Elite Status Series: United Premier Gold

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So far in our Elite Status Series, we’ve covered American, Delta and Southwest. TPG contributor Jason Steele took us through the basics of United Premier Silver status yesterday, and today he discusses the next tier, Gold – how you can qualify for it and maximize the benefits once you earn it.

United MileagePlus Premier

In the last post, I looked at the qualifications and benefits of the lowest tier of United’s elite status program: Premier Silver. Today, I’ll examine Premier Gold status, which can be a big jump up for some travelers. And it should be; it takes twice as many Premier-qualifying miles (or segments) and Premier-qualifying dollars to earn it. If you have already earned this status, give yourself a pat on the back, and if not, now is the time to determine if the investment of your time and money will be worth the payoff.

Qualification with miles or segments

Double the qualifications of Premier Silver means that to earn Premier Gold you need to fly 50,000 Premier-qualifying miles (PQM) or complete 60 Premier qualifying segments (PQS) during the 2014 calendar year. The most common way is to earn Premier-qualifying miles (PQM), which can be received by flying on United and other airline partners, or with MileagePlus credit cards from Chase. Alternatively, those who frequently fly short-haul routes can also earn status by flying enough Premier-qualifying segments (PQS).

United Premier Earnings

When it comes to flying partner airlines, the PQM and PQS earned will vary based on the airline flown and the purchased fare class. Mileage earning airline partners include all members of the Star Alliance, plus Aer Lingus, Aeromar, Cape Air, Germanwings, Copa, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines (inter-island flights only), Island Air, Jet Airways, and Sliver Airways. Travelers will want to consult this page on United’s web site in order to learn how many base miles, PQM, and PQS they will earn with each partner airline and each fare class.

Premier-Qualifying Dollars

Additionally, starting in 2014, travelers will need to spend $5,000 Premier-qualifying dollars (PQD) to earn Premier Gold status or receive a waiver by spending at least $25,000 in net purchases using a Chase MileagePlus credit card issued in the US. This works out to 10 cents in ticket value per Premier-qualifying mile earned. For example, I would have to consistently find flights between Denver and Atlanta for less than $240 round trip (about 2,400 miles round trip) in order to be in danger of not reaching the PQD qualification. $240 is an excellent price for this route, so it would be unlikely that a traveler would have a problem with the PQD requirement in this situation.

Starting in 2014, United will institute Premier Qualifying Dollars.
Starting in 2014, United will institute Premier Qualifying Dollars.

If the traveler got creative an starting purchasing itineraries at the same price with an unnecessary stop in Chicago or Washington Dulles, the PQD requirement would become important. But again, this requirement is waived for Premier Gold members who spend at least $25,000  in net purchases using a Chase MileagePlus credit card issued in the US.

Charges eligible for Premier-qualifying dollars include:

  • Base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges.
  • Flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines.
  • Flights operated by a Star Alliance or a MileagePlus partner airline and issued on a United ticket (ticket number starting with 016).
  • Economy Plus upgrade purchases.

See: Determining What Spending Counts Toward United’s Premier Qualifying Dollars.

Benefits of Premier Gold

1. Economy Plus seating benefits. Like Premier Silver members, Premier Gold elites will enjoy complimentary upgrades to United’s Economy Plus seating, which offers additional legroom in coach. Premier Gold elites may add a single companion traveling on the same itinerary, so long as both were booked with the same passenger name record (PNR).

Screen shot 2013-12-21 at 6.32.36 PM

While Premier Silver members must wait until check in to grab any remaining Economy Plus seats, Premier Gold elites can access Economy Plus seats when they book their flight. This is the same level of access offered to MileagePlus members with higher elite status. On the other hand, those without elite status may be offered Economy Plus seating, but must pay an upgrade fee. For example, a one-way upgrade to economy plus seating on a flight from LAX to Chicago would be $66 at the time of booking.

2. Upgrades to first class. Although Premier Silver members must wait until the day of departure to received an upgrade, Premier Gold members can be confirmed in first class as early as 48 hours before departure. Upgrades are available on most domestic flights. Exclusions include Premium Service (p.s.) flights from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), and long-haul flights between Honolulu (HNL) to Houston (IAH), Newark (EWR) or Washington (IAD).

In addition, Premier Gold members are eligible for upgrades on flights to Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean  Southern South America (Copa flights only), and Oceania.

Furthermore, those who hold both Premier status and hold a Chase MileagePlus credit card will be eligible for upgrades on award tickets on United-operated flights. This benefit does not extend to companions, and award travelers will be upgrade only after the lowest paid fare class within each Premier status level.

Premier Gold members also receive instant upgrades when purchasing Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets if space is available. Just as with Economy Plus upgrades, MileagePlus members with higher elite status receive priority over Premier Gold members, and those without status may receive an offer to pay for the upgrade with cash and/or miles.

3. Premier mileage bonuses and minimum mileage granted. Premier Gold elites earn a minimum of 500 award miles which count as PQMs, no matter how short the flight is. This is important for those who fly short-haul routes. In addition, Premier Gold members also earn a 50% bonus on top of the base miles that they would otherwise fly. For example, the flight from Los Angeles to Fresno is only 209 miles, but Gold elites will be credited with the full 500 miles plus another 250 miles for a total of 750.

4. Premier priority travel services. Premier Gold elites also receive numerous priority services on the ground. These include priority telephone service, check-in lines, security screening lines, boarding, and baggage handling.

United has new groups for their boarding process.
Premier status means priority boarding.

United also offers Premier Gold members access most sold-out flights. This means that United will overbook a flight for a Premier Gold member purchasing a full fare (unrestricted Y class) ticket more than 24 hours in advance. Evidently, United is willing to oversell these flights when all cabins are sold out, potentially bumping other customers. This could be a valuable benefit when there is a major event such as the Superbowl or severe service disruption after a major storm.

The biggest upgrade from Premier Silver is that Premier Gold elites can access United Club lounges, and any other Star Alliance Gold lounges when traveling internationally. This benefit is offered regardless of class flown and travelers are allowed one guest.

5. Travel benefits with Star Alliance members. Premier Gold members are granted Star Alliance Gold status, which offers them several of the benefits of elite status when flying on other Star Alliance airlines. Like Premier Silver members, these privileges include priority reservations waitlisting and priority airport standby on paid Star Alliance tickets. In addition, Premier Gold elites should also receive priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling as well as one additional free checked bag (or 44 pounds when the weight concept applies).

6. Fee waivers and discounts for revenue travel. Whereas Premier Silver members receive only one free checked bag that weighs 50 lbs (23kg) or less on domestic tickets, Premier Gold members can bring three bags weighing up to 70 pounds each, more than three times as much! The waiver applies to the Premier member and up to 8 companions traveling on the same reservation.

Checked baggage fees are waived for Premier Golds.
Checked baggage fees are waived for Premier Golds.

One of the major advantages of Premier Gold over Premier Silver is that United completely waives the same-same day flight change fee, which is $75 for Premier Silver and non-Premier members. In many cases, travelers can book a less convenient, but far less expensive flight, and simply change it in the morning on the day of travel. In contrast, Delta elites can only use this elite benefit for travel within the same fare class, so they can’t use this trick. See TPG’s take on the most recent version of Delta’s policy.

Finally, Premier Gold elites receive a $50 discount off of the $500 annual United Club memberships instead of the $25 discount granted to Premier Silver members.

7. Award travel benefits and fee waivers. Premier Gold elites also receive a $50 discount off of many fees, as opposed to the $25 discount given to Premier Silver members. That makes the Premier Gold close-in award booking fees $25, award redeposit fee $100, and the award change fee $25.

United offers better award availability for all Premier members, which includes the ability to book any unsold seat as an award at the “Standard” mileage rate, a benefit also offered to MileagePlus cardholders, but not normal members. Premier Gold members also have better access to “Saver” awards in economy class.

Another benefit is priority waitlisting for award travel and standby for international awards. So if you are flying on a business or first class award, but that cabin is not available for one or more legs, you can standby to be upgraded. According to United’s web site:

Premier members who have used miles for award travel in United Global FirstSM, United First® or United Business®, but can only confirm seats on some segments in United Economy®, may stand by for the higher cabin at the airport within two hours of departure. Premier members should simply notify the airport agent upon check-in. For unused United Global First or United Business awards, the mileage difference between United Economy and the higher cabin may be re-deposited free of charge. This benefit only applies to United Airlines and Copa Airlines flights.

Premier Gold members are also exempt from co-pays when booking upgrade awards using miles on some routes. For example, the standard co-pay is $75 each way for flights within the mainland U.S., Alaska, and Canada, while the co-pay for flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Hawaii is $125 each way.

Eligible routes include the following flights:

  • Within the U.S. (excluding Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico) and Canada
  • From the U.S. and Canada to Hawaii (except between EWR/IAD/IAH and HNL)
  • From the U.S. (excluding Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico) and Canada to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean or Northern South America (except between EWR/IAH and LIM)1
  • Within Asia (except between NRT and BKK/SIN) and Oceania (except between HNL and GUM)

United Upgrades


There are three major benefits of Premier Gold over Premier Silver; earlier access to first class and Economy Plus upgrades, a much larger free checked baggage allowance, and no fees for same-day flight changes. Close behind is the access to Star Alliance lounges when traveling internationally. Nice, but less important differences include several slightly reduced fees and some perks when flying on Star Alliance partners. When you have flown twice as much as a Premier Silver member to earn Premier Gold, you will want to leverage these benefits for all their worth.

Are there any MileagePlus Premier Gold readers out there who would like to share their personal experiences on their treatment, upgrades or general thoughts on this status level? Please feel free to comment below, and stay tuned for future posts in this series on Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, as well as a final post highlighting the unique elements of this program.

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