With two of the largest FF programs (UA and DL) now requiring you to spend a certain amount, as well as earn miles, to obtain a given status level, things are not working out as I had hoped.  I did a study last year when this was first announced that found that it would be relatively easy to earn miles and dollars at a rate high enough that you didn’t need to worry about spend, just get your miles and the $$ would be fine.  The basic formula that both airlines have is that your qualifying dollars must equal $0.10/mile for the level you are trying to achieve.  So for Gold on both programs, you need 50,000 qualifying miles and have spent $5,000.  Spend enough on your airline’s credit card and they will waive this spending requirement for all but the highest level on UA, 1K.  The waiver requires a $25,000 CC spend so is tough to make for most people.

I did a random selection of GSA city pairs both short and long domestic and international and it looked like getting the spend for Government tickets would be no problem.  Admittedly, I simply took the cost of the ticket at the face value of the GSA Fare, while in fact the airline only counts their actual fee and not taxes.  This means that you are credited about 10% less than what you (or the Government) pays for your ticket.

Therefore, not only are the qualifying dollars less, but they do not get extra credit when you sometimes get bonus EQM.  So on the flight I was just on, I was lucky enough to fly UA IAD-LAS on a Y fare.  This earns me a 50% bonus on my EQM, but the same amount for PQD (Premier Qualifying Dollars).  Thus, where I was supposed to earn 4130 miles and $780, I instead earned 6390 miles and $780.  You might be asking, OK Glenn, so what’s the problem?  You are still earning at over the magical $0.10/mile.  The problem is that I need more cushion to make up for the mileage run fare that I took in Jan.

Here are my flights for the year showing EQM earned, Dollars spent and Qualifying Dollar earned.

Flight #1    5,384      $293     $228   Mileage Run

Flight #2   3,552       $592     $521    Personal Flight

Flight #3   4,130       $860     $780  Military Flight

Flight #4   5,513        $546     $392  Military Flight

Totals        18,579                    $1,921

So far it looks OK, I am getting credit for more than $0.10/ mile with the higher military fare and the last-minute flight I had to buy to attend my uncle’s funeral offsetting the lower fare flight.  HOWEVER, anyone who is savvy in this little game always tries to figure out ways to earn more miles.  I also earned the following so far this year:

EQM bonus for flying a Y fare = 2065

EQM for CC spending on UA flights = 1482

Frankly, if it wasn’t for all the bonus miles I accumulate throughout the year, I don’t think I would have ever qualified for 1k except for a single year.  I always think that I am being clever by adding on a short segment to get the 500 mile minimum or getting the right credit card to help me earn a few more, but it looks like that philosophy is dead at least on these airlines.

So I am actually at 22, 126 and $1,921 spend.  Extrapolating this out, if I make 100,000 miles to requalify for 1K, I would have only spent $8,682 so United will give me the big finger wag and say “not yet”!  I would need to keep flying to about 115,180 EQM to earn enough to requalify for 1K.  I usually try to get one or two international flights to help me get there, but that just makes the ratio of miles to dollars worse.  My flight to Singapore last Nov. netted me 19,500 EQM, but I only paid $990 meaning about $0.05/mile.  Short trips are actually the best way to earn qualifying dollars, but of course that is like hitting all singles to win a ball game.  It can be done, but requires an enormous effort.  I am starting to resign myself that 1K may be out of reach after getting for the last 8 years straight.  Looks like UA and DL’s plan to narrow down the highest elites to those that spend big money on paid business and first class is working.  Too bad I don’t work for a big corporation that pays for that!

So how are you looking on your qualifying dollars spend for the year?  Anyone having better success than myself?  How is the Delta spend going for anyone?



Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

5 responses to “Qualifying Dollars Turning Out to be Harder to Earn Than I Thought”

  1. Gene says:

    Simple solution…treat yourself to some discounted business/first class fares! That is what I have done.

    Another possibility, if you have time, shoot for 125,000 or 150,000 PQMs. You can earn some extra upgrades and easily reach 10,000 PQDs. I’ve also employed this strategy this year.

  2. glbetrkkr says:

    I’m a little past the halfway mark on my Medallion Qualification Dollar (Delta’s PQD version) spending of $25K. I’m actually aiming for $30K because I will receive an additional 15K elite qualifying miles through my CC.

    In spite of my many flights this year, I’m not counting on earning Qualification Dollars based on flights alone.

  3. Ken says:

    Take out a Chase-affiliated UA Explorer credit card and the PQD requirement will be waived once you spend $25k during the qualifying year. Get the card and follow some manufactured Spend techniques and you’ll have no trouble getting UA Platinum this year, as a minimum.

    • glenn says:

      @ Ken – Platinum is the highest level that they will waive the spend to on UA. For the DL card, they will waive all levels with that $25k spend.

  4. Harry says:

    Plan a military trip, preferably on short notice, to someplace where the government does not have a contracted fare. I recently did reserve duty at such a location and by the time my travel and funding was approved and SATO started booking flights, it was 5 days prior to departure. I ended up with a roundtrip coach ticket to an island in Europe, H class and Y class, for over $3500. Needless to say, that really helped my PQD (and PQM) numbers.

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