$3 Short of United Gold Status Because Paid Upgrades Don’t Count

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Josh has been traveling pretty regularly for work since mid-May, and while our family misses him plenty when he is gone so frequently, the upside is that he has been racking up miles, points, and elite status credits in various programs. I think he is just one more night away from earning Hyatt Globalist (thanks to the 20-night fast track promo), and he has been progressing towards United Gold status one flight at a time. Had he had this travel schedule the whole year, he would have likely landed somewhere between United Platinum and top-tier 1K status, but since this job started about 2/5 of the way through 2017, United Gold status at 50,000 flown miles became the goal.

The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express

We had a running spreadsheet tracking his flown flights, upcoming flights, elite qualifying miles, and elite qualifying dollars to ensure he didn’t inadvertently come in just short of Gold status since it would tangibly improve his situation when flying United next year with two free E+ seats at booking, free same day changes, Star Alliance Gold lounge benefits, a less remote shot at upgrades, and more. Really, we cared the most about E+ seats and free same day changes as those have real tangible value for him and will save us some cash.

About a month ago we realized that while he was doing okay on the flown miles side of the equation in his trek for Gold status, he was coming up short of the dollars spent requirement. With United, much like other similar programs, those who live in the United States have to not only fly a certain amount to earn elite status, they also have to spend enough. You can get an exemption on the spend waiver through Platinum status if you spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the co-branded United Card, but he wasn’t even close to hitting that mark, so we spent a little extra to upgrade a flight to first class and move another one to an E+ to make him more comfortable and earn the necessary PQD totals.

Happy guy in first class

There isn’t much outside of base airfare purchases that count towards earning United Premier Qualifying Dollars, but E+ seats do explicitly count. However, as it turns out, at check-in, he ultimately upgraded that segment from Houston to Los Angeles from an E+ seat to first class for roughly $139, and thus the $112 he had paid for E+ was refunded. We forgot about all of this because either way he had still now spent enough and we thought once his last flight posted to his MileagePlus account he would be a few thousand miles over the needed 50,000 and a little over the $6,000 he needed to spend for Gold status.

Over the weekend his final United flight did post and he was at 52,213 Premier Qualifying Miles as expected, but to our shock, only at $5997 Premier Qualifying Dollars. We did this math many times, so I couldn’t believe we somehow missed the mark by three dollars. THREE DOLLARS! According to United, he was three dollars short of the goal of Gold status with no more flights left for the year. He spent more than that for his last buy-on-board-cheeseburger or in-flight WiFi, but neither of those count towards your PQD totals.

In going through his account activity we were sure it was an oversight, and indeed it sort of was, except it wasn’t. Had he kept his Economy Plus seat on that fateful flight to Los Angeles in November he would have ended up with about $6,100 in PQD, but when that E+ seat upgrade fee got refunded in favor of a first class buy-up, that money spent to upgrade no longer counted. For reasons I can’t come close to understanding, the money you spend to buy-up to first class doesn’t (always) count, but the buy-up to a better economy seat does count.

After learning this was an issue, I found a Flyertalk thread with countless others singing the same sad tune as us, though I didn’t even know to search for such a thing before it happened to us. Our purchased upgrades have usually counted both towards earning additional elite qualifying miles and dollars, but in this case, while the new first class P fare did earn additional elite qualifying miles, it did not earn additional elite qualifying dollars beyond the original economy ticket purchase.

The referenced Flyertalk thread surmised that United upgrades you purchase immediately post-purchase via a pop-up and the ones you do at the last minute during the check-in process do not count towards your Premier Qualifying Dollars totals, but the ones you purchase on United.com in between those two times generally do count. That would likely be consistent with our experiences, but it is also beyond confusing and not intuitive in the slightest.

United lists the following as not being eligible for counting towards Premier Qualifying Dollars:

  • United tickets purchased and used in violation of United’s Contract of Carriage, fare tariffs and the MileagePlus Program Rules
  • All free travel and all MileagePlus award travel
  • Charter flights
  • Industry free or industry reduced-rate tickets
  • Promotional certificates
  • Unpublished or opaque fares, including but not limited to those booked through priceline.com and Hotwire
  • Tickets, products or services purchased and used in violation of the terms and conditions applicable to United’s MileagePlus partners
  • Basic Economy (N) purchases are not eligible to receive Premier qualifying credit (PQM/PQS/PQD), and Basic Economy (N) purchases do not count toward the four-segment minimum requirement for Premier status.

