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United offering chance to buy higher level of elite status -- Is it worth it?

Feb. 05, 2021
6 min read
United Airlines 737
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Like most other frequent flyer programs, United MileagePlus extended elite status levels for an extra year in 2020. Instead of requiring that its members hit certain spending or flying thresholds in all the weirdness that was last year, they didn't penalize anyone who didn't hit the thresholds in 2020 and bumped status expiration out a full year into 2022.

But, now that 2021 has arrived, United is sending out some targeted emails to provide select members the opportunity to buy-up to the next level of status in exchange for cold hard cash.

I have earned United Gold elite status the last few years, and in 2020 and managed to earn 4,229 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and 17 flight segments. That was 1,771 PQPs (which are essentially dollars spent with the airline) and one flight segment away from earning a higher Platinum status at the reduced 2020 qualification levels.

But if I'm interested in upping my status level for the next year, United will now sell that missed Platinum status level to me for $2,278 via an offer valid until Feb. 28.

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Screenshot courtesy of United

That offer would confer the increased status level until early 2022. In this case, Platinum status would come with an earlier upgrade priority, starting 72 hours before departure, the ability to secure up to eight extra-legroom Economy Plus seats at the time of booking, earn an increased 9x redeemable miles on flights and 40 PlusPoints that can be used toward confirmable upgrades.

Related: Complete guide to airline elite status during the coronavirus outbreak

Other United status buy-up offers going out

These status buy-up opportunities have been going out via email. Mine had the subject line "Secure Premier Platinum status for 2021." While not every MileagePlus member received one, I am aware of offers going out from the entry-level Silver status opportunities, up to the top-tier 1K status level. (I have yet to hear of any buy-ups to the highest invite-only Global Services level.)

In the TPG Facebook Lounge and among TPG staffers, reports range from $700 for Silver status to $900 to buy-up to Platinum status and up to $4,000 to secure 1K status. While not confirmed, it's likely that how close you were to securing that next status level may impact the price to buy it and close that gap.

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Related: How to earn airline status with credit cards

Is it worth it to buy status?

Loyalty program elite status is only worth what you get out of it. Triple-platinum-titanium-diamond-minted status is worth exactly $0 if you don't use the perks. On the other hand, in a normal year, United elite status is valued at thousands of dollars by TPG.

If you aren't yet sure whether or not you will fly with United in 2021, I wouldn't recommend spending hard-earned cash to secure a higher status level.

But, if you have a high degree of certainty that you will be back in the friendly skies with United in 2021, it can be worth at least running the math if you received an offer.

If your offer is to spend around $2,000 to go from Platinum to 1K status, a tangible perk would be the additional 280 PlusPoints you'd earn by making that status jump. It costs 20 PlusPoints to secure a space-available upgrade from economy to domestic first/regional business class, 40 PlusPoints to go from economy to Polaris in certain fare classes, and so on. Theoretically, those 280 PlusPoints that come from unlocking 1K could secure up to 14 regional or domestic upgrades or up to six upgrades to Polaris on long-haul flights.

Ignoring all the other United 1K status benefits for the moment, that comes to about $143 per domestic/regional first-class upgrade or around $333 for each Polaris upgrade -- all subject to space availability. Add on top of that the additional 1K perks (above what Platinums would already receive), including being almost at the top of the pecking order for 'free' upgrades starting 96 hours before departure, a free beverage/snack when flying economy and earning 11x redeemable miles per dollar spent on airfare, etc.

Related: Guide to United PlusPoints

United Polaris (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If you were certain you would max out those PlusPoints, as well as the other perks, there are fringe cases when a relatively sizeable investment could be recouped by jumping from Platinum to 1K. However, that will rely largely on how much you fly in 2021.

Related: Why United’s recent changes have me reconsidering going for top-tier status

What I'm doing

I'd very much love to be a United Platinum elite again, as it's been many years since I had that pretty valuable status level.

However, it's not worth $2,278 to me this year to make that leap up from Gold. The 40 PlusPoints would be nice, but that's only enough for two domestic first-class upgrades or one international Polaris upgrade. All in, those perks aren't worth anywhere near $2,000+ for me at the moment.

I'd consider the offer if it was in the $500-ish range, but at the asking price, it's well beyond what I'm certain will be worth in my current situation.

Related: Reconsidering top-tier elite status with United

Bottom line

If you have a fair amount of United flying planned for 2021, scan your inbox to see if you have an offer to upgrade your elite status. Based on the reports we have seen, it certainly won't always be worth it to spend the cash to secure that next status level, but there may be some niche cases that are worth plunking down your credit card and locking in more perks.

Featured image by (Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
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  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees