Overview of the United MileagePlus Program

by James Andrew Scott on April 18, 2012

in MileagePlus, Star Alliance, United Airlines

United Airlines’ loyalty program for frequent flyers is MileagePlus®.   Membership in MileagePlus program is free.

As part of the Star Alliance, United MileagePlus members can earn and redeem miles on US Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS, ANA, and many others.  United has main hubs in Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles-LAX, Narita (Tokyo), Newark, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington-Dulles, and Guam.  United has fully integrated with former-Continental Airlines as of March 3, 2012.

United MileagePlus Basics

Status Levels. United has four status levels, Premier Silver, Premier Gold, and Premier Platinum, and United 1K®.

  • There’s also Global Services designation for even more elite members.  Global Services is by invitation only; invitees are frequent United travelers who fly on expensive fares.  Global Services members have exclusive 24 hour customer support as well as special, individualized attention.   Read more about it here.
  • Finally there’s Million-Miler status.
Earning Status. United allows MileagePlus members to earn elite status based on miles or segments flown and dollars spent (beginning in 2014) as follows:
  • Premier Silver: 25,000 Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) or 30 Premier Qualifying Segments (PQSs) plus $2,500 Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs).
  • Premier Gold: 50,000 PQMs or 60 PQSs plus $5,000 PQDs.
  • Premier Platinum: 75,000 PQMs or 90 PQSs plus $7,500 PQDs.
  • Premier 1K®: 100,000 PQMs or 120 PQSs plus $10,000 PQDs.
The dollars spent requirement will begin on January 1, 2014.  According to United’s website, PQDs are calculated on the base fare for tickets plus carrier-imposed surcharges. Note, taxes are excluded. You can earn PQDs on purchases for flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines, as well as flights operated by Star Alliance or MileagePlus partners airlines (issued on a United ticket) and buying Economy Plus seats. The PQD requirement only applies to MileagePlus members whose primary MileagePlus account address is within the 50 United States and the District of Columbia.

Advantages:

  • Unlimited, complimentary one-class upgrades on certain routes on a space-available basis.  But, the unlimited and open-to-all-Premier members nature of this upgrade policy comes at a cost (see disadvantages).
  • Good award seat availability. United ranked high in a recent study comparing award seat availability on major airlines. Of the flights surveyed, 87% of United flights had award seats available at the standard redemption level (25,000 miles round-trip).  By comparison, Delta was dead last with only 27% of flights having 25,000 mile award seats available. Awards with Star Alliance partners also have good availability; 60,000 mile round-trip awards to Europe are generally in good supply.
  • Access to Economy Plus seating at booking (for all statuses but Silver).  If you’ve ever flown Economy Plus, you realize how much more relaxing a flight can be with more leg room.

Disadvantages:

  • Because United’s loyalty program offers unlimited free upgrades to all Premier members, those space-available free upgrade seats can be hard to come by, especially for Silver (and to a less extent, Gold) members.  Some United MileagePlus members, for instance, complain that as a low-tier Premier Silver elite, the chance of a free upgrade is small.  By contrast, American’s AAdvantage program offers upgrades to lower level elite members only when they have earned sufficient 500 mile upgrade “stickers.”  While upgrades are thus less plentiful, when AAdvantage members do try to upgrade, there’s generally greater upgrade availability because of less upgrade competition.

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card Plane

United MileagePlus Program Details

General Premier Member Benefits (apply to all status levels, except where specified otherwise):

  • Priority boarding (higher priority with higher status level).
  • Premier Access check-in and screening.
  • Premier Priority service desk.
  • No fee for same-day changes (all except Premier Silver).
  • 3 Free checked bags at 70 lbs. each (all except Premier Silver which gets 1 free bag at 50 lbs. each).
  • Reduced close-in award ticketing fee ($50 for Silver; $25 for Gold; no fee for Platinum and 1K).
  • Star Alliance Silver (Premier Silver) and Star Alliance Gold privileges (all others).
  • Lounge access when travelling internationally (all except Premier Silver).
  • Discounted United Club membership rates.
  • Compensation for the $100 Global Entry application fee (for new applications) for Global Services, 1K and  Platinum members.
United Airlines MileagePlus Premier Status Summary Chart

Premier Status Summary Chart

Mileage Bonuses

You will earn Base award mile and Premier Qualifying Mile bonuses by flying on more expensive fares as follows:
united miles earning chart

Based on your Premier status, your will earn Base award bonuses as follows:

  • Silver:           25% bonus
  • Gold:             50% bonus
  • Platinum:    75% bonus
  • 1K:                 100% bonus

Same Day Changes

Non-status, general MileagePlus members and Premier Silver members may make same-day changes for a reduced fee of $75 (recently raised to $200 for domestic flights).   Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier 1K members may make same day changes at no cost.   The same-day flight change option is available 24 hours prior to the originally scheduled departure.  The re-scheduled flight must depart within 24 hours of when the change request is made.   Essentially, this means you have about a 48 hour window to work with.

  • If the same fare class that was originally ticketed is available within 24 hours of departure, only the same-day flight change fee of $75 will apply.
  • If the same fare class is not available within 24 hours of departure, you will pay the same-day flight change fee plus the difference in fare.  However, you can try to avoid this difference in fare by flying standby.
  • You may standby if seats are not available in the purchased fare class.  The same-day change fee will still apply (but is not charged unless you actually get a seat).  Changes in routing are not allowed when standing by.  Standby must be requested on the day of departure at the airport kiosk or with a United airport representative.

