The Best Strategies for Earning United Premier Qualifying Points by Flying The Best Strategies for Earning United Premier Qualifying Points by Flying

The Best Strategies for Earning United Premier Qualifying Points by Flying

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United MileagePlus elite status is based primarily on earning Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs). You'll need to know about earning United Premier Qualifying Points to qualify for United's elite status. While you can earn PQP in multiple ways, the most conventional is through flights.

In this post, we cover what United PQPs are, how many you will need for each tier of Premier elite status, and how you earn PQP through flying. We'll also highlight a strategy for qualifying for United Premier status via partner flights.

What Are United Premier Qualifying Points (PQP)?

United Premier Qualifying Points are a qualification requirement for United Airlines' Premier elite status, and they primarily measure how much money you've spent with the carrier. The primary way of earning PQP is by flying United, United Express, and any of United's airline partners. These consist of all Star Alliance members, plus some unique partners like Brazil's Azul, Hawaiian Airlines, Emirates, JSX, and Virgin Australia.

You also can earn PQP through spending on United's co-branded credit cards.

United Elite Status PQP Requirements

Below, you'll find United's elite status qualification requirements in 2023. You can qualify using a combination of Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) or strictly through PQP accrual.

  • Premier Silver: 4,000 PQP + 12 PQF OR 5,000 PQP
  • Premier Gold: 8,000 PQP + 24 PQF OR 10,000 PQP
  • Premier Platinum: 12,000 PQP + 36 PQF OR 15,000 PQP
  • Premier 1K: 18,000 PQP + 54 PQF OR 24,000 PQP

Each calendar year marks a qualification period. Any Premier status achieved is good through the following calendar year and then January 31 of the ensuing year (i.e., qualifying for Premier status between January 1 and December 31, 2024 gives you elite status through January 31, 2026).

United Airlines planes parked at gates at an airport terminal

How To Earn United Premier Qualifying Points From Flying

You can earn PQP flying United and any of its more than 40 partners. PQP earning rates will vary depending on which carrier issues your ticket. In some instances, you'll earn more by booking through United than through another airline and vice versa. It's worth understanding this and calculating your earnings before booking your ticket to book in the way that will earn the most PQP possible.

United tickets

You will earn 1 PQP for every U.S. dollar you spend on United flights or through flight tickets issued by United. The PQP earnings include the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges but exclude the government-imposed taxes, fees, and charges. You'll earn less PQP than your ticket price, as taxes and fees are always tacked on. These taxes and fees are reasonable for domestic itineraries but can add up for international tickets, thus cutting into your PQP earnings.

When booking directly with United, the website shows how many PQP you'll earn. These earning totals are offered for all ticket types, making for an easy comparison.

Basic Economy tickets earn PQP but don't earn PQF.

Earning rates for United Premier Qualifying Points from flying United, as shown when selecting tickets for purchase
United shows the PQP and PQF earned if you open the flight details.

United shows the PQP and PQF earned if you open the flight details. PQP will credit to the United MileagePlus account of the member who travels. Note that this may not necessarily be the same as the person who purchases the ticket.

If you later upgrade your seat to Economy Plus, this purchase qualifies for PQP. You'll find that a handful of other United charges also earn PQP. These are:

  • Economy Plus® seating or Economy Plus subscriptions
  • Preferred seat purchases
  • Paid upgrades on flights operated by United and United Express
  • MileagePlus Upgrade Award co-pays
  • Award flights operated by United and United Express
  • Eligible United Airlines credit cards

Tickets issued by United can include partner flight segments. If your ticket number begins with “016,” you'll earn PQP based on the United rate — thus earning more when you spend more and less when you spend less. However, things get interesting if your ticket number starts with a different number (i.e., it is on partner ticket stock).

Partner flights

Earning United Premier Qualifying Points on partner flights not booked through United works differently. Rather than being based on how much you spent, you're awarded PQP as a fraction of the number of award miles earned. It depends on the partner:

  • Preferred partners: PQP earned equals the award miles divided by five.
  • Other MileagePlus partners: PQP earned equals the award miles divided by six.

United partners credit award miles based on a percentage of actual miles flown, which depends on the partner and ticket class. Thus, PQP earnings via United partner tickets is distance-based. Check out the United partners and view the partner airline accrual charts to determine how many award miles and PQP you'll earn for a flight.

United's Preferred Partners

  • 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
  • Virgin Australia

Other MileagePlus Partners

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air India
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • 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
  • Turkish Airlines

Limits on earning United PQP on partner flights

A major bummer is that United limits the number of PQP you can earn on partner flight segments. This earning cap can be unfortunate for those who buy paid premium economy, business-, or first-class tickets.

Class of servicePreferred partner PQP maximumNon-preferred partner PQP maximum
First/business class1,5001,000
Economy/premium economy750500

Earning caps for non-preferred partners are even lower than the already-limited amounts from preferred partners. These limitations can severely limit the number of PQPs you earn, especially in higher cabin classes.

Example partner flight PQP Earnings

Let's walk through an example of earning United Premier Qualifying Points through a partner flight booking. I've found a standard economy itinerary with Air Canada from Los Angeles (LAX) to Copenhagen (CPH) for $825.51. It connects via Toronto Pearson (YYZ) both ways.

