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Not that long ago I had no airline elite status due to often using miles to fly (thus not earning miles) and simply not traveling quite as much as I have in the last few years.  However, in 2012 I became a United Silver (bottom tier elite), then United Gold (mid tier elite), and ultimately a United Platinum (upper mid tier elite).  I have held Platinum status for over a year now, after flying over 75,000 paid elite qualifying miles in 2012.  Now toward the end of 2013, I am sitting currently at over 98,000 elite qualifying miles on the year, and am just one trip short of becoming a top-tier United 1K flyer for 2014.  It’s time to share my thoughts and experiences as a United Platinum Elite member.

Highlights of Platinum Status:

  • Up to 8 E+ (extra legroom) seats at the time of booking for those on your reservation.  This is a huge benefit for my family as we would actually purchase E+ seats for some flights as we have found the extra legroom so much more comfortable for my tall husband and my squirmy kid.  E+ seats are often at least $40 or so per person on longer flights, so this has been a big savings and availability of E+ seats together at booking is often very good (unless you are booking at the last moment).  This is a big improvement over Silver and Gold status where you can only have up to one complimentary E+ companion, and with Silver status it is only valid at check-in.

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  • Two Regional Premier Upgrades.  Premier Platinum elite members are given two regional premier upgrades that you can use to upgrade one cabin on paid fares on domestic flights, as well as those to Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, and more.  There has to be “R” space available to confirm the upgrade, but I have had good luck when locking the upgrade space in well in advance.  You can typically do this online, and can use them for your flights or a friend or family member’s flights.  Regional upgrades are how we secured business class seats to Hawaii, so I think that regional upgrades do have some very real value.
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Regional upgrades can potentially get you in a lie-flat bed!
  • No last minute award booking fees or award change fees.  Award tickets virtually become your playground when you have Platinum status as you are exempt from all award ticket related fees that I can think of.  You can redeposit miles, change flights, book flights at the last minute, and more all without incurring a fee.  This fee-freedom applies for tickets booked not only for yourself, but for anyone when using miles from your account.  I have enjoyed being able to make speculative bookings that I may or may not need without having to think long and hard about whether it is worth a fee to cancel or change later on.
  • Fee Free Same Day Flight Changes on paid flights.  In addition to freedom from fees on award tickets, as a Platinum member you also have the ability to do unlimited “Same Day Flight Changes” for free.  This means on your United flights, you can change to flights up to 24 hours before or after your scheduled flight potentially for free.  You can even change the routing, as long as the origin and destination are the same.  This means that potentially you booked a very inexpensive flight at an off-peak time that required connections to save money, but the “same day” as your travels you may be able to change to the non-stop flight at the time you really wanted for no additional charge.  There has to be space available in your fare class, but I have had great success when trying to switch to the flight I want – especially at exactly 24 hours to the flight I want, or within just a couple of hours from that flight.  You can do this not just for your flights, but everyone on your reservation.  This perk has saved me and my family hundreds of dollars this year and allowed us to get home (or to our destination) faster.
  • 75% mileage bonus on paid tickets.  Compared to some other airlines, United is a bit stingy on the redeemable mile bonuses they give to elite members, but even with that getting a 75% bonus on redeemable miles is quite nice.  What this means is that if I book a flight that normally earns 2,000 United redeemable miles (which are different than elite qualifying miles), then due to my status I am actually earning 3,500 miles to use for future “free” travel.  Considering I will have flown 100,000 paid miles on United this year, this perk amounts to about 75,000 bonus redeemable miles that are conservatively worth at least $1100, so that is another actual real and tangible benefit to Platinum elite status.
  • Compensation for Global Entry.  I haven’t used this since I already have Global Entry, but United will pay the $100 fee for a Platinum member to apply for Global Entry.  Another real benefit if you don’t already have GE.
  • No phone service fee.  Platinum members do not have to pay the $25 fee for booking over the phone.  I rarely book over the phone anyway, but it is still nice to not be subjected to a fee when you need to do so.
  • Priority boarding, free checked bags, elite phone line, Star Gold Status, and priority security screening.  These perks of having Platinum status all mean something, but most are available even with lower tier status, and priority security doesn’t mean near as much as it used to for me and my family because of Pre-Check.  Priority boarding with Group 1 does help when we are traveling and want ourselves and our carry-on bags settled.  However, even that isn’t as important anymore since for the most part C doesn’t fly in a car seat at this point, so we don’t need as much time to get it down the aisle and installed.  I’m glad I have these perks, but, for the most part, they aren’t unique to Platinum status.
  • Upgrade percentages.  I don’t have a spreadsheet where I meticulously track each upgrade I do or do not get on United.  I don’t care enough, and simply don’t have the time for that, so I can’t give an exact percentage of how often I was upgraded as a Platinum elite.  However, I can approximate that having Platinum status means I get complimentary upgrades to first class on eligible flights about half the time.  That is dramatically better than when I was a Silver or Gold elite.  Keep in mind that I live at a United hub, and those flights are often harder to upgrade due to more elites.  I also am often traveling with a companion, so that will further hurt my upgrade chances (more on that in a moment).  I was upgraded almost all the time on flights where you would guess upgrades are likely such as on off-peak travel days like Saturday mornings and to destinations that are typically leisure-0riented (fewer elite business travelers).  I was also sometimes upgraded on flights that are typically harder such as flights to another hub and during busier travel days, but sometimes I was also number 40 on an upgrade wait-list a mile long.  All in all, I thought getting a complimentary upgrade to first about half the time wasn’t too bad.
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Little C enjoying her complimentary first class upgrade

