United MileagePlus – Status Extensions, Reduced Elite Requirements & More


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United is the second of the three big US carriers to announce measures aimed at placating its frequent flyers (Delta announced its measures yesterday) and the airline is going further than simply extending status for all that currently hold it – there are changes to this year’s elite status requirements, it will be easier to earn status through credit card spending and numerous flyer benefits will no longer expire this year.

United MileagePlus Status Extensions

  • All flyers with United status up to and including Premier 1K will see their status extended for a year – statuses will now expire in January 2022
  • United has made no mention of status extensions for United Global Services elites.

Elite Status Requirements Reduced For 2020 & Possibly 2021

Not only has United extended everyone’s staus through 2022 but it is also reducing the requirements for anyone looking to earn or improve status this year.

If you’re trying to earn United MileagePlus status this year you now need half the number of segments and Premier Qualifying Points than you did at the beginning of the year – here are the new status targets:

A minimum of 4 flight segments on United or United Express are still required to earn status.

United has also said that it will be revisiting the elite status requirements for next year:

[W]e’ll be making it easier to earn status in 2021 for the 2022 program year. We recognize that getting back to travel will occur at a different pace for different members. Keep an eye out for changes we will make to help you earn status in 2021 for 2022, as we’ll share details later this year.

With no further details coming out of United at this point, the assumption seems to be that the airline will reduce the number of segments/PQP that flyers need to collect to earn status in 2021 (for 2022) but the airline may have something else in mind.

United’s Co-Branded Credit Cards Earn More PQP

Between 1 May and 31 December 2020, holders of select United MileagePlus credit cards will be able to earn more Premier Qualifying Points by spending on their cards:

  • United Explorer Cards – the number of earnable PQP is doubled
  • United Club Card – the number of earnable PQP is quadrupled

The enhanced PQP earnings on the United co-branded cards are in addition to the reduced elite status targets for this year.

PointsPlus Expiration Dates Extended & Skip Waitlist Expanded

PlusPoints is the currency used by United’s new upgrade system which replaced the better known systemwide and regional upgrades.

  • All PlusPoints set to expire on or before 31 January 2021 will have their expiration dates extended by 6 months.

Skip Waitlist is a benefit offered to Premier 1K elites which allows them to confirm an upgrade at the time of booking and United has said that this benefit will be available in a “significantly expanded” form (on more flights) for the rest of 2020 and in 2021 too.

Annual Memberships & Subscriptions Extended

  • Purchased United Club memberships are being extended by 6 months
  • Purchased subscriptions for Economy Plus are being extended by 6 months
  • Purchased subscriptions for United Wi-Fi are being extended by 6 months
  • Purchased subscriptions for checked bags are being extended by 6 months

United appears to have been careful to use the phrase “purchased United Club memberships” in its announcement which leads me to suspect that anyone who has a United Club membership as part of a credit card benefits package may not see that membership extended….at least not for now.

Travel Vouchers/Electronic Travel Certificates Now Valid Longer

If you’re one of the many United flyers who have accepted travel vouchers from the airline when either you or the airline cancelled recent trips, this will be news you’ll be happy to hear:

  • All currently valid travel vouchers/electronic travel certificates can now be used up to two years from the date they were issued and travel can take place up to an additional 11 months after that.

For example, if you have an electronic travel certificate issued on 1 April 2020 you have up until 31 March 2022 to book travel and your travel must be complete by 1 March 2023.

Mileage Redeposit Fees Are Being Waived

  • All award redeposit fees are being waived for travel through the end of May 2020.
  • Redeposit fees for award ticket cancellations made more than 30 days before departure will be waived for the remainder of 2020.

It is therefore now possible to make award booking through to the end of 2020 without having to worry about the repercussions if you cannot fly or if your trip gets cancelled (as long as you cancel 30+ days before travel) – the taxes will be refunded automatically and it won’t cost anything to have the miles redeposited into your account.

Thoughts

I’ve seen a few people saying that United has copied Delta with these moves but I don’t think that’s quite right – I think United had most of this figured out long before Delta announced its status extensions yesterday but was waiting to see see how long it could hold out before actually announcing these measures.

United didn’t copy Delta, it just waited for Delta to make a move before it followed suit.

Anyway, who copied whom really doesn’t mean very much right now as it’s all about what the airlines are offering…and United has done ok here.

The status extensions through to 2022 were the least that United could do considering what Delta has already announced, but the lowered elite thresholds for this year are a nice touch (it may help encourage travelers to fly with United once the skies reopen) and any changes that the airline eventually makes to the 2021 elite status thresholds should counteract Delta’s offer of rolling over 2020’s earnings to 2021.

It was sensible of United to offer better PQP earnings on some of its co-branded cards as a lot of them are relatively useless while people can’t fly (offering yet more PQP may encourage people to use them in the everyday life a bit more) but if my understanding of the United Club membership position is correct (i.e that purchased memberships will be extended but memberships held through credit card benefits will not), then that’s a little short-sighted – United should have carved out a deal with Chase to make sure that no one is left behind.

All the other extensions are very welcome too and the fact that United’s travel vouchers will now be valid for travel into 2023 is a nice bit of positive news for people who are stuck with a voucher and who may not be in a position to travel again any time soon.

Bottom Line

I was fully expecting United (and American) to roll out their own versions of the announcement we got from Delta’s yesterday so the fact that MileagePlus elites will have their status extended into 2022 is no surprise at all.

What is a little surprising is that United has shown itself to have the ability to think beyond the obvious (or what Delta has already done before) by reducing elite earnings for this year (as well as extending status expirations), improving elite earnings on select credit cards and promising a review of elite status targets for next year…so why doesn’t the airline use this ability a bit more often?

It’s great that United is making positive steps for its elite members right now but let’s hope that management is actually learning something in this process and that it continues to appreciate that loyalty isn’t just a one-way street.

United ended its announcement by saying that “we are all in this together” – hopefully that will apply as much after this crisis is over as it does right now.

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