Air Canada itinerary between LAX and CPH for a total of $825.51.
Credit: Air Canada

This itinerary features a standard economy ticket in fare class L, meaning it earns United award miles at 50% of miles flown. You can find the earning rates for Air Canada on United's site here.

The Great Circle Mapper tool shows a flight distance of 2,175 miles each way between LAX and YYZ. The YYZ–CPH segment is 3,907 miles each way. Since Air Canada is a preferred partner, we divide the award miles earned by five to determine the PQP. Here's the math:

  • LAX-YYZ PQP earnings each way: (2,175 flown miles x 50%) / 5  = 217 PQP
  • YYZ-CPH PQP earnings each way: (3,907 flown miles x 50%) / 5 = 391 PQP

After adding up all four segments, this ticket would earn 1,216 PQP, representing decent earnings for an economy ticket. Plus, the PQP total exceeds the number of dollars spent — about 1.5 times the cost of the ticket.

This ticket is bookable through United for the same price. You'd earn just 722 PQP, as United outlines.

MileagePlus earnings for the LAX to CPH flight via YYZ.
Credit: United

Booking through Air Canada instead of United will earn you 68% more PQP!

Can you earn United Premier Qualifying Points on award flights?

United Airlines allows MileagePlus members to earn Premier Qualifying Points on award travel, but only on United and United Express-operated flights. The earning rates are simple:

  • 1 PQP earned per 100 miles redeemed
  • 1 PQF earned per United or United Express flight

Take your award ticket cost and divide by 100. That's the number of PQP you earn. You won't earn anything on the award ticket's taxes and fees.

Note that you must book through MileagePlus to receive PQP on a flight. United and United Express flights booked using partner miles cannot accrue PQP.

Related: Earn Elite Status Credits on Award Travel on These 3 Airlines

The best strategy for earning United Premier Qualifying Points through flying

With United fights, earning PQP is simple, as it's a product of your ticket price minus taxes and fees. Things are much different in the case of partner flights, and it is here that you can get creative. Here's a general strategy for finding the best PQP-earning flights with partners:

  • Look for long-haul fare deals. The ticket cost doesn't matter, so the cheaper the better.
  • Consider routes with connections. Long flights, especially in higher cabin classes, will hit the PQP caps. Flying to Europe from the West Coast on Air Canada is a prime example.
  • Stick to preferred partners. The PQP earning rate is better, and the per-segment PQP cap is much higher.

With the best partner flights, you'll earn far more PQP booking with the partner and crediting the flights to United than you would get by booking through United directly.

Other Ways to Earn PQP

United offers additional PQP earnings through its co-branded credit cards. The United Quest℠ Card is one of the best card options for earning PQP, as you can accrue up to 6,000 PQP each year through credit card spending. You'll earn 500 PQP for each $12,000 spent on the card.

The card's welcome offer regularly includes bonus PQP for new applicants as well.

United Quest℠ Card
United Quest℠ Card
Annual Fee$250
Welcome Bonus Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
The United Quest Card offers a great mix of benefits that should easily cover the cost of its annual fee over the long term. Unique perks include a $125 credit on United® purchases and two 5k-mile anniversary award flight credits.
  • Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 500 PQP after qualifying purchases
  • Earn 3 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel, dining and select streaming services
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Free first and second checked bags - a savings of up to $320 per roundtrip (terms apply) - and priority boarding
  • Up to a $125 United® purchase credit and two 5,000-mile anniversary award flight credits each year (terms apply)
  • Earn up to 6,000 Premier qualifying points (500 PQP for every $12K you spend on purchases)
  • Member FDIC
  • 3 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases
  • 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel
  • 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants
  • 2 miles per $1 spent on select streaming services
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

United also offers the option to buy PQP outright. You can do this through a Premier Accelerator purchase, which must be done in conjunction with an Award Accelerator purchase. The number of PQP and rate per PQP vary depending on the flight.

Related: Guide To Earning United Premier Qualifying Points Through Credit Card Spending

Final Thoughts

If you plan on chasing it, you should understand everything about the primary method of earning United status: Premier Qualifying Points.

It's also essential to distinguish between accruing PQP on United tickets and partner tickets. This can work to your advantage to help you earn more PQP by booking your ticket through the method that yields the most PQP.

Ultimately, if you're going to fall short of United Premier status, consider spending on a United credit card that offers additional PQP. For a full rundown on earning and redeeming United miles and the basics of the Premier program, check out our complete guide to United MileagePlus.

What's your favorite method for earning extra United Premier Qualifying Points? Let us know!

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  • Mark Kornblau says:

    PQP earned on United co-branded cards do not count towards 1K status. This clarification should be added to the article.

    • Ryan Smith says:

      Hi Mark, here are the terms on United’s website:
      “Earn toward Premier 1K status
      Members can apply PQP earned through co-branded MileagePlus credit cards toward Premier 1K status.
      Cardmembers must meet the Premier qualifying flight (PQF) requirement for card-earned PQPs to be applied toward achieving Premier 1K status.”
      In the past, PQP from credit cards didn’t count toward 1K (only the lower tiers), but that has changed.