Is United Airlines Premier status worth it in 2020?

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Qualifying for and joining United Premier status, the elite loyalty program of United Airlines, is a great way for frequent travelers to save money and get an enhanced travel experience. However, qualifications are much different in 2020 in light of the coronavirus pandemic. So if you plan on continuing your travels this year, earning status on United Airlines will be much easier.

United Premier status: Are the benefits worth it?

Members at every level of Premier status have access to benefits like free checked baggage and enhanced awards earning. However, some travel benefits like priority seat upgrades, free flight changes and international lounge access only kick in at the top-tier Gold and Platinum levels. To see if elite status on United Airlines is worth it, we took a look at the benefits provided to all Premier members as well as the benefits specific to each tier. If you're most interested in earning points, United's co-branded credit cards offer many of the same benefits as elite status.

United status levels

Elite status levelFree checked bagsSame-day flight change feeLounge access during international travelFree Economy Plus access [1]Economy Plus companions [2]
Non-Premier memberNo, $30 per bag each way$75NoN/AN/A
Premier Silver1 bag under 50 lbs$75NoAt check-in1
Premier Gold2 bags under 70 lbs$0YesAt booking8
Premier Platinum3 bags under 70 lbs$0YesAt booking8
Premier 1K3 bags under 70 lbs$0YesAt booking8

[1] Economy Plus seats have extra legroom and are located in the front of the coach cabin. Premier members can purchase Economy Plus tickets for the price of regular Economy fare.

[2] Premier Silver members can redeem the complimentary Economy Plus benefit (i.e., extra legroom) for themselves and one other traveler. Gold, Platinum and 1K members get the free benefit for themselves and up to eight other travelers.

United Premier Silver

United Premier Silver Requirements in 2020

  • 6 PQFs (Premier Qualifying Flights) and 2,000 PQPs (Premier Qualifying Points), or
  • 2,500 PQPs

As the entry-level status tier, United Silver provides a basic offering of benefits that are worth it if you're already a frequent United Airlines customer. As a Silver member, you'll receive one free checked bag (under 50 lbs) on each flight as well as priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling. You'll also be eligible to receive complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in and complimentary seat upgrades. However, this benefit can be unreliable for Silver members, as upgrades aren't confirmed until the day of the flight — and Silver members receive upgrade priority behind all other Premier members.

If you only travel enough to qualify for Silver, it's not worth the effort to attain status with United. While you'll earn increased award miles, the only valuable feature of Silver status is the free checked bag. You'll still have to pay $75 for same-day flight changes, and there's no discount for United Club membership or over-the-phone ticketing. Further, benefits are fairly similar (and limited) for the 30- to 60-segment traveler across all airlines, so it's more worthwhile to hunt for bargain fares than to spend money to get status.

United Premier Gold

United Premier Gold Requirements in 2020

  • 12 PQFs and 4,000 PQPs, or
  • 5,000 PQPs

Premier Gold status provides substantially better benefits than Silver. Gold members receive complimentary access to Economy Plus at booking, free same-day flight changes and confirmation for complimentary seat upgrades at least 48 hours in advance. In addition, Gold members are automatically given Marriott Gold status, which increases award points for hotel stays; and Star Alliance Gold status, which grants lounge access and other benefits on international flights with Star Alliance members.

United Premier Platinum

United Premier Platinum Requirements in 2020

  • 18 PQFs and 6,000 PQPs, or
  • 7,500 PQPs

At the Premier Platinum level, status holders are awarded great seat upgrade eligibility, free baggage options and fee discounts. Members at this level are able to receive seat upgrades on regional flights, unlike the Silver and Gold levels. In addition, platinum members are second in line for seat upgrades — behind only 1K members — and receive confirmation for their upgrades as early as three days before their flight. This makes receiving seat upgrades on packed flights much more of a possibility than flyers with lower Premier levels.

Premier Platinum status also offers a variety of fee discounts and group travel perks. In addition to three free checked bags, Platinum status holders have free same-day flight changes and also qualify for a $50 discount on United Club membership. Like Premier Gold members, Platinum travelers are automatically enrolled in the Marriott Gold and Star Alliance Gold programs. Star Alliance includes major airlines like Air China, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

United Premier 1K

United Premier Platinum Requirements in 2020

  • 26 PQFs and 9,000 PQPs, or
  • 12,000 PQPs

The major difference between Premier 1K and Premier Platinum is that 1K members can receive seat upgrades on discount coach fares and international flights. Since 1K is the top-tier priority level, this benefit essentially ensures that 1K members receive seat upgrades on every flight they book. As such, confirmation for upgrades is also given as soon as 96 hours (four days) in advance. For those who meet the spending minimum of $15,000 per year on flights, 1K status all but guarantees a business- or first-class seat on any United itinerary.

United Award Miles

One of the most attractive perks across all Premier levels is the mileage bonus in United's MileagePlus program. This benefit gives members more award miles per dollar spent on airfare with United or a partner airline. Through United's MileagePlus rewards program, these award miles earned on flight fares can be redeemed for free flights or other benefits, like seat upgrades. If you're spending a substantial sum purchasing United Airlines tickets, this benefit alone is an incentive to attain elite status.

Elite StatusAward miles per dollar spent on fare
Premier Silver7
Premier Gold8
Premier Platinum9
Premier 1K11

It's important to note that United's MileagePlus award miles program is different from the PQP system. Both programs give you points/miles for flying, but MileagePlus awards are calculated based on money spent and do not factor into Premier status eligibility. In contrast, PQPs are only used to track your eligibility for elite status.

For those who don't frequently travel with United Airlines, there are a few other ways to earn MileagePlus award miles without being a Premier status member. The first is to enroll in the MileagePlus program and spend money with one of United's partners, which include retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Saks Fifth Avenue, and hotel groups like Hilton and Marriott International. The second is to open a United credit card, which gives you extra points per dollar spent and bonus points if you meet a spending minimum after approval.

New United status requirements

United recently changed their method of calculating elite status. Starting in 2020, your elite status is calculated by two metrics:

  • Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs)
  • Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs)
New United status requirements

Premier Qualifying Points

You earn PQPs for the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges on United-operated flights. Additionally, members can earn PQPs on flights ticketed and operated by United's Star Alliance partners.

Premier Qualifying Flights

PQFs are earned by flying. You earn 1 PQF per each qualifying flight segment (consisting of a departure and a landing). Previously, United used fare class multipliers and different calculations to determine what you earned for each flight segment. With their refreshed program, it is now much simpler to figure out how many flights you need to earn United Premier status.

To qualify for United Premier status in 2020, you must either earn 2,000 PQPs and 6 PQFs, or earn 2,500 PQPs. You can earn PQPs from the following:

  • Most flights operated by United and United Express®
  • Most flights operated by a Star Alliance partner airline and connecting partners
  • Most flights operated by Air Dolomiti, Azul, Edelweiss, Eurowings and Olympic Air
  • Most Economy Plus® purchases
  • Most preferred seating purchases
  • Paid upgrades on flights operated by United and United Express
  • MileagePlus Upgrade Award co-pays

Perks of membership include free checked baggage, complimentary seat upgrades and attractive spending rewards rates.

Is United Premier elite status worth it?

Moderate travelers — those whose current flight expenditure and volume would qualify them for Silver or Gold status — will likely benefit from United Premier status, but there may be other options to maximize rewards and save on fees such as checked bag fees. For example, if you primarily fly with another domestic airline like Southwest and JetBlue, your best bet would be to join their rewards program. If your flights are generally taken across two or three domestic airlines, a travel rewards credit card will provide better benefits for you than consolidating your flights with United.

For heavy international travelers and those who already take more than 30 trips with United a year, United Platinum and 1K Premier status provide benefits that make it worth your while to stay loyal to the airline. As a member of Star Alliance, United is part of the largest airline alliance, meaning that Premier members have the chance to earn more awards miles and enjoy more perks on international flights than members of American Airlines' and Delta's award programs.

If you don't currently meet the $3,000 spending minimum for United Premier, there are better ways to receive awards and benefits than buying pricey flights to become a Silver status holder. You can apply for a general rewards credit card, open a United credit card or enroll in the MileagePlus shopping program to get points on everyday purchases. For those specifically looking to enjoy United's travel experience perks, the airline's co-branded credit cards provide some of the same benefits as elite status.

United credit card benefits

United Airlines offers several credit card options to earn United MileagePlus miles for your expenses. In addition, each card comes with benefits to make your flight more enjoyable and/or save you money on flight expenses such as checked bags.

CardSign-up bonusSpending rewardsUnited specific benefitsUnited Club access
United℠ Explorer Card40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases25% statement credit on United in-flight purchases made with the card

Free first checked bag

Priority boarding

Two one-time passes after account opening and each cardmember year
United℠ TravelBank Card$150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

2% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on United tickets

1.5% in TravelBank cash per $1 on all other purchases

25% statement credit on United in-flight purchases made with the cardNone
United Club℠ Infinite CardEarn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

4 miles per dollar on United ticket purchases and in-flight purchases.

2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel purchases.

2 miles per $1 spent on dining.

1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.*

25% statement credit on United in-flight purchases made with the cardYes
United℠ Explorer Business Card60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

2 miles per dollar on United ticket purchases and in-flight purchases.

2 miles per $1 spent on local transit and commuting, including ride-sharing services, taxicabs, train tickets, tolls and mass transit.

2 miles per $1 spent at gas stations, office supply stores and restaurants.

1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

$100 United travel credit after qualifying flight purchases

25% statement credit on United in-flight purchases made with the card

Priority boarding

Two one-time passes after account opening and each cardmember year

The information related to the United℠ TravelBank Card and United℠ Explorer Business Card has been collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.

Yowana is a former product analyst at ValuePenguin, specializing in credit cards, rewards programs and travel. He previously covered mortgages, banking and insurance for the website. Yowana graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science.

* See the online credit card application for details about terms and conditions. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on the "Apply Now" button, you can review the credit card terms and conditions on the issuer's website.

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