Lowlights of Platinum Status:

  • Upgrade when traveling with companions.  United allows complimentary space available upgrades for the elite traveler plus one companion, but they sure don’t make the process simple.  When you are on the same reservation as a companion, and check-in for your flight at 24 hours out, you will be asked if you want to be split from your companion and both placed on the upgrade list.  If you split the reservations and are placed on the upgrade list you may both be upgraded, but you may not be.  Additionally, you will be on a separate reservation from your companion and now some of your elite benefits like free same day changes won’t automatically apply to that other reservation.  If you decide not to split the reservation to be placed on the upgrade list, then you and your companion simply aren’t placed on the upgrade list at all.  It really is bananas.  What I do is simply not check-in until just a little before the flight (1-2 hours).  This way you still could be auto-upgraded with your companion, the same way you can be up to 72 hours in advance as a Platinum.  If the upgrade doesn’t happen that way, I just usually pass on it all together.
  • Two Regionals Premier Upgrades don’t go very far.  While it is great that Platinum members get two regional upgrades, the reality is that doesn’t go very far.  Essentially that means than on one paid round trip per year you can potentially secure an upgrade.  Or, if you have a family, you and one family member can upgrade on one direction of a trip.  That is nice, but considering how many trips you take as a Platinum traveler, that is a very small number of confirmed upgrades.
  • There are a lot of 1K travelers.  The other downside of Platinum status is that there are still a whole bunch of folks with higher status than you.  This really only matters if you are going for upgrades, but be aware that while flying 75,000+ miles a year is a bunch, there are many people who fly more than that and will be above you in the pecking order for upgrades.

Overall Experience:

I had a very good year as a United Platinum traveler in terms of elite benefits.  I avoided well over $1,000 in change fees, booking fees, E+ seat fees, and more.  This is real savings, as I did spend a good amount on some of those fees before having status, and would have continued to do so.  I was able to change dozens of flights via “same day change” to get home to my family as quickly as possible.  I earned 75,000 more redeemable miles worth at least $1,100 thanks to a 75% redeemable mile bonus.  I earned two regional upgrades (which turned into five due to a customer service issue), and was upgraded on roughly half of my flights via complimentary upgrades.  I generally had very prompt and helpful customer service over the phone via the elite line.  United is not a perfect airline, and they do not have a perfect elite system, but my experience at the second highest elite level was overall very good.

It was worth some incremental flying to get this elite level, and starting next year Platinum will be the highest elite level you can get as a US resident without spending $10,000 elite qualifying dollars on paid tickets.  Spending $25,000 annually on a co-branded United credit card will exempt you from the qualifying dollars requirement for all elite levels except top-tier 1K.  This means that more people from the miles and points community who like to fly on pretty inexpensive tickets, but are willing to utilize the co-branded United card, will top out at Platinum status starting next year.  I have to say Platinum isn’t a bad place to be, though I am looking forward to the 1K status I should have very soon.

What has your experience been if you have United Platinum elite status?

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