How You’ll Earn United Premier Qualifying Points On Flights

by Ann deBruyn

To earn United Premier elite status, you need to know about Premier qualifying points. Starting in 2020, United ditched Premier qualifying miles, Premier qualifying dollars and Premier qualifying segments. Now, the airline has two metrics for earning Premier elite status: Premier qualifying points (what we'll focus on in this article) and Premier qualifying flights.

Of these, technically only PQPs are required. Earning PQFs only serves to reduce the necessary number of PQPs you need to earn to get elite status in United's program, MileagePlus Premier.

Dig into what United Premier qualifying points are and all of the ways you can earn them.

What are United Premier qualifying points?

United PQPs are a metric of how much you've spent with United and its partners. The primary way to earn PQPs is by flying on United or its Star Alliance partners. But you can also earn PQPs on the ground. Eligible United credit card holders can earn a limited number of PQPs by spending on their co-branded airline credit card.

Each method of earning Premier qualifying points works a bit differently. And partner flights and credit card spending have caps and limitations that you need to keep in mind.

Earning Premier qualifying points on United flights

For flights on United, you'll earn PQPs on the cost of:

  • Base airfare.

  • Carrier-imposed surcharges.

  • Seat purchases and subscriptions.

  • Co-pays on mileage upgrades and paid upgrades.

Keep in mind that you won't earn PQPs on your entire airfare purchase. That's because airport taxes, security fees and other mandatory fees don't count toward PQP earnings. These taxes and fees can slice a decent portion of the potential PQP earnings.

For example, on a one-way flight from Newark to San Francisco, the taxes and fees range from $20 to $90:

  • Basic economy: $94 (74 PQPs).

  • Economy: $119 (97 PQPs).

  • Refundable economy: $169 (144 PQPs).

  • Business class: $1,096 (1,006 PQPs).

On international routes, these taxes and fees can significantly reduce the number of PQPs you earn per dollar spent.

For example, you'll earn just a fraction of the PQPs for what you pay for a flight from San Francisco to London. For a basic economy ticket, you'd pay $625 round-trip but earn just 391 PQPs after subtracting $234 in taxes and fees. For premium economy, you'll pay $1,390 round-trip but earn only 1,021 PQPs after subtracting $369 in taxes and fees.

How to earn United Premier qualifying points on flights booked through partner airlines

In addition to flying on United, you can also earn PQPs toward elite status on United when booking flights through United's partner airlines. (That's a change from how earning United elite status used to work — longtime United Premier elites may remember that you couldn't earn Premier qualifying dollars on partner airlines.)

You'll earn PQPs based on a fraction of the total award miles you earn on a partner flight:

  • Preferred partners: Award miles divided by five.

  • Other partners: Award miles divided by six.

Note that there are caps on the number of PQPs that can be earned for these flights, which we'll discuss in the next section.

Say you earn 3,000 award miles by flying with a preferred partner. Dividing these mileage earnings by five, you'll calculate that you will earn 600 PQPs on this flight. For the same 3,000-mile earnings on a non-preferred partner, you'd instead earn 500 PQPs.

United lists its partners on its website. As of this writing, current United preferred partners for PQP earnings include:

  • Air Canada.

  • Air China.

  • Air Dolomiti.

  • Air New Zealand.

  • All Nippon Airways.

  • Austrian Airlines.

  • Avianca.

  • Azul Brazilian Airlines.

  • Brussels Airlines.

  • Copa Airlines.

  • Edelweiss.

  • Eurowings.

  • Eurowings Discover.

  • Lufthansa.

  • SWISS International Airlines.

On non-preferred partner flights, United awards miles are based on the flight distance and the ticket's fare class. Since United calculates PQPs as a portion of mileage earnings, that means the number of PQPs you'll earn on these flights isn't based on the cost of the flight.

If earning United elite status is your goal, make sure to crunch the numbers before booking your flight. See if you can book the same flights through United rather than the partner airline if you're coming up short. That way, you'll earn PQPs based on the cost of the flight (before taxes and fees), which will likely net you more PQPs.

Limitations on earning PQPs on preferred and non-preferred partner flights

United limits how many PQPs you can earn on each partner flight.

Maximum PQPs per flight

Preferred partner

Non-preferred partner

First or business class

1,500.

1,000.

Economy or premium economy

750.

500.

To see how this limitation can come into play, let's run the numbers. Non-preferred partner Singapore Airlines operates the world's longest flight between Newark and Singapore — which clocks in at a whopping 9,534 miles in length. Singapore Airlines premium economy fares earn 100% of flight miles as award miles. So you'll earn 9,534 United MileagePlus miles each way.

As a non-preferred partner, divide these earnings by six to get the potential earnings of 1,589 PQPs each way. However, as a premium economy flight on a non-preferred partner, you'll earn only the maximum of 500 PQPs on this flight. That's less than one-third of the potential earnings.

Can you buy United Premier qualifying points?

You can top off your United PQPs account balance by purchasing a Premier Accelerator from United. This option is available only when you're also buying an Award Accelerator — which is available when booking a United flight.

Rates and options may vary. For a Premier Silver elite, United gives a choice between two Premier Accelerator options for a round-trip flight from San Francisco to London:

  • 500 bonus PQPs for $470 (94 cents per PQP).

  • 1,000 bonus PQPs for $930 (93 cents per PQP).

You should generally do a Premier Accelerator as a last resort. Rather than simply handing your money over to United, see if you can earn PQPs by flying on United or its partners instead. That way, you'll get something for your hard-earned money.

If you're unable to take a flight, try earning PQPs by spending on eligible United credit cards. The type of United credit card you have determines how much you'll need to spend to get a PQP boost and the number of PQPs you'll earn.

Final thoughts on earning United PQPs

United PQPs are the key metric to earning elite status with the airline, so it's essential to know the ins and outs of how you'll earn PQPs.

For United flights, you'll earn PQPs on purchases such as:

  • The base airfare.

  • Carrier-imposed surcharges.

  • Seat subscriptions and upgrades.

  • Co-pays on mileage upgrades and paid upgrades.

For flights booked through partners, you'll earn PQPs based on a fraction of the award miles earned. These earnings depend on whether the partner is considered "preferred" and are subject to per-flight limits.

If you're coming up short of the next elite status tier, you can purchase United PQPs through Premier Accelerator or by spending on eligible United credit cards.

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