United Airlines Devalues Status Earning

Update: United has now clarified that this cap is per flight. So the devaluation is not as bad as first perceived.

In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, airlines are trying all they can to hang on their cash by refusing the refund customers rightfully deserve when airlines flights are cancelled. Well, United Airlines has just gone above and beyond. On top of half-assing social distancing guidelines, they are now severely devaluing their MileagePlus program by putting a limit on amount of Premier Qualify Points, or PQP, you can earn when flying with partners airlines.

First reported by The Points Guy which I shared on Flyertalk, this effectively shuts down one of the last mileage running methods to earn Premier status on United Airlines. The new cap begins for tickets purchased on or after April 29, 2020, or travel on or after July 1, 2020. As of time of writing, it is assumed this cap is applied per ticket.

First / Business Premium Econ / Economy
Preferred Partners
MileagePlus Partners
Preferred Partners
MileagePlus Partners
1,500 PQP
1,000 PQP
750 PQP
500 PQP

Preferred Partners are the following airlines: Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Austrian Airlines, Avianca, Azul Brazilian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Eurowings, Lufthansa, and SWISS International Airlines.

Preferred Partners have a divisor of 5 when calculating PQP from award miles earning.

MileagePlus Partners are pretty much all remaining airlines in the Star Alliance: Aegean Airlines, Air Dolomiti, Air India, Asiana Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Edelweiss, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, Juneyao Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Olympic Air, SAS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, TAP Air Portugal, Thai Airways International, and Turkish Airlines.

MileagePlus Partners have a divisor of 6 when calculating PQP from award miles earning.

What this means to Premier Status Earning

How bad does this hurt? Let’s look at an example. A well-known way to earn PQP is to book a New York (JFK) – Frankfrut (FRA) – Singapore (SIN) on Singapore Airlines (SQ) premium economy cabin. SQ’s premium economy cabin awards 100% miles flown toward award miles earning on United, meaning you earn 1 redeemable award mile for every mile you fly. These days, that’s impossible to achieve with economy tickets. This is a popular route because:

  1. Distance flown is long. You obviously need to fly a great distance in order to maximize mileage  (and PQP) earning when the calculation is by distance.
  2. This is a sweet spot for cheap tickets. The round trip ticket is usually around $1,200 USD, which would be about the same price as a regular economy ticket.
Singapore Airlines Premium Economy. Credit: knaviation.net

Let’s do the math. JFK-FRA-SIN roundtrip is 20,492 miles. At 100% earn rate, this gets you exactly 20,492 redeemable miles with United (a free domestic round trip!) and 3,415 PQP earned. With the new changes, you can only earn 500 PQP on the very same ticket (Singapore Airlines is not a preferred partner). As you can see, this is a massive devaluation of PQP earning by a factor of 7!

My Two Cents

There were definitely some unicorns for earning United PQP quickly by flying partner airlines instead UA. It was expected of United to close those loopholes at some point. But not a massive, across-the-board devaluation by capping the maximum PQP earning per ticket; United has shown no mercy to everyone, including those who fly first class or business class with partners. For those living overseas who fly mostly with UA partners and hoping to make status, this is incredibly bad news.

And shame on United for heavily devaluing their Premier program during a pandemic.

Singapore Airlines Premium Photo from: https://www.knaviation.net/review-singapore-airlines-777-300-premium-economy/