United Drops Price of Buying Elite Qualifying Miles

Loyalty Lobby says that United has dropped the price of its ‘premier accelerator’.

That’s the option to not just buy additional redeemable miles when you buy a ticket, but also to buy elite qualifying miles at the same time (additional qualifying miles in the amount equal to the miles you’ll fly on your trip).

People have been known to use this option to buy a ticket they do not intend to fly — the purchased points post immediately, rather than after your trip — and then cancel the ticket (either buying a refundable ticket, or of course tickets purchased at United.com are generally refundable for 24 hours). The ticket gets refunded, the extra mileage purchase does not.

So folks calculate the number of elite qualifying miles they need, come up with an itinerary which flies that number of miles, to try to get the mileage purchase to the exact amount needed.

United varies the price of these miles over the course of the year. Right now the price is in many cases down to about 8.5 cents. That’s expensive if you were going to buys status from scratch (it would cost you $8000 to go from zero qualifying miles to 1K). But it’s quite a good deal if you just needed to top off towards a new status level. And it saves you the time of actually spending days on planes with mileage runs.

But right now it’s hard to know how many extra miles you will need. So most people wait until much later in the year, when they realize they do need the top off. And that’s when United raises price. A month ago they were getting about 15 cents.

And in the very last few days of December I saw some pricing come up at over 40 cents. Ouch.

You can of course also redeem miles for elite status miles — at least miles earned with a United Visa, including through signup bonuses. That’s a part of the old ‘Choices’ program which was meant to compete with Capital One and similar credit card issuers that advertised the abiliy to get any ticket on any flight with their points.

United’s credit card holders could do the same at a value of a penny a point towards airfare. Not a good deal, but for folks who would have otherwise spent double miles it could be a less bad deal. But it also had these extra options.

The status option is 10,000 redeemable miles for 1000 status miles, offered in 1000 status mile increments up to 50,000 redeemable miles for 5000 status miles in a year.

If you are pretty sure you are going to need to top off, it’s better to use the Premier Accelerator option now rather than as the year progresses. But there’s the risk of not knowing whether you actually need those miles, you might buy them and wind up having wasted money if you would have re-earned your status without it.

There’s no benefit to redeeming miles for status now, that can wait, as the deal doesn’t fluctuate over the course of a year.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Pingbacks

  1. […] View From the Wing has notes this morning on reducing PQMs for purchase on United.  It’s a shame this is happening so early in the year, since I would be a buyer at 8 cents for a limited amount to retain 1K if I needed it.  But, it is January and I didn’t intend to keep 1K this year, so I have no idea how many I would need to purchase.  And, I certainly wouldn’t be willing to spend thousands of dollars to retain 1K status since I don’t find much value in their systemwide upgrades, due mostly to the fact that they are not eligible for use on some of the lowest fare classes. […]

Comments

  1. Just like they have after new years the past several years since the option became part of their offering. I this really what qualifies as exciting program news these days??

  2. @Seth I meant to suggest that this was a normal pattern with United, I’m sorry if that didn’t come through clearly enough. I didn’t mean to portray this as ‘exciting’ but rather to explain the variable pricing, that it drop at the beginning of the year, that the price is much higher later. The change now made it seem worthwhile noting, to me at least, which is sort of the metric I use in deciding what to post 🙂

  3. I sure wish UA offered a way to buy elite-qualifying *segments* My Platinum status in 2012 was gained on 92 segments but only 63K status miles.

  4. @greek: The lowest I saw last year was .075/PQM (plus .021/RDM).

    As Gary mentions, this is a good deal at .085/PQM, if you know you are going to need the PQM’s!

    @seth: Last year they did not drop this far nearly this fast. So I think it is ‘newsworthy’. Are you trying to bait Gary in to another ‘blogger battle’? 🙂

  5. Are you sure you can still redeem miles for elite status miles as a United Visa card holder? That benefit seems to be gone from the old Choices site, and I cannot locate it!

  6. @rob, yep it’s gone. I hope they bring it back at EOY for those of us who need a little bit more to reach a level. But I fear it’s gone forever.

  7. Thanks for the information on this post. Got an offer from united this week to top up,my 91K miles from 2013 to 100k and get 1k status. Price was $2788. After thinking over and reading posts decided not worth it.

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