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As the year winds down and the scramble for elite status revs up, many frequent flyers are having to decide just how much they value elite benefits. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at United Premier status, and sets out to quantify each benefit in order to make those decisions easier.
Last week, TPG looked at how much American Airlines Elite status is worth, and on Wednesday I offered my own assessment of Delta Medallion status. Today, I want to continue the series by looking at the value of United Airlines MileagePlus Premier status.
In what has become a standard procedure, United copied the details of Delta’s new revenue-based mileage accrual system, which is a bunch of fancy buzzwords that mean passengers will earn miles based on dollars spent, not distance flown. In fact, United actually mapped Delta’s system onto its own elite status designation.
As with Delta flyers, how you value United elite status depends on how you tend to travel. For instance, business travelers on elite-heavy routes from United hubs will have a lower upgrade percentage than leisure travelers based at non-hub airports. In addition, those who hold the United MileagePlus Explorer Card or United MileagePlus Club card from Chase will already receive some of the benefits of elite status, regardless of their status level.
In either case, assigning a value to United elite status can help you decide whether it’s worth pursuing the next level of Premier status in 2015. In this post, I’ll consider future travel plans, affordability, and the incremental benefits of each status level over the next. As before, I will base my calculations on a traveler flying 20% more than the minimum required to earn status, and I’ll round my valuations down to the nearest $50.
To reach this entry level status in 2015, travelers must fly 25,000 Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) or 30 Premier Qualifying Segments (PQSs), and spend $3,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs). The PQD requirement is waived for those who have spent $25,000 on a MileagePlus credit card from Chase, or simply by holding a United MileagePlus Presidential Card (which is no longer offered to new applicants). Finally, there is a PQD waiver for those with a military or diplomatic address (APO, DPO or FPO).
- Earn 7 miles per dollar spent ($108). If you fly on $3,600 worth of revenue tickets, you’ll earn an additional 7,200 miles, worth $108 using TPG’s latest valuation of United miles at 1.5 cents each.
- Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in ($100). I’d say this benefit is pretty valuable, as you would normally have to pay about $50 per flight or more for the additional legroom and seating closer to the exit.
- Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades on day of departure ($200). Upgrades are valuable, but this benefit is less useful to Premier Silver members, who are unlikely to be upgraded often.
- Instant upgrades on Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets ($100). This only helps if you buy full fare tickets, which few people do.
- 500 award miles and PQM minimum accrual ($25). This isn’t worth much unless you fly a lot of short flights.
- Priority check-in, security screening, boarding privileges, and baggage handling ($100). Most travelers check in online or use a kiosk, and priority security screening has little value in the age of Pre-Check.
- Single complimentary checked baggage allowance (50 lbs) for domestic economy tickets. ($100). Although you can save even more in baggage fees, it’s hard to value this benefit any higher, since you get a free checked bag with the United MileagePlus Explorer card from Chase, which has a $95 annual fee.
- Premier Priority Desk phone line ($25).
- Access to most sold-out flights ($25). On the off chance you have to take a certain flight that’s sold out, United will overbook it, but charge you full fare.
- Discounted United Club membership rates ($25). There is a $25 discount offered, which I will generously value as such.
- Award travel benefits ($100). These include priority award waitlisting, standby for international awards, unrestricted access to United Standard Awards on flights operated by United or United Express, and better availability for United Saver Awards in economy. This can be valuable, but I have read reports that the additional award access is limited.
- Reduced or waived close-in award booking fee, award redeposit fee, and award change fees ($50). There are a few fees that are $25 less for Premier Silver than for general members.
- Star Alliance Silver status benefits ($50). These include priority reservations waitlisting and priority airport standby for revenue tickets.
- RewardsPlus benefits ($25). Silver Premier members get some very basic benefits from the RewardsPlus partnership between Marriott and United, like a 20% discount when converting Marriott Rewards points to United MileagePlus miles, and 10% more United miles when redeeming Marriott points for flight and hotel travel packages. This benefit is useless if you never use either of these transfer options, but the 10% bonus miles for travel packages could be worth a lot.
To reach this status in 2015, travelers must fly 50,000 PQMs or 60 PQSs, and spend $6,000 PQDs. The same PQD waivers mentioned above still apply.
