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This year, as it recent years, United has mailed out targeted offers to some folks to purchase elite status that they failed to qualify for the old fashioned way. The prices to purchase this status are almost always higher than I would be willing to pay, but since they keep making these offers, I have to assume that some people do indeed pony up the cash and lock in status for 2017 that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
This week my husband got an offer in the mail to purchase United Silver status for 2017. He has had that status in the past, but didn’t quite qualify for it last year since we just didn’t have that many paid United flights. The information he received in the mail about the offer was missing one key element…the price. That’s never a good sign.
Based on history and recent reports, I knew the price to purchase even bottom tier Silver status would probably induce sticker shock, but in the name of research we logged on anyway to find out. The price he was offered to purchase United Silver status for 2017 was….$1,399!
For $1,399 that Silver status would get him Priority Access lines for security and United check-in, Group 2 boarding, a free E+ seat for himself and one companion at check-in 24 hours before the flight, the right to be at the very bottom of the pecking order for first class upgrades, he would earn 7 miles per dollar on flights instead of 5 miles per dollar, among a few other things.
There is some value in those benefits, but probably not $1,399 worth. However, assuming you are willing to pay cash for some of those things, let’s look at a potentially better way to do it.
Cheaper and Better Way to Purchase United Elite Status Perks
Starting at $499 per year, you could buy an E+ subscription that allows you to select extra leg room Economy Plus seats at the time of booking instead of waiting until just 24 hours out as you would with Silver status. If you wanted a companion on that E+ subscription it would add $200 to the price, and if you want more than just the Continental US region the price goes up based on zones. For the heck of it, let’s assume you want E+ seats for all of North and Central America for yourself + one companion. That price would be $799 for a year.
Next, if you got the United Club Card you would be able to get United Club access for your family, Priority Access, no first or second checked bag fees for you + one companion on the reservation (when paying with the card), and you avoid close-in award booking fees within 21 days of departure (otherwise $50 with Silver status). The annual fee for this card is $450, though there are targeted first year offers that range anywhere from no annual fee the first year to a $100 statement credit on the first purchase. To be super conservative for this exercise let’s assume the full $450 annual fee.
If you got the United Club Card plus an E+ subscription as outlined above your total out of pocket cost would be $1249 for a year of United perks and benefits. You would not get a shot on the upgrade list, access to the elite customer service line, or the additional two miles per dollar earned on purchased airfare as you would with Silver status. However, you would get access to the United Clubs, pay no close-in award booking fees, get two free checked bags instead of just one, and you and a companion would get confirmed E+ seats at the time of booking instead of just 24 hours out. You would also pay less than you would than outright buying Silver status via an offer like the one above.
If you only fly United once or twice a year then it doesn’t make sense to consider either of these options. However, for some individuals and families who actually fly United a fair amount, but simply don’t earn status, it can make sense. We actually almost fall into that weird category since we live in the middle of the country where most of our flights aren’t that lengthy, and we usually either purchase cheap fares or use miles for our United flights making status harder to earn.
How much would you pay to purchase airline elite status or elite-status-like perks?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.