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How flying Singapore Airlines helped jumpstart my United Premier 1K status re-qualification

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 5/22/2022 Ethan Klapper
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If you’re like me, you spend some time plotting strategies to earn elite status on your airline of choice.

In March – nearly a quarter of the way through 2022 – I really started to think about this year’s strategy for status on my preferred airline: United.

United MileagePlus Premier 1K status is the most valuable elite status I hold. It provides me with the highest published upgrade priority (and 280 PlusPoints to use for international upgrades), free Clear membership and access to extra-legroom Economy Plus seats for me and up to eight companions, among other perks.

One of the newer ways to qualify for United Premier status is by flying on Star Alliance partner airlines on tickets booked directly with those airlines. Previously, those trips only counted for status if they were booked through United. My colleague Kyle Olsen has an excellent explainer on how this all works.

In some situations, depending on the distance, fare paid and carrier flown, you can actually net more coveted Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) by booking through a partner than by booking directly through United.

On my particular trip, that wasn’t the case, but I was still able to fly on one of the world’s most luxurious carriers and make significant progress toward elite status goals on United.

Here’s how I booked my recent round trip from Houston to the U.K. on Singapore Airlines — and how I supercharged earning PQPs toward Premier 1K status in the process.

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In This Post

Earning United PQPs on Star Alliance partners

When booking your tickets through one of United’s Star Alliance partners, as opposed to through United, you earn PQPs a lot differently. It almost feels like what’s old is new again, because the PQPs on these tickets are awarded based on mileage flown, something that United completely ditched on its own tickets a few years ago when it moved to a status qualifying system based primarily on how much you spend.

More: United Airlines makes big changes to how we earn elite status, upgrades

When earning status on a ticket booked through United, you earn PQPs based on how much you spend, both for the base fare and for extras, like an upgrade to a premium cabin. In addition, you earn a Premier Qualifying Flight (PQF) for each segment you fly. (The exception is United’s basic economy fares, which earn PQPs but not PQFs.)

When you book through a Star Alliance partner and credit it to your MileagePlus account, you likewise earn a PQF for each segment, but that’s where the similarities end.

How Singapore Airlines flights helped me toward United Premier status

I recently netted 1,286 PQPs (of the minimum of 13,500 needed annually for 1K status) from two flights on Singapore Airlines. Here’s what posted, which I’ll explain below.

(Screenshot courtesy of United Airlines) © The Points Guy (Screenshot courtesy of United Airlines)

Manchester is 4,714 miles from Houston — so that’s my base earning.

Unlike with tickets booked through United, the only bonus here is based on fare class — and it can also work against you with less than 100% in some cases. There’s no mileage bonus awarded for my 1K or Star Alliance Gold status.

(Screenshot courtesy of United Airlines) © The Points Guy (Screenshot courtesy of United Airlines)

In this case, I was booked in business class (D fare class) on one leg and premium economy class (L fare class) on the return leg.


Video: Singapore Airlines has a 'first mover advantage' thanks to the country's reopening: Industry expert (CNBC)

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Both netted me 100% of the mileage — no bonus, but no penalty either. Had I booked a higher business class fare (a Z, C or J fare) I would have earned a 25% bonus on my mileage. At the same time, had I booked most regular economy fares, I would have only earned 75% or 50% of the miles. Some fare classes don’t even earn any credit on United.

Then comes the big divisor. United breaks its partners into two different lists: preferred partners and MileagePlus partners.

The preferred partners tend to be airlines that United has closer relationships with, through joint ventures and formal codeshare agreements. The other list consists of all the other Star Alliance airlines, carriers that United must recognize, but with whom they typically lack more formal commercial agreements.

United’s preferred list of partners include names like Air Canada, Air China, Avianca, Lufthansa and Swiss. The list of standard partners includes not only Singapore, but also Air India, Ethiopian, Thai and Turkish, among others.

These lists have two key differences, both of which affected my ticket on Singapore Airlines.

The first difference is that the final number of PQPs earned on a preferred partner is then divided by five. On a MileagePlus (standard) partner, it’s divided by six. Since Singapore is a standard partner, those tickets, unfortunately, get divided by six, resulting in fewer PQPs earned.

Finally, one of the newer changes that United made to partner earnings is that they have a PQP cap, which I ran up against on one of my legs. Here are the maximum number of PQPs you can earn per leg on a partner ticket.

