The Loyalty Program Guide to United Airlines

By Angela Marie Feher

September 11, 2019

Travel enough and you start to notice the difference between the haves and the have-nots. That is, those travelers who have elite status (and the perks that come along with it) and those that don’t. If you’re in the latter part of that passenger profile, you might be asking yourself questions like: What are the perks of signing up for a frequent flyer program? How can I receive complimentary upgrades? Is there a secret password for accessing an airline’s lounge? Is it really worth it to pursue the top-tier status?

With these questions in mind, our team set out to better understand not only what it means to have elite status with a US-based airline, but what we could be missing having say, Gold status versus Platinum. In this multi-part series, we answer these questions—and more—about domestic carriers’ loyalty programs.

United Airlines 

How to earn miles with United Airlines

Travelers part of United’s frequent flyer program are known as MileagePlus members. As a member of this loyalty program, you can achieve status by earning the required number of Premier qualifying miles (PQM) or Premier qualifying segments (PQS). If you live in the United States, you also have to meet a minimum annual spending level, which is tracked with Premier qualifying dollars (PQD). You can also earn when you shop, dine, rent a car, stay in a hotel, and more. There are so many ways to earn miles, both in the air and on the ground. Best of all, your miles never expire.

United miles can be used for award travel and other redemptions. For example, you can fly round-trip in economy from JFK to SFO for 12,500 miles; from DTW to LAX for 12,500 miles; and from BOS to MIA for 16,000 miles. Want to make the most of your miles? United maintains a list of current deals to help you plan a getaway within your mileage budget.  

As a member of this loyalty program, you can achieve status by earning the required number of Premier qualifying miles (PQM) or Premier qualifying segments (PQS). If you live in the United States, you also have to meet a minimum annual spending level, which is tracked with Premier qualifying dollars (PQD).

How to achieve elite status with United Airlines

Once you become a MileagePlus member, you immediately start accruing towards an elite status. United’s premier status program has four levels: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier 1K®. 

Here’s what it takes to achieve each tier:  

TierPremier SilverPremier GoldPremier PlatinumPremier 1K®
Premier qualifying miles (PQM)25,00050,00075,000100,000
Premier qualifying segments (PQS)306090120
Premier qualifying dollars (PQD)$3,000$6,000$9,000$12,000

To be eligible to qualify for any Premier level, you must fly a minimum of four paid flight segments on flights operated by United and/or United Express during a calendar year.  

Here’s what to know about the methods of qualification: 

  • Premier qualifying miles (PQM) are based on the number of paid flight miles traveled and the fare purchased.
  • Premier qualifying segments (PQS) are based on the number of paid flown segments traveled and the fare class purchased.
  • Premier qualifying dollars (PQD) are determined by the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges.

Here for the benefits

You’ve flown the miles, now it’s time to cash in on the perks. Each Premier tier yields its own benefits. Perks like earning more miles from your flights and upgrades depend on your Premier status. Here’s a sampling of the perks you’re eligible for at each tier:

Premier Silver

  • Complimentary premier upgrades and companion upgrades when available 
  • Award miles on 7X the fare paid
  • Priority check-in, screening, boarding privileges and baggage handling

Premier Gold

  • Complimentary premier upgrades and companion upgrades
  • Award miles on 8X the fare paid 
  • Priority check-in, screening, boarding privileges and baggage handling
  • Discounted United Club membership rates and complimentary lounge access when traveling internationally
  • Discounted or waived same-day flight changes

Premier Platinum 

  • Complimentary premier upgrades and companion upgrades
  • Award miles on 9X the fare paid 
  • Priority check-in, screening, boarding privileges and baggage handling
  • Discounted United Club membership rates and complimentary lounge access when traveling internationally
  • Discounted or waived same-day flight changes

Premier 1K®

  • Complimentary premier upgrades and companion upgrades
  • Award miles on 11X the fare paid 
  • Priority check-in, screening, boarding privileges and baggage handling
  • Discounted United Club membership rates and complimentary lounge access when traveling internationally
  • Discounted or waived same-day flight changes

United also offers all Premier members a dedicated phone line for reservations and customer service.

Partner airlines

United Airlines is a Star Alliance™ member airline, which means you can earn and use MileagePlus miles on more than 35 airlines worldwide.

Star Alliance partner airlines include: 

Adria AirwaysEthopian Airlines
Aegean AirlinesEva Air
Air CanadaLOT Polish Airlines
Air IndiaLufthansa
Air New ZealandSAS
ANA (or All Nippon Airways)Shenzhen Airlines
Asiana AirlinesSingapore Airlines
Austrian AirlinesSouth African Airways
AviancaSwiss International Airlines
Brussels Airlines Air Portugal
Copa AirlinesThau
Croatia Airlines Turkish Airlines
Egypt Air

Other worldwide partner airlines include: 

Aer LingusEdelweiss Air
AeromarEurowings
Air DolomitiHawaiian Airlines
Azul Brazilian AirlinesOlympic Air
Boutique AirSilver Airways
Cape Air

Hubs and lounges

While headquartered in Chicago (ORD), United has several hubs across the US, including: 

Looking to put your lounge access to use? You can currently find more than 45 United Club locations, as well as participating Star Alliance™ affiliated airport clubs worldwide.

Pro tip: Use the TripIt app’s interactive airport maps to locate lounges in the airport(s) you’re traveling through. You’ll have everything you need to navigate your way with estimated walk times and step-by-step directions.

Ready to join? You can sign up for a MileagePlus membership here. We’ve also created guides for Delta, Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest