Why Silver is My New Favorite Color

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I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have decided that I am traveling far too much these days to not have elite status with an airline.  It’s been years since I had airline elite status, and even then it was only low tier status.  Over the last year or so, traveling on my airline of choice (Continental, now United) has gotten increasingly difficult without status, so I decided that needed to change.  So, this week silver became my new favorite color when I obtained (lowly) Premier Silver status by flying 25,000 elite qualifying miles with United!

Up until recently, simply by having the Continental OnePass credit card (now the United MileagePlus Explorer card) would get me “Premier Access” that allowed me to access the elite security line and board the flight early.  Boarding early is important so you don’t end up having to gate check your bag because the overhead bins are already full before you get on board.  The MileagePlus Explorer card still provides for early boarding, but it no longer provides access to the elite security line.  In truth, it probably never was supposed to, but it worked that way for years by virtue of “Premier Access” printing on your boarding pass.

Despite my best intentions, there is usually something that causes me to get to the airport slightly later than I wish.  So, just about every time I am met with a security line that is so long it wraps around the corner, I sit there and kick myself for not having status and cutting it too close for comfort on making my scheduled flights.  Now, I again have access to an elite security line when it is available.  Thank goodness!  In my world, saving a few minutes is a huge victory.

I have been flying enough miles per year to have at least a mid-tier elite status with an airline, but there were a few things that were preventing me from actually having that status.  For one, I often fly on award tickets, and as a result do not earn miles toward elite status on those tickets.  Secondly, I was flying on a number of different airlines when I lived in Austin since there was no one airline that had a dominant presence in Austin.  As a result, the elite qualifying miles I was earning were going into lots of different pots.

However, now that I live in Houston I have a carrier that clearly offers the most non-stop flights at my disposal.  United is the clear choice for me to fly on 95% of the time.  I will do just about anything to avoid a connection when flying as they are much harder for my kiddo, and they increase the chance of delays, missed connections, lost/delayed bags, etc.  I also generally don’t have time to add several hours to my traveling day, so direct flights are the ones for me (yes, I know I would earn more miles with connections, but I gotta draw the line somewhere).  So, making sure that just about all of my paid flights are on one carrier helped with my quest for elite status.

The next thing I did was become more strategic about when to redeem miles for free flights.  When I could afford to do so, I stopped redeeming reward tickets for my tickets, and instead only redeemed for my daughter and husband.  My own ticket would be a paid ticket and thus would earn miles.  There are certainly still times that I am flying on a reward ticket, but if the cost of the ticket isn’t too terrible (i.e., generally under $400 or so for a domestic ticket), then it makes sense to conserve some miles and earn miles instead.  The cost of the trip is still maintained at a manageable level since only one ticket purchase is required, but the whole family benefits by my status.  It’s pretty much a win-win situation.  This will become even more true as I am able to attain a higher elite status.  Clearly not everyone can do this since you must have the available funds for the ticket, but it is a good strategy for some.  It is a strategy that also pairs nicely with starting to save up a bunch of miles for a large international itinerary we hope to enjoy as soon as my daughter is four years old.

I am traveling with my daughter and Grandma Points this week, and having status will already come in handy not only at the airport, but on the flight itself.  There are plenty of E+ seats still available for our flight, so I should be able to move two of our seats into the E+ section when I check in 24 hours before the flight.  Once I obtain Platinum status I will be able to reserve up to eight E+ seats at the time of booking – that will be very nice!  The E+ seats are going for $59 each for this flight, so that is immediately a $118 savings by having status, since I likely would have purchased those seats anyway.  Assuming we get them on the return flight, that is another $118 saved.  That type of savings will really add up quickly for us.

I should obtain Gold status (50,000 miles) while on the Star MegaDo in November, if not just before that event.  I should end the year with Platinum status at 75,000 miles if everything happens as planned.  However, for now I am very excited to have Silver status.  I have no doubt some will laugh at me being excited about low-level airline elite status, but it is seriously a huge improvement over having no status.  I also know that not all families travel enough for elite status to be a realistic goal, but I have no doubt that there are some out there that are within striking distance if a few key strategic decisions are made (like selecting who to purchase a revenue ticket for or sticking with one carrier/alliance when possible).  If you, or someone in your family, can obtain some level of elite status with an airline just by being a little more strategic with how you travel, then I absolutely recommend going for it.  I’ll let you know my thoughts on having each level of elite status with United as I go after I get some more flights under my belt.

