Elite Status Series: United Premier Silver

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

Unless you have a last-minute mileage run planned, it’s probably too late to worry about achieving status during the 2013 calendar year. On the other hand, now is the perfect time to decide how to best utilize the status you have already earned, and which level of status you want to shoot for in 2014.

As regular readers have noticed, airlines have been rapidly changing their elite status programs to require customers to spend more dollars to earn status, while offering their elites more priority service benefits and fee waivers. For better or for worse, United’s MileagePlus program has been at the forefront of this trend.

As a Denver-based traveler, I have had my share of experience with United Airlines, having earned elite status with the carrier off and on over the past 15 years This post is the first in a series on the different elite status levels of United’s MileagePlus program. If you are a new Premier Silver status, congratulations! I’ll try to summarize what you can expect from your new status including what benefits you can expect, and how to re-qualify.

Mileage Plus Premier Qualification

Travelers earn elite status in United’s MileagePlus program in one of two  ways. 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). In addition, those who want to earn status in 2014 (to hold status in 2015 and beyond) will also have to spend the necessary amount of Premier-qualifying dollars (PQD) or earn a waiver by spending at least $25,000 in net purchases using a Chase MileagePlus credit card issued in the US. Unfortunately, there is no PQD waiver for their highest elite level, Premier 1K (more on this below).

Qualifying for Premier Silver status

To qualify for Silver in the calendar year 2014, travelers will have to fly 25,000 PQM or complete 30 PQS. PQMs are calculated based on the actual miles flown, and first, business, and full fare coach tickets earn a 50% bonus on PQM’s and PQS’s.

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

Like Delta fliers, United customers who are on the path to elite status by earning PQM or PQS will now have to clear an additional threshold in 2014, spending enough Premier-qualifying dollars (PQD). To reach Silver status, travelers will also have to spend $2,500 PQD’s on ticket purchases which 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.

Alternatively, you can be exempted from this requirement by spending at least $25,000 in net purchases using a Chase MileagePlus credit card issued in the U.S, although there is no exemption for Premier 1K. See: Determining What Spending Counts Toward United’s Premier Qualifying Dollars.

Other ways to Earn Premier-Qualifying Miles

There are a few additional ways to earn PQMs, other than flying. The United MileagePlus Presidential Plus card from Chase offers cardholders 1,000 Flex PQM per $5,000 spent. The interesting thing is that you can apply these Flex PQMs to your account in the calendar year earned, or in any of the three following calendar years. This can be a great way to insure against missing out on the next level of Premier status, or retaining Premier status in a year when you don’t travel as much.

Another way to earn PQMs is to use the Premier Accelerator option when purchasing a ticket. Customers are frequently presented with the option to purchase base miles, or PQMs when before they complete a ticket purchase on United’s web site. Sadly, these PQMs can cost upwards of 20 cents each! As TPG concluded, this option is rarely worth the expense.

Benefits of Premier Silver

1. Economy Plus seating benefits. One of the big draws of earning elite status with United is the opportunity to earn complimentary access to their Economy Plus seating, which offers additional legroom. Premier Silver members can access Economy Plus seats at check-in and can add a single companion traveling on the same itinerary. MileagePlus members with higher elite status receive earlier access to these seats while those without status may pay an upgrade fee. For example, a one-way upgrade to economy plus seating on a flight from LAX to Chicago would be $66.

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2. Upgrades to first class. Premier Silver members are eligible to receive complimentary first class upgrades 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).

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.

When available, upgrades are confirmed only on the day of departure and one companion traveling on the same itinerary is also eligible. Companions traveling on awards are not eligible, and travelers must share the same PNR (passenger name record). In contrast, those with higher-level status will have their upgrades clear at 48, 72, 96, and even 120 hours in advance.

Premier Silver 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 Silver members, and those without status may receive an offer to pay for the upgrade with cash and/or miles.

United Upgrades

3. Premier mileage bonuses and minimum mileage granted. Premier Silver elites earn a minimum of 500 award miles each flight which count as PQMs, no matter how short the flight is. This is a nice benefit to those who fly short-haul routes. In addition, Premier Silver members also earn a 25% bonus on top of the base miles that they would otherwise fly. For example, the flight from Colorado Springs to Denver is only 73 miles, but Silver elites will be credited with the full 500 miles plus another 125 miles for a total of 625.

4. Premier priority travel services. Premier Silver members enjoy a range of priority services on the ground. These include priority check in lines, priority access to the security screening lines, priority boarding, and priority baggage handling. Phone calls Premier members receive priority access and United also touts the ability to access most sold-out flights. In practice, it means that United will overbook a flight for a Premier Silver 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 others. This could be a valuable benefit when there is a major event or severe service disruptions.

5. Travel benefits with Star Alliance members. Premier Silver members are granted Star Alliance Silver status, which grants them a few of the benefits of elite status when flying on other Star Alliance carriers. These include priority reservations waitlisting and priority airport standby on paid Star Alliance tickets.

6. Fee waivers and discounts for revenue travel. As United and its competitors have become dependent on increased revenue from fees, fee waivers and discounts have become one of the most important benefits of holding elite status. Premier Silver members receive one free checked bag that weighs 50 lbs (23kg) or less on domestic tickets for them and up to 8 others traveling on the same reservation. There is also a $25 discount off of the $500 annual United Club membership or the $750 annual membership with spouse.

7. Award travel benefits and fee waivers. United offers better award availability for Premier Silver members, which includes the ability to book any unsold seat as an award at the higher “Standard” mileage rate, a benefit offered to MileagePlus cardholders, but not normal members. Premier Silver 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.

The close-in (less than 21 days) award booking fee for Premier Silver members is $50 instead of $75 as is  the award change fee. Finally, the award redeposit fee is $125 for Premier Silver members instead of $150.

Premier Silver 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 and 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

Conclusions

Premier Silver level status is entry level, but it can be quite valuable. I wouldn’t count on receiving too many first class upgrades, but Economy Plus seats are frequently be available to Premier Silver members at check in. The upgrade award co-pay waiver is also extremely valuable, while most of the other baggage fee waivers and priority access benefits are also offered to those who just hold a United MileagePlus credit card from Chase.

Are there any Premier Sliver MileagePlus readers out there with personal experience to share on your 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 Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, as well as a final post highlighting the unique elements of this program.

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