My Favorite United Premier Gold Elite Benefit…By Far

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I’ve had United 1K top tier status (other than the invite-only Global Services level) since the start of the year, and before that I worked my way up from Silver, Gold, and Platinum Premier elite status over the past few years.  Feel free to click the respective links for info on those status levels, and some words on my experience with each tier.  I haven’t yet written about my time as a 1K as I am getting a few more flights under my belt before feeling like I have enough experience to comment, but this post isn’t really about 1K status.  This post is about a benefit you can get “just” by having United Premier Gold status, as I think my favorite elite benefit is available starting at the Gold level.

If you have a family, or otherwise highly value your time at home, then the most valuable benefit you get by having United elite status isn’t first class upgrades, early boarding, bonus miles, or E+ seats – it is the free same day change option.  When I book flights on United I book the lowest fare that would reasonably work for my schedule, but it isn’t always the perfect time or routing as those options can sometimes be significantly more expensive, especially out of a hub like Houston.  However, with free same day changes for myself and everyone else on my reservation, I have the potential to change my flights within 24 hours of departure to other options that might leave at a more optimal departure time, have a more optimal routing, or both.  For free.

Change your flight

I can’t count the number of times I have done this, honestly I use it on almost every trip, at least on one leg.  Given that this option normally costs $75 each, and I often use it for multiple people on our reservation, I would estimate I have conservatively “saved” a few thousand dollars each year by not having to pay the standard $75 per person fee.  Even more importantly, I don’t waste near as much time in transit or away from home since I can leave as late as possible from my home, and then hop on a plane to head home as soon as my work or visit is complete.  Here is an example of how this option saved us money and gave me another night at home with my kiddo.

My husband and I have a flight today for a one-day work-related trip.  The flight we booked left at 6AM and had a connection to get to our final destination.  This flight wasn’t cheap, but it was the lowest cost of all the options by a wide margin, so we picked it even though that flight time was terrible.  The 6AM departure meant we would have to make plans for our daughter to be with grandparents the night before as it wouldn’t be fair for her to have to get up at 3:30 or 4AM to head to Grandma’s house, not to mention wouldn’t be fair to grandparents either.

However, as luck would have it, there was a nonstop flight to where we wanted to go that left around 9AM that would be perfect for everyone’s schedules.  At exactly 24 hours before that flight (which was also within 24 hours of our original flight), I clicked the magical “change flight” button that appeared on our reservation and was able to snag the nonstop flight.  Sure, we lost our confirmed complimentary first class upgrades on the original flight (new flight is a regional jet with no first class) and we will earn fewer miles due to traveling a shorter distance, but who cares.  We get about three more hours of sleep the day of our flight, and we get our daughter home with us for a normal night…all at no extra cost.

free confirmed change

I know that United Premier Gold status isn’t realistic for every family as it requires 50,000 flown premier qualifying miles or 60 segments flown in a calendar year and $5,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars spent (unless you spend $25,000 annually on a United co-branded credit card).  However, I think it is helpful to know when benefits are actually valuable for families in case someone in your family is within striking distance of Gold status and might be able to attain it by being strategic about when to buy tickets and when to earn miles.  In case you have United Gold status, or you are simply willing to pay $75 per person, here are some Same Day Change tips:

  • The flight you want to change to must depart within 24 hours of your originally scheduled flight.  This can be before or after your originally scheduled flight, but really pay attention to the date you are selecting so you don’t pick a flight on the wrong day (I’ve learned that one the hard way – it’s an easier mistake to make than you might think).
  • Your flight must depart within 24 hours before you can use Same Day Change.  For example, I wanted a 9AM departure, but I couldn’t switch to it 24 yours from my 6AM flight.  I had to wait three hours later from the 24 hour mark of my flight until the flight I wanted was also within 24 hours.
  • Try the change as soon as possible, but check back later if it isn’t available.  I have the best luck changing my flights exactly 24 hours before the flight I want, but there have been times when it wasn’t available right at 24 hours but was as it got closer to the flight time I wanted.
  • Check-in to your flight in order to activate Same Day Change.  I typically won’t be able to switch to a flight for free unless I am checked in to my originally scheduled flight.  Today the flight I wanted displayed as a $350 change fee before I checked in, and then immediately displayed as a $0 fee once I checked into my original flight.
  • The itinerary must be operated by United or United Express, and the ticket number must begin with 016.  This means it doesn’t work when you are flying on partners.
  • Changes must be made prior to your original scheduled flight.  This means you can’t just miss your originally scheduled flight and then expect to simply be able to use Same Day Change to get on a later flight.  In reality that may work (or they may put you on a later flight for free regardless), but don’t count on that.  Make the change before your flight departs.
  • Your fare class must be available to do a Same Day Change.  Many fare classes open up within the last day or so before departure, so this isn’t usually a problem, but it can be if availability is tight.  You can view your fare class by looking at your reservation in United.com.  If you use “Expert Mode” you can also view the available fare classes for the flight you want by clicking on “fare class” for that flight after you do a flight search on United.com.

United Fare Classes

  • You may stand by if seats are not available in the purchased fare class. In these cases, the same-day change fee will apply (unless it is free due to Gold status or above), but will not be charged unless you are assigned a seat on your alternate flight. Changes in routing are not allowed when standing by.  This isn’t near as handy as being able to confirm using same day change, but it is a last ditch effort if you want to head to the airport.
  • Same Day Change also works with award tickets, but again remember the fare class has to be available, and that can be harder at times on saver award tickets than some paid fares.

Same Day Change makes our travel lives easier, and our trips shorter (or occasionally longer if we are simply having too much fun at our destination to head home).  I love that it is an elite perk that I am able to get a ton of value out of, and I bet that many of you do as well.  If so, I’d love to hear your Same Day Change experience!

Comments

  1. Also, for awards once you get upgraded to F class on an award, if the new flight has F class award saver space, you can change to that directly.
    e.g., I bought a 12.5k award on UA
    I was upgraded to a F class award
    I was able to change to a F class award (space was available)

  2. @ffi. i have had mixed success in transfering an upgrade when shift flights. Some agents say I would go back on the list others have done it with out question.

  3. Hi, Summer.

    Great post! Last week, I was flying on business from PHX to DCA on a U class fare. 18 hours before my originally scheduled flight was about to depart, I changed my flight to one that left 13 hours earlier than the original. I (or my client) was charged $800 even though I am United Gold. Should I call United and get a refund?

  4. ffi Levy, I have had mixed success as well, but good to hear your experience!
    Unitedflyer, well you can try. However, if a U fare wasn’t available then you technically couldn’t do a SDC. For the future, check-in to your flight and then see what the options are…sometimes you can’t SDC, though my success rate is quite high.

  5. Yes, free same day changes (and low fees for close-in award ticketing and changes) are my favorite Gold perks.

    I always think about what type of flexibility I want before deciding whether to book UA or Southwest on a domestic itinerary. (UA is the clear choice if I want same-day changes; Southwest is the clear choice for free cancellations or non-same-day changes.)

  6. Nice article as usual! 🙂

    So, technically, if having too much fun at a destination, one can “rinse and repeat” the process for as long as possible by changing flights to a later time? 😉

  7. As a 1K I use this feature often as well. Here’s a tip: If you’re original flight is a longer routing apply for “original routing credit (ORC)”.

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