Economy Class Upgrades to Economy Plus.  

Economy Plus is economy with more leg-room.   In the past year United downgraded Premier Silver status by removing Silver members’ ability to book Economy Plus seats (for themselves and one companion) at ticketing.  Now this privilege is reserved for Gold or higher members.  The Economy Plus upgrade window is as follow:

United Economy Plus Upgrade Chart

United Travel Awards.  All United awards are priced as one-way; one-way awards are permitted.

  • There are two types: Standard and Saver (requires fewer miles, but also has lesser availability).
  • Premier members have unrestricted access to Standard Awards.   If there’s a seat for sale, members can get it with award miles even if it’s the last seat left on the plane.
  • Certain MileagePlus cardholders also have unrestricted access to Standard awards: MileagePlus Explorer, Select, Access, Club Card,  OnePass Plus, or Presidential Plus Credit Cards.
  • Premier members also have better access to United Saver Awards in United Economy.   Only Platinum and1K  have better access to United Saver Awards in United Global First, United BusinessFirst, United First (review of United First), and United Business.  Members should search awards using their Premier number and Pin.
  • You may combine a Saver and a Standard award for a round-trip.
  • A stop-over is permitted on round-trip awards, but not on one-ways.
  • United and Copa do not have any restricted travel dates for awards.
  • Miles Required calculator here.

Star Alliance Travel Awards.

  • You may redeem your MileagePlus miles for one-segment, one-cabin upgrades on Star Alliance carriers.
  • Miles Required calculator here.

Complimentary Upgrades.

All elite status levels are eligible for complimentary free, one-class upgrades on a space-available basis on most United and Copa flights within the continental U.S., Alaska, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean,  Central America, northern South American, Intra-Asia, and Oceania flights.   For example, Premier members are eligible for one-cabin upgrades on select flights from United Economy® to the next cabin of service, from United Business® to United First®, or from United BusinessFirst® to United Global First® on three-cabin aircraft.

Class Upgrade window.

Premier members traveling on full-fare economy (Y- and B-class fares) and 1K members  on M-class fares are eligible for instant upgrades as early as time of ticketing, if space is available.  If traveling on other fare classes, or a seat is not otherwise available at time of ticketing, upgrades will be processed automatically starting at the five-day window:

  • Global Services:  120 hours prior to departure/ 5 days.
  • United 1K:             100 hours/ 4 days.
  • Platinum:               72 hours/ 3 days.
  • Gold:                        48 hours/ 2 days.
  • Silver:                      Day of departure.

Note that upgrades are not available on flights that have already been upgraded, or on certain fares such as industry discount, Hotwire and priceline.com.

Earning Regional Upgrades (Eligible flights here).

Premier members will earn two (2) Regional Premier Upgrades when they reach 75,000 qualifying miles (QM) or 90 qualifying segments (QS), plus two (2) more for each 25,000 (QM) or 30 (GS) earned thereafter.   Upgrades are valid for travel for 12 months from date of issue.

  • Redeem  by viewing the reservation on united.com and selecting the Upgrade Reservation link or contacting United Reservations.
  • May be confirmed as early as time of booking or time of upgrade request.  If upgrade space is not available at time of request, members will be placed on a waitlist. The waitlist will clear automatically by Premier status, then fare class, then time of request. New waitlist requests may be made up to 24 hours prior to departure.
  • Regional Upgrades are fully transferable and may be used for travel with or without the Premier member.

Earning Global Upgrades (Eligible flights here).

Premier members will earn six (6) Global Premier Upgrades when they reach 100,000 qualifying miles (QM) or 120 qualifying segments (QS), plus two (2) more for each 50,000 QM or 60 QS earned thereafter.  Upgrades are valid for travel for 12 months from date of issue.

  • Redeem  by viewing the reservation on united.com and selecting the Upgrade Reservation link or contacting United Reservations.
  • May be confirmed as early as time of booking or time of upgrade request.  If upgrade space is not available at time of request, members will be placed on a waitlist. The waitlist will clear automatically by Premier status, then fare class, then time of request. New waitlist requests may be made up to 24 hours prior to departure.
  • Global Upgrades are fully transferable and may be used for travel with or without the Premier member.

United Upgrades.  You can also choose to use your miles for an upgrade on any United or Copa flight.

  • May be confirmed as early as request; otherwise members are placed on a wait-list.
  • Premier members will not be a charged a co-pay on most routes within the US-49 and Canada and from the US-49 and Canada to Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean or Northern South America,  Intra-Asia, and most non-stop flights to/from Guam.
  • Non-Premier members also except from co-pay when miles are sponsored by a Premier member.

united star alliance plane in SFO

Star Alliance Upgrades.  You may redeem your MileagePlus miles for one-segment, one-cabin upgrades on Star Alliance carriers.

  • Miles Required calculator here.  Most discount fares have a co-pay required to upgrade.
  • You can redeem for a Star Alliance upgrade here.   You must make your request at least 24 hours prior to departure.

Share your thoughts or reviews on the United MileagePlus program with our readers below.

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