United Airlines just announced changes to how it rewards customers who buy first and business class fares in 2016. They’ll soon earn up to twice as many elite qualifying miles (EQM). This should make it easier for some to obtain elite status, although remember that United still has an additional requirement that you earn Premier Qualifying Dollars based on the fare paid — or obtain a waiver.
Most travelers will not see an impact on their accounts. You’ll continue to earn 1 EQM for each mile flown on most economy class fares, and 1.5 EQM for each mile flown on full-fare economy.
The big difference comes with business and first class. These fares all used to earn 1.5 EQM for each mile flown. Now full fare business and first will earn 3 EQM, and discounted business and first will earn 2 EQM. Not a whole lot more, but it adds up with time and as you fly further.
Elite qualifying miles are not the same as award miles. EQM will reset each year and only measure how close you are to the next elite tier. Award miles will accumulate over several years and can be redeemed for a free flight. They’re usually earned at different rates, so on a given flight you may earn fewer award miles than elite qualifying miles. Any elite status bonuses apply only to the award miles, while EQM is influenced by the cabin class and the distance you fly.
American Airlines announced similar changes when they revamped their loyalty program last month. Some people were excited because American will not only make it easier to earn EQM faster but also doesn’t have a spending requirement. This means you can continue to buy cheap premium fares on American to rack up the EQM and potentially get top tier status faster.
However, American limited its increased EQM to its own flights. If you were to fly on a partner flight, like British Airways or Alaska, you might earn no more EQM than before.
United Airlines is being more generous with its offer by including all its joint venture partners in this new deal. You’ll be able to earn 200% or 300% EQM based on the distance flown when you travel in premium cabins on ANA, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, or Swiss. You can see this, for example, when you look at the individual partner pages on United’s website. Here’s the earning chart for Lufthansa: