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Elite Status Series: United Premier Silver

by on December 23, 2013 · 28 comments

in Elite Status, United

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.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Sagar

    I’m a United Silver since June( courtesy a status match ), and recently I was flying on a US airways award ticket from ICN to DFW ( Asiana to LAX, United Express from LAX to DFW) via LAX, and had a 7 hour layover at LAX. Just before boarding my flight at ICN, I tried calling up the united helpline to change to an earlier flight, and surprisingly it was done free of charge and handled very efficiently. So for someone who’s just starting to understand the elite game, I have more reasons to chase Gold next year.

  • donotagree

    Sagar, are you one of Smisek’s buddies, or maybe Smisek himself?

  • Dan

    Is it possible to transfer points from Chase UR that would count as PQM? Or from the Chase United card? I expect to be just a couple thousand miles short after round trip flight (Y) from KWI to TPA.

  • ASW

    Per Section 3 of mileageplusupdates.com website – The Chase United Presidential Plus card is no longer available to new applicants: “For 2014, the Premier qualifying dollars (PQD) requirement is waived for existing Presidential Plus Cardmembers for Premier Silver, Premier Gold, and Premier Platinum qualification. There is no PQD waiver for Premier 1K qualification. The Presidential Plus Card is no longer available to new applicants.”

  • farnorthtrader

    If I read it right, you indicated that the free checked bag does not apply to companions of silvers. It actually does apply to everyone that is on the same PNR as the silver, so if you have 6 on the same PNR, you can have 6 free checked bags (like we just did!).
    I am 1 for 6 on CPUs so far since becoming silver in October, but it was a 4 and a half hour flight, so not bad at all.

  • Tom

    Another way to earn United Premier Silver status is to earn Marriott Platinum Elite status. Marriott Plats automatically get United Silver.

  • thepointsguy

    No, Ultimate Rewards points transferred do not count and it appears as though United has discontinued the MileagePlus Choices program for co-branded cardholders.

  • Nick

    I earned UA Silver via US Airways flights this year, and was upgraded to first class on my very first United flight this year. The flight was an award flight no less, which happened since I have the United Explorer Card. It was quite the pleasant surprise!

  • John c

    Hi awards guy: I just got united premier gold. Am I allowed in domestic lounges or can I only get in a lounge with an international ticket?

  • John c

    Further, what are united or star alliance gold benefits?

  • Kevin T

    If your entire flight is domestic – you won’t be able to use any lounges (United or Star Alliance). If your flight originates in the US but has an international destination you will be able to use lounges. The loungebuddy app is pretty good at showing you which lounges you can/can’t use on flights. Hope this helps!

  • Sagar

    I believe in giving credit where it’s due. Yes there have been bad experiences while flying, but we shouldn’t forget the good experiences, and my last experience was definitely good, and so the credit :)

  • Texas281

    yes this seems correct you cannot get the presidential plus card anymore you have to be grandfathered in.

  • Nicole

    Just got my Silver Premier card in the mail yesterday, so your article is very timely for me! Wondering if first-class upgrades are awarded automatically if available, or is it the kind of thing where you have to ask about it each time at check-in?

  • seajon

    I find it extremely frustrating that some Star Alliance airlines (Air New Zealand for one) do not recognize Silver level.. Shouldn’t they have to do it all?

  • travelsaurus

    I don’t think you mentioned the 4 leg requirement for Silver (and all UA status)…I’ve flown exclusively on *A but only two legs on UA (albeit nearly 8000 miles).

    Has anyone had any luck getting the 4 leg requirement waived?

  • JoeViking

    You missed a key point for Premier Silver in 2014…..no longer complimentary access to Economy Plus…..you have to pay for it….big miss United…..time to change airlines!

  • kemmatech

    So if someone spends 25K in a single year on the Chase UA Visa do they automatically get Silver in the month the the miles credit?

  • Caro

    I got an e-mail with an option to buy 3,000 PQM / 3 PQS in order to be eligible for silver but for $500!!!! I was so close if only I had one more flight!

  • curtmuell

    Not true, United still gives free access to Economy Plus for Silvers, at check-in.

  • John

    It’s automatic but rarely happens anymore even for those with 1K status. Silvers are in line behind other elites. Order of priority for upgrade: Global Services, 1K, Platinum, Gold and then Silver. As a 1K continuously for the the past 7 years I now receive an automatic upgrade less than 15% of the time. Why? Since the merger they sell at large share of the remaining upgrades at the time of online check in. Often at a price that those without status snatch them up.

  • frank34776

    i have 308k EQM and i ugraded my account to the top allowed level which is premaire platinum, any way they will let me use these points to upgrade my brothers account as well

  • Kathleen

    I just got an offer from United to upgrade to Silver Premier Status by purchasing 9,000 additional PQMs for $1,400. It sounds like a lot of perks, but is it worth it over time for that much money?

  • Wayne

    If I make it to silver in 2014, I get benefits throughout 2015. If I want to make it to the next level in 2015 do I start from scratch or is it an additional 25k miles?

  • Moxie

    Do Silvers still get free E+ at check-in for International flights? (Can’t find that anywhere on United’s website…)

  • Kevin

    Yes, I just flew to Australia and was able to get a complimentary economy plus seat at check in.

  • K

    Be aware of PQD – agent issued tickets are ineligible. I got a nasty surprise from united after spending over $3000 to purchase international UA tickets from my regular travel agent. The mileage was credited without problem, but PQD was labeled ineligible, thus not elite qualified. Travel agent was clueless why it happened. Apparently UA disqualified many fare basis – group/tour – from PQD, but they did not bother to tell the public.

  • Sam

    I am a silver and have mileage plus credit card.
    I am planning a domestic trip on a saturday.
    1. If I book an award ticket for myself from my minor son’s account with no status but 25k miles, use my mp credit card to pay taxes, and add my frequent flyer number in passenger details, will I still be eligible for complementary upgrade?
    2. Would it improve chances if I book from my own united account? I really like to burn the 25k orphan miles from my kid’s account.
    Thanks

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