My Experience With United Gold Status

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In 2012 I made the return to the ranks of the United elites. Once upon a time I had low level status with Continental, but in 2012 my paid travel picked up enough again that by being a little strategic and thoughtful about crediting my flights to United, I ended up with decent elite status. As a refresher, Gold status requires 50K premier qualifying miles or 60 premier qualifying segments in a calendar year. I had to throw in a little mileage vacation run or two to hit Platinum status, but I naturally would have hit at least Gold status. I had Gold status for several months in 2012, and into early 2013 due to a posting delay on one of my flights that eventually pushed me over to Platinum when it posted in January 2013. Just as I did for Silver status, I want to recap some of my experiences as a United Gold flyer in case you are hoping to achieve that same status.

Highlights of Gold Status:

  • Free Same Day Changes! Same day changes are normally $75 a pop, but with Gold status and above it is free. I have been able to do changes for everyone on my itinerary as a gold for free. This is huge for a family!  This was personally probably the biggest positive in jumping from Silver to Gold status. The routing can even change as long as the origin and destination remain the same. Of course, this is tied to availability within your originally ticketed fare class, but that availability usually opens up the closer you get to departure. I am pretty notorious for changing my flights in order to get home as soon as possible and/or adjust on the fly to how my kiddo is doing on traveling days. On heavy travel days (Spring Break), I have not been able to use this feature very well, but otherwise you can change to United operated flights within 24 hours on either side of your originally scheduled flight. I used this most recently when traveling with my family at Disney World a few weeks ago. On the last full day of our trip I noticed our daughter was starting to get sick. Instead of spending another night in the hotel only to have to get up early and fly home the next day as we originally planned, I changed our flight (while still at the park) to a flight later that evening in order to get her home before she potentially ended up really sick and stuck in a hotel room. The ability to do that for free is (almost) priceless…or at least worth $75 a pop.  😉
  • Free E+ (extra leg room) seats for you and one companion at the time booking on any United operated flight that offers E+. This is a good step-up over Silver status which only provides two E+ seats at check-in. For us that meant purchasing the third E+ seat if my whole family was traveling together, or relying on my husband’s Silver status to secure the third E+ seat for free at check-in to get the third needed seat. I really can’t overstate the value of E+ both for adults who need more legroom and for children who can’t reach the seat in front of them nearly as easily when sitting in the E+ section.

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  • 50% bonus award miles on United, Copa and select partner carriers. This typically means that if I fly a 2,000 mile flight that I will earn 3,000 redeemable award miles for the flight instead of 2,000. It does not mean that I rack up elite/premier qualifying miles any faster.
  • Star Alliance Gold Status. Star Gold status is recognized by the air carriers in Star Alliance. A few of those include United, US Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish, ANA, Air New Zealand, and more. With Star Gold status this means that when I travel on those other Star Alliance partners, I still get some elite recognition and lounge access. In addition to partner lounge access when traveling internationally, Star Gold also gives you a free checked bag, priority boarding, and priority check-in with the partner airlines. United Gold elites and above qualify for Star Gold status.
  • Premier Access on your boarding pass (and for others on your same reservation). This is huge for me and my family. I’m almost never running ahead of schedule, so massive security lines for morning flights are my nemesis. I can’t put a monetary value on this, but I can tell you it was worth quite a bit to us. Just as an FYI, you can also get this perk via the United Club card. I got this benefit when I hit Silver status and continued to really enjoy this benefit as Gold.
  • Getting to call the elite line for assistance. Last year I spent hours on hold with United to fix different issues. It was terrible. Now when I have to call in I am usually connected to a person either instantly, or at least very quickly. I also seem to get better service and more native English-speaking agents than I did calling the general number. That may or may not matter to you, but it is a difference I have noticed.
  • It also comes with a free checked bag, but I already got that with my MileagePlus Explorer card, so that wasn’t really that impressive for me.

Low-lights of Gold Status:

  • United offers complimentary space-available first class upgrades on most of their domestic routes and some shorter international flights to places like Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, etc. This is theoretically great as not all airlines offer complimentary upgrades for lower and mid-tier elites, but just because it is technically available doesn’t mean you will actually get upgraded in practice. I received 0 complimentary upgrades as either a United Silver or Gold flyer. Granted, I was only Gold for a few months so the sample size of flights is small, but even as a Gold don’t expect to be upgraded regularly on most flights. If you are flying at off times or on leisure routes you will have a better chance, but my upgrade percentage was a big 0% as a Silver or Gold. Preview: It does get much better as Platinum.
  • Early boarding isn’t very early anymore. In January United revamped their boarding process in theory to simplify the number of groups being called. However, in the process Gold flyers were the biggest losers. Group 1 now consists of Global Services, 1K, Platinum, and those traveling in a premium cabin. That is often a pretty large number of folks if you fly to/from hubs. Group 2 consists of Gold, Silver, and all co-branded credit card members. So, flying 50,000+ miles a year gets you on the plane at the same time as someone with a $95 per year co-branded credit card. This matters when you are lugging a car seat and other bulky kid gear on the airplane. I want to be as early in the line as possible when lugging all the gear so we don’t slow folks down behind us.

Upgrades aside, I thought that United Gold elite status was very useful and valuable to my family. Truthfully, barring a dramatic change in my daily life, this would be the minimum status that I would prefer to keep with United, if for nothing other than the Same Day Change benefit and confirmed E+ seats. It is status that comes with tangible, useful benefits for families.

Comments

  1. I agree that it is more beneficial to pay the $95 fee for the credit card than to be loyal to United in order to earn Gold status just for the boarding process. The E+ seats are one benefit but even as Silver I never missed out on an E+ seat. I am rethinking my status for this year as I believe I can save more than $95 flying other airlines and just get the credit card.