Additional benefits: $1,700 (total $2,700)
- Earn 8 miles per dollar spent ($108). If you fly on $7,200 worth of revenue tickets, you’ll earn an additional 7,000 miles, worth $108 using TPG’s latest valuation of United miles at 1.5 cents each.
- Complimentary access to Economy Plus at booking ($200). This is worth more than for Silver members, as you’ll have a better chance of upgrading and you’ll be able to utilize it twice as often.
- Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades as early as 48 hours in advance ($400). Again, you’ll have higher priority for first class upgrades, and twice the chances to use this benefit.
- Three complimentary checked bags (70 lbs each) for domestic economy tickets ($100). It’s nice to not have to worry about staying under 50 lbs, but most people don’t travel with 210 lbs worth of stuff. If you do, then this benefit is worth substantially more.
- Lounge access when traveling internationally ($100). This is a nice benefit, but those who regularly travel overseas will quickly zoom past Premier Gold status.
- Discounted or waived same-day flight changes ($300). This is a huge benefit for business travelers who can stand-by for earlier flights at no extra cost. In contrast, Delta requires any same-day changes to have availability in the same fare class, essentially excluding discounted fares.
- Reduced or waived close-in award booking fee, award redeposit fee, and award change fees ($100). There are a few fees that are $25 less for Premier Gold than for Silver members.
- Star Alliance Gold status benefits ($100). This includes priority airport check-in, baggage handling, boarding, and an extra baggage allowance of an additional 44 pounds (20 kg) or one additional piece of luggage. You also receive airport lounge access when traveling on an eligible Star Alliance member flight.
- Marriott Gold benefits ($300). Unlike the Delta-Starwood Crossover Rewards program, the RewardsPlus partnership offers actual Marriott Gold status to United Premier Gold members and above. That includes benefits like complimentary continental breakfast, room upgrades, late check-out, and a 25% bonus on points earned for every stay.
To reach this status in 2015, travelers must fly 75,000 PQMs or 90 PQSs, and spend $9,000 PQDs. The same PQD waivers mentioned above still apply.
Additional benefits: $1,550 (total $4,250)
- Earn 9 miles per dollar spent ($162). If you fly on $10,800 worth of revenue tickets, you’ll earn an additional 10,800 miles, worth $162 using TPG’s latest valuation of United miles at 1.5 cents each.
- Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades as early as 72 hours in advance ($400). More access makes this benefit more valuable.
- Up to 8 Economy Plus companions ($200). This is great for family trips, since Premier members can now upgrade a pretty large party to Economy Plus.
- Regional Premier Upgrades ($400). Premier Platinum members receive two one-way, one-cabin upgrades, confirmable as early as the time of ticketing on eligible flights operated by United, United Express, and Copa Airlines in the US, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.
- Waived close-in award booking fee, award redeposit fee, and award change fees ($200). For Premier Platinum and 1K, all these fees are waived, making it much easier to change or cancel awards as necessary.
- Payment code for Global Entry application fee ($100). It appears that this code, once received, can be used by anyone.
- Waived phone service charge ($50).
- 10% discount on in-flight Duty Free purchases ($10). Does anyone really purchase this stuff?
- Better availability for United Saver Awards in select premium cabins ($50).
To reach this status in 2015, travelers must fly 100,000 PQMs or 120 PQSs, and spend $12,000 PQDs. For Premier 1k, the credit card PQD waivers do not apply; however, the military or diplomatic address waivers still do.
Additional benefits: $3,050 (total $6,300)
- Earn 11 miles per dollar spent ($432). If you fly on $14,400 worth of revenue tickets, you’ll earn an additional 28,800 miles, worth $432 using TPG’s latest valuation of United miles at 1.5 cents each.
- Complimentary Premier upgrades and companion upgrades as early as 96 hours in advance ($600). Your upgrades will only be usurped by Global Services members, which is by invitation only.
- Instant upgrades on M-class economy tickets ($200). These are tickets that are not at the lowest discounted rate, but aren’t full fare either.
- Global Premier Upgrades ($1,800). Members receive six extremely valuable global premier upgrades.
- Premier Priority Desk phone line with dedicated 1K line ($50).
United Premier Status is quite valuable, even if it doesn’t include lounge access at the highest level of elite status. Not surprisingly, the benefits increase dramatically as you reach Premier and Premier 1K, while both Silver and Gold status could rightly be called entry-level.
I would love to hear from other United elites about how you value your status. Please offer your thoughts in the comments below!