Unintended United Perk: Elite Status Transfers to Awards Booked for Others

by on March 10, 2012 · 26 comments

in Elite Status, United

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Last weekend, United officially integrated Continental and United’s frequent flyer programs into one program – the new Mileage Plus. However, even though it’s called Mileage Plus, a lot of the features, such as the base website technology itself, came from the Continental side of the house. In fact, the prevailing CEO of the new United is Jeff Smisek, who was CEO of Continental and many people actually consider the whole “merger” to be more of Continental taking over United, but keeping the United name.

In any case, per this Flyertalk   and some experiences of United elites that I know, it now appears that if you are a United elite, your status will transfer to the reservation of anyone for whom you book an award. So if you are Platinum and book an award for your no-status Granny on a flight, she will be able to be assigned to Economy Plus seats at the time of booking and will even be eligible for a complimentary domestic upgrade. She’ll also get priority boarding, free checked bags and all of the other goodies of being Platinum.

On one hand, this is a nice perk and a way to impress people you know and love. On the other hand, it dilutes elite status by making even more people eligible for a limited number of premium seats and upgrades. Is it really fair that someone who has never flown United once gets an upgrade over a mid-tier United elite who spends a lot of time and money achieving their status? I go both ways on this, but would say that this potential loophole should be fixed to maintain the integrity of the elite program. But what say you, wise TPG readers?

Do you like United's policy of elite status transferring with award bookings?

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  • Steve

    FYI, the old program was called Mileage Plus, and the new program is called MileagePlus (no space)….Not kidding

  • COflyer
  • Eugene

    I think it’s fair because the miles used are from an elite flier, and instead of them flying (using up E+ and other elite perks), they elected to sponsor someone else with their miles. No different than allowing a 1K to sponsor someone else’s upgrade with the GPUs that only 1Ks get.

  • PJ

    isnt this is one reason why CO miles program had been well liked by the travelling publc and also making Sapphire Preferred so popular and me as a big advocate of Sapphire Preferred to circles of friends or strangers who smiles at me at CHase branches ?

  • Rob

    I said No, unfair. If you gift travel and status to 4 people at the same time, and so do others, you’ve just diluted the Elite program exponentially.

    Frequent flyer programs are for frequent flyers, those of us that do mile runs just to keep the status…

  • Steven Sullivan

    I think it’s perfectly fair. Honestly, on any given flight, what are the odds that there’s a non-elite traveling on an elite member’s miles? This “glitch” has existed with the CO website for many, many years. It’s a great hidden perk that I hope sticks. I give miles to friends or family once or twice a year and it’s always a nice surprise to them when I can say “You can check a bag for free, use the elite lines at security and during boarding, and sit in a seat with a little extra leg room on this trip.” I don’t see it as a dilution at all. Additionally, if I had used those miles on myself, I would get those perks. Giving them to a non-elite in the form of an award ticket is an even exchange in that regard.

  • Sam Wolfe

    ‘Unintended’? I think it was intended. I have no problems with it, either.

  • Jamison

    i hope this unintended perk doesn’t get killed…….i personally have been doing this for years

  • flyinace2000

    I was under the impression that reward travel was not eligible for complementary upgrades anyway. So the only real thing they get is early boarding, free checked bags and security lines. Not big deal

  • FireGuy

    Correct, reward travel is not eligible for complimentary domestic upgrades, unless the traveller is the primary cardholder of a Presidential Plus MasterCard (soon to be MileagePlus Club MasterCard).

  • Denis

    Not to offend but I think that it’s mileage runners (meaning all people who would not travel enough if not to earn their elite status and who learned how to game the system to get this extra miles at a reasonable cost) who dilute the elite ranks. It would be much nicer if First Class seats occupied by these travelers on their mileage runs would go to someone who actually NEEDS to travel.

  • flyinace2000

    Last year i traveled EWR to PIT every week. I would easily earn platinum, but by doing ONE mileage run and booking connecting flights i hit 1K for this year. Some people do mileage runs also NEED to travel :-)

  • whendoublewidesfly

    I think they should get the free luggage perk at the very least! I hate it when I buy my family award tickets (DL Plt) and they still have to pay for luggage!

  • Flyin’high

    Does the same kind of thing happen if the booking situation is reversed? That is, if John, a non-elite member, books a rewards ticket for George, who is an elite member, is George treated on that trip as a non-elite member?

  • Carol

    A 1K 3MMer friend tells me indeed that the situation is reversed. He flew on an award ticket using miles from a General Member this weekend. Her UA number stuck. The United Club had a lot of problems confirming his membership to access the lounge.

  • Paulvousden

    Experiences so far since the switch over last weekend is that priority boarding is even more of a mess than it was before with Gold and Silver not even being called for priority boarding.

    The changes to Mileage Plus are a significant downgrade for all tiers of frequent flyer

  • Scottrick

    +1 to COflyer. More evidence that this is just a rebranding of Continental. Is it necessarily a bad thing? I dunno. But it shouldn’t really count as a surprise.

    I happen to like this change since I usually use my miles to book flights for family and pay for my own tickets.

  • Tyler

    This “bug” has existed at Continental for a long time. I have had about 50/50 success transferring my status to others on award tickets. Not sure if you still do but previously you had to be a Chase Mastercard holder to receive this benefit.

    I am in favor of the benefit although most agents aren’t even aware of the benefit and can’t help you resolve issues when it sometimes doesn’t work:

  • Christian

    Always hated it when I comped a flight for a friend and then United put them in the back and made them pay for bags. Not a good way to show off United and always raising the question “why do you keep flying with them?” Seems to me like a good way to get new people hooked on the benefits of being a frequent traveler…

  • anon

    this perk has been around for United for a long time. I flew on award tickets as a kid from my dad’s miles and his status always transferred for being able to use the lounge, early boarding etc. It was great, especially before long flights on my own.

  • Nate

    As a 1k for the last 5 or so years, I think this is a great benefit for a few reasons: 1) It makes my reward miles more valuable as a 1k…and when was the last time any program ‘increased’ value of a reward mile? 2) I used to try to use regionals or systemwides to upgrade friends and family members but a lot of the time, they never cleared b/c their status was much lower than elites…now that it’s using my status, perhaps I can finally treat my friends and family.

  • MileCard Insider

    This has been going on for a while…really how often does an elite book a trip for someone else and end up in a domestic upgrade situation? You have to have one of the United credit cards to even be able to get yourself upgraded on a reward ticket. My guess is the typical elite may do this once a year on average.

  • Joe

    I have experienced this as a Continental elite and i like it. I used my mileage to send my wife and two kids to Florida during the long power outage last October/November and it was great to know that they would receive the elite benifits when they traveled without me.

  • wln

    Does the status also transfer over to awards booked on Star partners? For example, if I book an Air Canada award for a friend, will she get my Star silver benefits?

  • Tyler


  • Framelet1

    I did not know that one can get a domestic upgrade on an award ticket.

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