  2. Julie, always makes sense to do the math for your own situation. Certainly isn’t worth having Gold status for checked bag or early boarding. I get more value as I am leveraging my status for several in the family.

  3. I thought the Club card fee was $395 per year?

    Anyway, I missed out on making Silver for 2013 (so I’m back to “no status”) and I’m already regretting not doing a mileage run to get back to it. I have two round trips from DC to LAX this month, and I really miss the free E+ for those flights.

    It’s surprising that you didn’t get any First Class bumps in Silver. I got a bunch as a Silver member. Maybe living at one United’s main hubs means all the higher-status members come through there and prevent you from getting the bump-ups. The first class upgrades are where you earn PQMs faster, because even when you get the free upgrade, you still get the First Class PQM bonus as if you’d bought the fare outright. For example, IAD->LAX with a free first class bump netted me 3,432 PQMs and that same route in economy got me 2,288 PQMs.

  4. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, but compared to what UA offered golds even a couple years ago, this list of benefits is pretty weak. For you, moving up makes this seem pretty great – for me, comparing to what I was able to get even recently, it’s pretty frustrating.

  5. I have been platinum a yr and only 1 upgrade on a redeye 787 before they stopped flying.

    Zero transcon upgrades(even on higher fares)

    Premier Exec Pre-Merger was MUCH better.

  6. Interesting analysis. I was (and still am) Gold on Delta last year and had about a 55% First class upgrade percentage. Then again, that over a whole year.

  7. I had Star Silver for the second half of 2012 and I had 3/9 upgrades on eligible flights. I agree that the E+ and the elite security line are the best benefits. I’ll comment on lounge access later this year when I do some international travel.

  8. The old United same day change policy was better as well, as long as H or lower was available you could change without fees. Now I have had to up-fare to get on an earlier flight a few times.

  9. @David – You are incorrect. You only earn miles based on ticketed paid fare not upgraded fare. If that were the case I would be a million mile flyer in 1 year. 100% upgrade success in 2013.

  10. Great summary. One thing I’ve found really nice over Silver is 3 free checked bags (not just 1) at 70 lbs (not 50 lbs) apiece.

    The Gold baggage benefit is better than Pres Plus too (2 free bags at 50 lbs apiece).

    I’ve found it to be very helpful with young kids, long trips, flying with in-laws, etc.

  11. As Premier Gold last year, I had probably around 40% CPU success, including some award tickets (plurality of flights were hub to hub). I have never had a problem with SDCing to another flight, but I only did that around 7 times last year.
    @David, 1K EWR There was a month or two period right after the 3/3 changeover where you did get elite bonus based on upgraded fare class instead of ticketed fare class, but those days are long gone.

  12. Kris and 1K EWR,
    I’m no expert, but I earned a 1.5x bonus upon being bumped from a Y-class (full fare economy) booking to a first class seat for a flight on Jan 28, 2013.

    I don’t know what the 3/3 changeover is.

  13. 0 upgrades for two UA golds (and longtime UA flyers, previously 1Ks) during all of 2012, despite lots of domestics and internationals. When I compare this to my brethren on other carriers, my heart sinks. I already have had better luck with AA in 2013.
    Unless the deal is irresistible, no more UA for me. I gave up the CC too. UA caused me nuthin’ but migraines last year!

  14. Ohhhh! Man, is that confusing. Thanks for pointign that out. My work travel agent buys all kinds of fares, so I never know what kind of mileage credit I’m going to get.

  15. In addition to SDC, Golds also get free standby on UA metal.

    I seldom get upgraded to/from SFO (based on what I’ve read on Gary’s and Lucky’s blogs, SFO has more high status elites than many other airports).

    To me, the biggest benefit of Platinum would be no fees for changes/redeposits/less than 21 day advance booking of award tickets (though the $25 fee for Golds for everything except redeposits is very reasonable).

  16. Blaine, indeed. 😉 #toomanythingsatoncefail – as always!
    UAPhil, love that benefit of Plat, but you are right that the fee for Gold is quite reasonable.

  17. While I know that you are only commenting on your GOLD status currently. You should also note that he bonus miles that you get as a GOLD member on United has been reduced from 100% bonus miles to 50%. That’s a whole lot of miles that you don;t get anymore!!! Big “low-light” of Gold now.

  18. I’m United Silver, and haven’t found much difference from just getting the credit card (priority security and boarding, free bags). I have gotten upgraded a few times, but only on underbooked red eyes.

    Sometimes, I have changed flights for free, but only on a common route, like EWR-IAH, and sometimes it wants hundreds of dollars. I can see how the same-day change would be nice.

    Still it sucks that any idiot with a United credit card has elite benefits, which makes other airlines look more and more appealing.

  19. Will you be posting “My Experience with United Platinum Status” soon? Curious to hear how you have fared at that level.

    • Yes, just wanted to wait until I had a longer period of time under my belt. Perhaps in a month or so. Its been very good so far!

  20. I have united club card $459.00

    ….benefits are pretty close to gold…so im not going to do an extra flight just to hit gold..
    i get club use, 2 free bags per traveler…. but big bonus is the 1.5 multiple on every purchase, so with my business use, i rack up over 100,000 in purchases…nets me 150,000+ miles….and then use them for 1st class upgrades…. ding ding ding….earliest boarding
    the card also gets you Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum Membership

  21. All of the upgrades are fine along with early boarding but as United has gone to the smaller jets most of the flights I flew were all smaller jets even the two hour flights and that was not fun at all since I am tall. The only good seats on those places are exit row window and good luck getting those two. Yes, not worth the pain so I went back to flying Southwest. Even occasionally I have to fly American but they always get me there late, if at all.

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