Frequent Flyer

For $499, United customers can earn elite perks faster

United’s new promotion raises the question: Is it worth $499 to accelerate your progress toward elite status during the rest of the year?

As the year winds down, the thoughts of frequent flyers naturally tend toward questions of status: Do I have enough miles to qualify for elite status? And if not, what can I do to reach the target—typically 25,000 miles for silver, 50,000 miles for gold, and 75,000 or 100,000 miles for platinum—by the December 31 deadline?

United is giving members of Mileage Plus a chance to accelerate their progress toward elite thresholds, for a price.

Between October 24 and December 16, Mileage Plus members can pay $499 to earn double elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) and elite-qualifying segments (EQSs) for qualifying flights during the promotion period.

Registration is required by November 24.

As I suggested in [% 1602473 | | a recent blog entry %], elite-qualifying promotions are great for those who wouldn’t otherwise attain elevated status. But they’re a thumb in the eye of established road warriors who resent the added competition for the few first-class seats available for elite upgrades.

The United offer further complicates the analysis by charging program members for the privilege of earning more EQMs and EQSs. Assuming the bonus would make the difference between attaining elite status and not, or between earning lower and higher elite levels, is it worth paying $499 to do so?

Before reaching for my credit card, I’d ask myself two questions. First, how many times would I be flying United during next year’s elite period? And second, how often could I expect to receive complimentary elite upgrades on those flights? Since United only awards complimentary upgrades to those traveling on unrestricted (and very expensive) fares, the answer to the second question is “zero.” No upgrades for me, no $499 for United.

Your mileage may vary.

By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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