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What is United Airlines Premier Status Worth? How Can You Earn It?

Qualifying for and joining United Airlines' elite loyalty program is a great way for frequent travelers to save money and get an enhanced travel experience. To join, you must spend at least $3,000 with the company over the course of a year and either acquire 25,000 United points or fly 30 segments with United. Perks of membership include free checked baggage, complimentary seat upgrades and attractive spending rewards rates.

United Premier Status: What Are the Benefits Worth?

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 is worth it, we took a look at the benefits provided to all Premier members as well as the benefits specific to each tier.

Elite Status LevelFree Checked BagsSame-day Flight Change FeeLounge Access when Traveling InternationallyUpgrade Confirmation TimeFree Economy Plus Access [1]Economy Plus Companions [2]
Non-Premier MemberNo, $25 per bag$75
Premier Silver1 bag under 50 lbs$75Day of departureAt check-in1
Premier Gold2 bags under 70 lbs$0Yes48 hours before flightAt booking8
Premier Platinum3 bags under 70 lbs$0Yes72 hours before flightAt booking8
Premier 1K3 bags under 70 lbs$0Yes96 hours before flightAt 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, Silver and Platinum members get the free benefit for themselves and up to eight other travelers.

United Premier Silver

As the entry-level status program, United Silver provides a basic offering of benefits that are worth it if you're already a frequent United 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 it to go out of your way to attain status with United. While you'll earn increased award miles, the only true money-saving 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

For those who take at least 30 trips a year with United, 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

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, which isn't an available benefit at 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 at the 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 some major airlines, like Air China, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

United Premier 1K

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 $12,000 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 status 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 tickets, this benefit alone is an incentive to attain elite status.

Elite Status LevelAward miles per dollar spent on fare
None5
Premier Silver7
Premier Gold8
Premier Platinum9
Premier 1K11

It's important to note that United's MileagePlus award miles program is different than the Premier qualifying mile (PQM) 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, PQM cannot be redeemed for rewards and are only intended to track your eligibility for elite status.

For those who don't frequently travel with United, 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, and hotel groups like Hilton and Marriott. The second is to open one of United's credit cards, which give you extra points per dollar spent and also reward bonus points if you meet a spending minimum.

Is United Premier 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 also may be other options to maximize rewards and save on 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 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 provides 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

For frequent travelers who value comfort over affordability, United's MileagePlus Club Card offers benefits that rival those of the Premier status program. The card comes with a $450 annual fee, but it provides two free checked bags on United flights, priority boarding and complimentary United Club membership (which gives access to United's network of airport lounges).

The Club card's complimentary lounge access alone is a substantial perk when compared with Premier status benefits—United Club membership costs $550 for Premier Silver and Gold members, $500 for Premier Platinum members and $450 for Premier 1K members.

United also offers a second credit card option called the United Explorer Card, which has decent spending rewards but fewer in-travel perks. With a $0 introductory annual fee ($95 annually thereafter), the Explorer card is geared toward frequent United customers who spend less on travel and don't expect luxury benefits. While the card comes with priority boarding, it allows only one free checked bag per flight and two free United airport lounge visits per year.

Annual FeeUnited Spending RewardsGeneral Spending RewardsFree Checked BagUnited Club Access
United Explorer Card$95 after first year72 miles per dollar on restaurants and hotel stays; 1 mile per dollar on everything else1 free bagFree
MileagePlus Club Card$45071.5 mile per dollar2 free bags2 free one-time passes
United Premier Silver71 free bag$550
United Premier Gold82 free bags$550
United Premier Platinum93 free bags$500
United Premier 1K113 free bags$450

While the MileagePlus card is excellent for frequent United travelers who value the luxury travel experience, the main benefit of the Explorer card is its spending reward: 2 miles per every dollar spent with United or at restaurants and hotels; 1 mile for every dollar spent on all other purchases; and 40,000 bonus miles for spending $2,000 within three months of opening the card.

In contrast, the MileagePlus card earns 2 miles for every dollar spent with United; 1.5 miles per dollar for other expenses, including restaurants and hotels; 50,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 within three months of opening the card; and a $100 statement credit after your first purchase.

What are the United Premier Status Requirements?

Eligibility for United membership depends on a mix of dollars spent, miles traveled and flights flown. For the lowest level of the program, you must spend a minimum of $3,000 per year with United and partner airlines. These eligible dollars are called Premier qualifying dollars, or PQD. The minimum PQD requirement increases by $3,000 for each level of the program. On top of the spending requirement, you must earn either a minimum number of Premier qualifying miles (PQM) or fly a certain number of Premier qualifying segments (PQS) with United or a partner airline.

Elite Status LevelMiles Flown RequirementFlights Flown RequirementDollars Spent Requirement
Premier Silver25,000 PQM30 PQS$3,000 PQD
Premier Gold50,000 PQM60 PQS$6,000 PQD
Premier Platinum75,000 PQM90 PQS$9,000 PQD
Premier 1K100,000 PQM120 PQS$12,000 PQD

United Premier Qualifying Miles

The first way to become a United Premier member is (1) to hit the minimum spending requirement and (2) earn enough Premier qualifying miles (PQM), which are awarded based on flight distance and purchased fare class. In general, the more expensive tickets in business and first class have a higher PQM earnings rate, while coach and discounted fares earn less. Basic economy fares do not go toward PQM.

ClassUnited Fare CategoryPremier Qualifying Miles (PQM)Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS)
First ClassF300%1.5
Business ClassJ300%1.5
Discount First ClassA200%1.5
Discount Business ClassC, D, P, Z200%1.5
First Tier Economy (Full Fare Coach)Y150%1.5
Second Tier Economy (Discount Full Fare Coach)B150%1.5
Discount CoachM, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G100%1
Basic EconomyN0%0

If you purchase first or business class tickets, you can earn United Premier status much more quickly. For example, on the roughly 2,500-mile flight from New York City to Los Angeles, the first class traveler will earn 7,500 PQM (3x miles flown), and the economy traveler will earn 3,750 (1.5x miles flown). This means that the first class traveler could fly this round-trip twice to hit the necessary PQM for Premier Silver, while it would take the economy traveler four round-trips. However, a minimum of four segments flown with United is also required for eligibility.

United Premier Qualifying Segments

The second way to earn United Premier status is to (1) hit the minimum spending requirement and (2) take the required number of eligible flights. These eligible flights are called Premier qualifying segment (PQS), where one segment is equal to one leg of a round trip. This means that to reach Premier Gold status, you'll need to fly the equivalent of 30 round-trips per year with United.

Elite Status LevelPQS RequirementEquivalent to...
Premier Silver3015 round-trips per year
Premier Gold6030 round-trips per year
Premier Platinum9045 round-trips per year
Premier 1K12060 round-trips per year

As with PQM, basic economy fares are not counted toward the PQS total. However, tickets in second tier economy and higher—i.e., discount coach, full fare coach, business and first—earn 1.5 PQS for every flight flown. This means a traveler in business class would need to fly the equivalent of 20 round-trips, rather than 30, to reach Premier Gold.

How to Get United Status Quickly

The quickest way to qualify for United status is to meet the Premier Silver miles and spending minimums. To do this, you'll need to book three to four full-fare long-haul flights. For example, a round-trip from Newark, New Jersey, to Stockholm, Sweden, in full-fare economy will cost you roughly $1,500 and earn you just under 10,000 Premier qualifying miles. If you take two more trips of a similar distance, you'll have enough PQM and PQD for Premier status. Plus, United stipulates that you have to fly at least four paid segments to be eligible for the Premier program.

If you currently hold status with another airline, United will also allow you to transfer your membership to the Premier program. This is done through the MileagePlus Premier Status Match Challenge, through which United gives you the equivalent status that you hold with another airline. Delta Gold members will receive United Gold, for example, and American Platinum Pro members will get United Platinum. Additionally, Marriott Platinum Elite members automatically receive United Premier Silver Status.

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