When You Aren’t Spending Enough on Airfare

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It’s mid-September and with just a little over a 1/4 of the year left to go, it is a really good time to do some elite status math and see where you stand…assuming you care about such things. Josh is traveling a pretty fair amount for work this year, so his numbers are now actually more important than mine. To see exactly where he stands, we spent a bit of time yesterday working through his United elite status progress. In doing so, we found a problem that I did not really expect.

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He is currently sitting at about 28,500 earned United elite qualifying miles on the year, which may not sound overly impressive since that is just a bit over the flying requirements for bottom tier Silver status. However, that flying has almost all been completed in the last 3 – 4 months. Had he been at that pace for a full year, he would almost be on track for the number of miles required for top tier United 1K status. 1K won’t be in the cards this year since his ramped up work travel didn’t start until late May, but he does have his eyes on United Gold status.

We did the math for his scheduled flights through the end of the year and found he is sitting at about 49,000 elite qualifying miles if all goes according to plan, which is just under the 50,000 flown miles he would need for Gold status. I’m sure that extra 1,000 needed miles will be found somewhere whether we book one more flight at some point, he re-routes himself to add some extra miles with connections, or he upgrades to a first class seat and a fare class that earns more than 100% of the miles flown. I’m sure he would love that outcome as he is quite fond of the big seats!

Where my surprise came into play on this exercise was on the dollars side of the equation. As of the last few years with United you not only have to fly a certain number of miles each year to get elite status, but you have to spend a certain amount, too. For Gold status, those that live in the United States have to not only fly 50,000 elite qualifying miles, but also spend $6,000 qualifying dollars with United annually. What makes this even trickier is that you can’t just total up how much you have spent with United for the year to get this number as not every dollar you spend with them counts. For example, taxes don’t count, basic economy tickets don’t count, and there are a few other nuanced restrictions as well.

You can exempt yourself from this spending requirement through the Platinum status level if you spend at least $25,000 on United MileagePlus co-branded cards issued by Chase, or have the (no longer issued) United MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card, but neither of those exemptions are likely to help Josh out this time around.

As it stands he has spent $3,589 of the necessary $6,000 for Gold, which is about 59% of the way there. He has flown about 57% of the necessary 50,000 miles, so at first glance he is on pace with his spending tracking his flying. However, I know that some of his fall travel was booked when United had flights between Houston and Newark for under $80 each way. A glance at the booking below shows that he will only earn $58.66 in Premier Qualifying Dollars for these 1,416 flown miles, which at about 4 cents per flown mile is well below the 12 cents per mile pace you have to average to hit the Premier Qualifying Dollars spending requirement.

Now, getting good airfare deals is great, but this is the first time (for me) that it has also presented its own set of challenges. While I’m obviously not a fan of spending more on airfare than you have to, I’m also not a fan of missing out on valuable status benefits by a small margin. United Gold status really will be a noticeable improvement for him over the Silver he has now as he will be able to reserve two extra legroom seats at booking, will have waived same-day-change fees, access to Star Alliance Gold Lounges and perks, and will pay lower award change/redeposit fees than Silvers or general members.

As for our plan, at this point we are just going to keep an eye on the Premier Qualifying Dollars progress as the next couple of months roll by. He does have some more expensive tickets mixed in with the bargain basement deals, so it may all work out, or at least come within a reasonable distance where we can just purchase and fly one more flight or Extra Legroom Seat and call it good. However, since if feels like we spend a ton out of pocket on travel these days already, I really was surprised that we may not be spending enough when it comes to United elite status.

How is your airline elite status progress coming along? Are the spending requirements causing issues for your status quest, too?

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  1. I have the same problem with United. I also base in Houston and almost all the PQD I spent this year is out of my own pocket. I have already over 66,000 PQM earned this year, but my PQD is only $4485. With my upcoming travel, I can see I will easily reach 80,000 PQM, which will qualify me as Platinum, except I don’t spend enough. So after some calculations on how much more PQDs I will spend (I have an one-way work related travel coming back from Munich to IAH in November), I bought a R/T ticket on flexible economy fare out of my own pocket to Denver to visit a friend at the end of this month (which I could have just flown on SWA out of Hobby, which is preferred), just so I can at least reach the United Gold.

  2. Nope, I’m just fine. My airline is distance based and has no EQD requirements. Every mile flown counts for at least one EQM or more depending on fare code. As a purely recreational flyer, I will have no trouble requalifying.

  3. I have opposite problem.
    I have $8K already but only 38K miles. My company pays for my airfare…
    I may need to do PQM run at the end of year if I am close…
    I am Gold now, and might want to keep it, even though I may not fly that much United next year…

    Decision, decision, decision….

  4. I feel your pain…I’m going to blow past 100k on UA this year, but with under $4500 PQD, so 1K requal will remain a distant memory. CC waiver will secure Plat, but that’s proving to be fairly useless vs. 1K. 🙁

  5. I feel your pain. I have enough EQMs on Delta for Gold status but still have $1300 to go to maintain the Silver status. If I’d thought about this earlier this year I could have spent on my card to easily get Gold and know I’m just scraping by for Silver 🙁

  6. I’ll never be 1K again after United went revenue based. All of our travel is leisure and self-payed. I have already 56,263 miles this year, but only $3,522 PQM. Fortunately, I have the United Select visa which is actually a good card, but I am tired of having to put so much spend on it. I am 74,000 shy of Million Miler and I’ll be glad when I reach that, and will be lifetime Gold. (Hopefully, I’m close enough to achieve that before UAL decides to change that program too!)

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