When United announced that it would be reverting to its pre-pandemic status requirements for the 2023 calendar year, the news came with mixed reactions. With higher Premier qualifying point requirements for status (i.e., status becoming more expensive), fewer members could qualify for Premier status, especially for top-tier Premier 1K.
That’s good news for travelers who far surpass their respective status requirements, as PlusPoints and complimentary upgrades may clear more often. But for MileagePlus members who generally qualify by the skin of their teeth (like me), your current status might feel out of reach next year — but don’t give up hope yet.
Buried in the 2023 updates was a silver lining. Following Delta’s suit, starting Jan. 1, you’ll earn PQPs from MileagePlus award flights operated by United and United Express. You’ll earn 1 PQP for every 100 miles redeemed and 1 Premier qualifying flight for every flight taken.
While I was initially underwhelmed with the PQP earning rate from award flights, as I make my 2023 status plan, I’m considering something that I would haven’t have considered in the past: buying United miles.
Here’s why it might make sense to buy United miles to earn status.
Comparing cash and award PQP earning rates
Cash PQP accruals
When you travel on a United-issued ticket (indicated by a ticket number that starts with 016), you earn 1 PQP per dollar spent on the base fare and carrier-imposed fee(s). During the booking process, you can see how many PQPs a given flight earns by clicking “Details” on the flight selection page.
United awards PQPs based on the cost of the ticket minus taxes and fees. In this case, the fare is $510 with just under $30 in taxes and fees. So, you’d earn 510 PQPs from this example ticket for a flight from Newark to Dublin.
This means you actually earn less than 1 PQP per dollar spent with United, given nearly all tickets have associated taxes and fees.
On cash tickets that aren’t booked with United for travel on a Star Alliance partner, you can sometimes earn north of 3 PQPs per dollar spent. That’s what helped me qualify for Premier 1K this year at a fraction of the usual price.
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Award PQP accruals
As mentioned, starting Jan. 1, you’ll earn 1 PQP for every 100 miles you redeem on United and United Express metal. That means that a 60,000-mile redemption across the Atlantic would earn 600 PQPs.
Related: You can currently buy points and miles with up to a 155% bonus — but should you?
Buying miles to save money and earn PQPs
The value of buying miles to earn PQPs primarily depends on one variable: the purchase price of your miles.
You’re bound to be overpaying if you purchase United miles at the standard price of 3.5 cents apiece, especially since TPG values United miles at just 1.21 cents apiece.
However, United has routinely offered promotions where you can earn up to a 100% bonus when purchasing miles. If you’re targeted for a 100% bonus, the purchase rate falls to roughly 1.88 cents apiece after taxes, which, while still above TPG’s valuation, could be an effective strategy for earning PQPs. You can check if you’re targeted for a deal on buying United miles here.
At a purchase rate of 1.88 cents apiece, 175,000 miles would set you back roughly $3,292.19.
These miles would earn 1,750 PQPs, so a $3,292.19 cash fare is almost certain to earn more PQPs. But since most MileagePlus miles are worth more than just 1 cent each, buying miles could be a great way to save on airfare and earn PQPs — that’s an appealing combination that previously wasn’t possible.
For example, this round-trip business-class flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Tahiti’s Faaa International Airport (PPT) costs $5,817.48.
Alternatively, you could redeem 140,000 miles and $55.58 for the same seat.
Buying 140,000 miles at 1.88 cents apiece would cost roughly $2,632, and you’d earn 1,400 PQPs. That means you’re paying not even 50% of the cash price and still earning PQPs.
Related: Everything you need to know about United Polaris business class
Starting in 2023, you can buy United miles at a discounted price for the first time, book lucrative redemptions and earn toward Premier status. MileagePlus members can also consider transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio.
Premier 1K members earn roughly 11 MileagePlus miles per dollar spent on tickets booked on united.com. So if you’re spending $20,000-plus on cash tickets for Premier 1K in 2023, you’re on track to have an annual influx of around a quarter-million miles in your MileagePlus account each year. Redeeming 250,000 miles on United metal will earn 2,500 PQPs.
United is also giving Premier members a head start for 2023 and 2024. You’ll receive the following number of PQPs in 2023 based on the status you earned in 2022:
- Premier Silver: 500 PQPs.
- Premier Gold: 1,000 PQPs.
- Premier Platinum: 1,500 PQPs.
- Premier 1K: 2,500 PQPs.
Between PQPs now being awarded on United tickets, the head start and more PQP earnings from cobranded credit cards, your status might not be out of reach even with the increased requirements.