increments than before. These PQPs earned through credit card spending will count towards all elite tiers, including Premier 1K. The United Club Infinite Card from Chase previously capped out at 8,000 PQPs annually, but that’s increasing to 10,000 PQPs per year. Notably, there will no longer be a cap on the total number of combined PQPs that can be earned across United cards.
The rationale behind these changes is apparent—airlines are facing a less favorable landscape compared to a year ago. Business travel hasn’t fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Post-COVID “revenge travel” has all but evaporated, with domestic leisure travel falling off a cliff, and airfares dropping considerably vs. a year ago even in the face of rampant inflation. Nevertheless, this development is indeed welcome news, especially when juxtaposed with the changes in Delta SkyMiles.
Surprisingly, this adjustment comes from United, which is arguably in a stronger position compared to many other US airlines, primarily due to its robust international route network. Despite post-COVID domestic travel falling off a cliff in the face of a slowing economy and rising interest rates, international demand remains robust, and United is arguably in the strongest position of any US airline to rise to the occasion; compare this to low-cost carriers like Spirit who primarily fly domestically, and are disproportionately feeling the brunt of the current economic headwinds. United also only has a singular A321neo currently in service, largely shielding it from the Pratt & Whitney engine issues.
Southwest also recently made positive changes to its popular Rapid Rewards program, however, they are arguably in a much weaker position than United with their domestic-focused route network, as well as the fact they’re still trying to repair their tarnished reputation from the full-scale nuclear meltdown of their network during Christmas 2022. It seems logical that Southwest would throw their customers a bone to drum up some business at a time they’re trying to turn things around.
I imagine 2025 will probably see much more drastic changes to simplify the MileagePlus program, but I sincerely doubt it will be that bad. The program right now is unnecessarily complex. Not everyone cares to learn the ins and outs of a program like that. However, I don’t see United going down the same path Delta has gone down. Rather, I expect these changes will more closely resemble AAdvantage’s “Loyalty Points” scheme, which has turned out to be a positive for everyone except those who earn status organically through flying AA metal in economy. Let’s not forget that United CEO Scott Kirby is an ex-American guy. He worked under Doug Parker for years, just like current AA CEO Robert Isom. I expect the next few years will be marked by AA and United following each other relatively closely, while Delta does its own thing.