I also know that taxes and fees don’t count, bag fees don’t count, United Club passes and memberships don’t count, on-board purchases don’t count, and the list goes on. However, I was 100% unaware that money spent on upgrading a United ticket directly with United may not count if it is a first class upgrade instead of an Economy Plus upgrade. I’m still not sure where it is stated that those ticket charges don’t count, but I’m sure it is covered in some catch-all statement somewhere that I haven’t yet found.

After multiple back and forth direct messages on Twitter with United about the theoretical $3 PQD shortfall (where no one was disputing that more than that was spent, just whether or not it counted), he was granted an exception to the Premier Qualifying Dollars rule and is now the world’s newest United Gold Premier Elite.

Our first order of business was laughing at the whole thing and then locking in “free” E+ seats for 2018 flights. I understand wanting to ensure that elites spend enough with the company to be worthy of elite perks, but having so much grey area on which dollars spent count seems a little crazy-making, to say the least. And while I am grateful he was ultimately given a $3 exception to the PQD requirement, I do also have to wonder why any of this was even a discussion over such a small gap based on an obscure technicality.

I suppose all is well that ends well, and perhaps our story can save someone else some head scratching over their PQD totals. In short, don’t count on purchased first class upgrades for your PQD totals, especially if they are done immediately after the ticket purchase or at check-in. Is your head spinning yet? How is your 2017 elite status progress going with just a few days left in the year?


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  1. I once found myself on Dec. 31, $12 short of Gold PQD because I asked to be put on standby to an earlier flight so as not to miss an international connection, and the standby seat was E whereas the original flight was paid E+, so the E+ purchase was refunded. No good deed goes unpunished…

  2. I have about 40K United PQM but only $2.5k PQD this year, which means I’m basically headed to zero status unless they throw me a bone – since I’m not mileage running. Good excuse to fly other airlines more in 2018.

  3. I was less than 50 PQMs short of 1k last year, due to a light travel year.. UA wouldn’t budge and ended up taking a last minute mileage run missing time with my family during the holidays. There should be a very small buffer.

  4. Glad it worked out for Josh. For a mere $3 you shouldn’t have to ask for an exeption but UA should proactively upgrade his status based on his flight pattern. This year has been crazy for me with Delta where I made Diamond and have enough MQM to rollover and start 2019 as Gold (50k MQM over what is needed for Diamond). I don’t expect next year to be that mileage rich but will see. A huge advantage I have is that due to paid international business class tickets on Delta I easily get 75,000 miles (Delta’s cap) for every round trip to Europe.

  5. My home airport is IAD and I manage to avoid United for the vast majority of my travels. Delta gold, AA plat and JetBlue Mosaic. Free agent. Still have not forgiven United for 2012 and 2013. .

  6. I fly the painfully expensive IAH to MAF route routinely and barely achieved Gold with 61 segments. This amounted to less than 30,000 PQMs but over $17,000 in PQD… probably one of the more expensive routes out there. At this point I wish status was solely based on PQDs.

  7. My husband and i didn’t make it to Gold either; We made the miles but not the dollars spent. There is no way I would have put $25K on my UA Explorer card… with the crummy rate of return. Plus who uses that card for that huge amount? Is UA crazy??? I came up $900 short with the PQD dollars.

    We had gold in 2016, but lost it last year because of the PQD’s… I also spent $719 on Polaris and first class upgrades which didn’t count. Why can’t they come up with a reasonable formula for spending money on the UA Explorer card and get some PQD’s for it, instead of this “all or nothing” spend of $25K on a card with a crappy return?

    Probably will fly American and Delta in 2018… Not going to Asia next year.

    • But it shouldn’t have to. I don’t think a PhD in seemingly unwritten details should be required to figure this stuff out. That’s the real point of all this.

  8. Wow $139 to upgrade to first probably with elites waiting to clear. Exactly why I left UA after CO took over. My last year 1k with UA I watched as 8 seats all of a sudden became booked while I was at the top of the upgrade list at T-24.

  9. I had something similiar happen this time last year. Coming back from Seattle on Delta I did a paid upgrade to C+ to land silver on them.

    This year I’m celebrating two firsts. Plat on Delta (with most flying done after May) and as of yesterday mid-tier (I forget what tbey call it) at Hyatt. The Hyatt status is mostly thanks to the NY hotel market where a Hampton Inn sometimes costs more than the Grand Hyatt.

    I will keep my Hilton and Marriot/SPG gold as well.

  10. Glad it all worked out for your husband although I personally would never cut it that close. I’m 1k on United and I always make sure that I pick the fares that benefit me and guarantee that I get my PQD. Since I travel alot for my company I make sure to get fares that are flexible.

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