Class of service Preferred partner PQP MileagePlus (standard) partner PQP
First/Business 1,500 1,000
Economy/Premium Economy 750 500
 

As you can see, the maximum I was able to earn would be 1,000 PQPs on my business class leg and 500 PQPs on my premium economy leg. This was no problem for my business class flight, where earnings were calculated to be 786 PQPs — below the 1,000 PQP cap. But on my premium economy flight, I likewise would have earned 786 PQPs, but ran up against the 500 PQP cap and missed out on 286 PQPs as a result.

More: United’s best kept elite status secret: How to earn PQP faster with partner flights

Here are the calculations for both legs:

  • SQ51 (IAH-MAN) D class (business): 4,714 base miles x 100% (no bonus or penalty) = 4,714 miles / 6 = 786 PQPs
  • SQ52 (MAN-IAH) L class (premium economy): 4,714 base miles x 100% = 4,714 miles / 6 = 786 PQPs > 500 PQP cap = 500 PQPs

Finally, it’s worth noting that United requires a minimum of four segments flown on United or United Express in order to qualify for Premier status, and none of these flights would have counted. They do, however, count for one Premier Qualifying Flight each, which can be used to lower the number of PQPs needed to qualify for status. (And yes, this is all quite complex.)

To earn Premier 1K status for 2023, 13,500 PQPs are needed in tandem with 36 PQFs to qualify. Alternatively, you could qualify with 15,000 PQPs without the PQF requirement.

The 1,286 PQPs I earned from this ticket gets me 9.5% of the way to the 13,500 PQPs I needed on the year. I plan to re-qualify using the PQP + PQF method, so the two PQFs I earned on this ticket got me 5.6% of the way to that side of the goal.

There are much better ways to earn PQPs and PQFs.

In this case, if I had the option to purchase this ticket through United instead of Singapore Airlines, I would have likely earned somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 PQPs, depending on how United credited taxes and fees. Remember, PQPs are uncapped when purchasing an “016 ticket” — industry lingo for a ticket that is purchased through United. However, there is no easy way that we at TPG are aware of that allows you to purchase a Singapore Airlines itinerary through United without other segments on it. So, this was my best available option here.

Regarding PQFs, this was an objectively terrible value. The good news is that there are some inexpensive ways to increase your PQFs throughout the year. While I likely won’t have to use this strategy this year, you can purposely purchase tickets with connections that cost little to no extra money compared to a nonstop. It potentially adds time to your journey — but gets you closer to that goal without buying whole additional tickets.

Another thing you can do — if you have any tier of United Premier status — is search for same-day change (SDC) options that add connections to your itinerary within 24 hours of your flight. This will allow you to earn extra PQFs, free of charge if you aren’t in a hurry to get where you are going.

More: A comprehensive guide to United Airlines’ new same-day flight change policy

Bottom line

The ability to use a ticket booked entirely on a partner airline is a newer feature of the MileagePlus program, and one that I am grateful for. Before this change, I would have had to find a way to ticket this Singapore Airlines itinerary through United in order to use these two legs toward my Premier 1K requalification strategy, which didn’t appear to be an option for this particular situation.

I also appreciate being able to have the flexibility to earn credit towards status while traveling on all of the Star Alliance carriers, which gives me more variety and options for my travel needs. This Singapore Airlines flight got me 1,286 PQPs closer to requalifying for United Premier 1K status, which is pretty cool.

That said, I wish United didn’t have a two-track system for partner tickets that speaks more to the airline’s commercial priorities than anything related to what a customer experiences (how many customers really know about United’s A++ joint venture with Lufthansa and Air Canada?). I also wish that PQP earnings were not capped. I recommend this strategy to maximize partner PQPs on these types of tickets if you’re in the market for an inexpensive way to earn PQPs — which this ticket was not.

If you’re focused on earning United Premier status through partners and want to squeeze every possible point out of the journey, it is best to calculate the return on your investment, especially if you do have the option of purchasing the ticket through United.

You’ll want to assess which option provides you with the best PQP value for your money. Is purchasing through the partner going to earn you more or less than the 1:1 value you get by purchasing through United? On some longer partner flights, you can sometimes hit a sweet spot that actually earns you more United PQPs than you theoretically paid for, but you won’t know for sure how your situation pans out without doing a little math.

Featured photo by Ethan Klapper/The Points Guy.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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