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  1. I think it is great having status with an airline and I am happy to hear you will be achieving it! However, I am not sure I think that obtaining status with an airline is likely very realistic for most families, and most of your posts have been saying how much that will help families, but realistically I think families need “tips and help” without status. For most people flying that many miles is prohibitive for several reasons…1) cost and 2) time – most people don’t have jobs that require them to travel that much that they really don’t have the vacation time to travel enough to earn that type of miles, especially if you travel is mostly domestic.
    I am not trying to be critical, I just think for most practical purposes (not for those that often read/write these blogs that travel ALOT), most average families won’t actually obtain status.

  2. how cool is that??? I really need to remember this strategy — we have a family of 5, and usually when booking vacations I can get 4 people via rewards but not the 5th — just because of availability rather than points. Usually I have defaulted to having one of the kids be the paid-for 5th (d’oh!) — from now on it will be me. Thanks for the tip, and congrats on the status!

  3. Now that you have status, you can change your seats yourself online; or, call UA.

    @Carling, the point in reading this and the other blogs is to get you to think out-of-the-box. That may not work for all readers, but if it works for just 5 or 10%, the post is worthwhile.

    Disclaimer. I travel a lot (two words by the way).

  4. Congrats on silver, but I agree with Carling that it is fairly unrealistic for most families. I do hope you keep up your regular tips for regular families (miles/points crazy families!) since your blog fills that empty spot so well. There are so many blogs that cover elite status traveling.

  5. @Carling, no question it isn’t for everyone. As I mention in the post, I think it makes sense to just think about whether it is attainable for your family if some strategic decisions are made about when to redeem and which airline to fly on.
    @CU, that is exactly what I hoped the post would do. Have families make more strategic decisions surrounding status when it is practical. Good luck!
    @dhammer53, that is exactly the point. This (and pretty much every other post) won’t work for everyone, but hopefully it will help some families assess whether it might work for them. I have no doubt that there are families out there who have at least one person traveling enough for work or pleasure where there could be some level of elite status if some strategic decisions are made.
    @DL, while I do plan on posting about my thoughts on having each level of status that I am able to obtain, whether or not I have elite status won’t change the core content of the blog. My family still needs miles and points just as much as the next family. 😉

  6. Congrats! Maybe I’ll see you and your daughter on one of my flights someday 🙂 I’m a flight attendant with Continental…now United, and I’m still trying to get used to all these changes too!

  7. Congrats!

    I often apply the “pay for my own ticket” strategy to help boost my status as well (on track to hit 1K for the first time this year). I’m also willing to take a connection every now and again though 🙂

  8. Welcome to the club! I am a 1k with United (obtained for the first time ever this year.) I just started reading your blog and I think its great as I am a single mom also and most of these type of blogs aren’t geared towards families. Just wanted you to know – you do have readers (at least one) that fly a lot. Here’s a tip – Even as a silver, I would often get upgraded to first class on domestic flights. If you don’t know, you can go to mobile.united.com and check your upgrade status. Even from a computer, you can only check it on the mobile site, not the reg site. As your status increases, the window for upgrades increases. But a lot of people don’t know about the mobile site.

  9. That’s such a smart strategy, to use the awards tickets for other members of your family and concentrate the paid tickets on yourself to work towards getting status! I will definitely have to keep it in mind.

  10. Congratulations – and thank you for sharing your tips with us. I have found valuable information from your blog that has definitely helped me!

  11. @Laura S, that would be awesome to run into you! There are a bunch of changes for sure….I’m sure even more for those who work for the airline.
    @Food Wine and Miles, thanks! I’ll take a connection occasionally, but it truly just is occasionally. 😉
    @Jill, that mobile site is awesome. I did know about it, but I’m sure others don’t, so thanks for posting! Once upon a time when I was silver and mainly flying IAH to one of the NYC airports, I had a very decent upgrade percentage, but that was a long time ago so I’m keeping expectations low on the upgrade front for now. (but I am keeping my fingers crossed!)
    @KWu, it really does make sense to concentrate the paid tickets on one person. I hope it works for your family!
    @FEV, that’s awesome, so glad to hear it, and thanks!

  12. Congrats, MP. I have had status for 2 years now with Delta and might have to go on an extra trip this year if I want to keep it, which I am not sure I need to. Having Madison, Wis. as your home airport always means short security lines.

    Out of my bed and into the seat at the gate in 30 minutes 🙂

  13. I wish United would hurry up and let people know if they are offering an elite challenge for the SMD4. Let’s just hope there isn’t a computer glitch and they accidentally offer a Global Services challenge for only flying 4 miles.

  14. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you’re on your own paid PNR chasing status, while the family is on award tickets, you technically aren’t eligible for all of the elite benefits since you’re not on the same reservation. I know sometimes agents will help you out, but like TSA Pre-Check, if you can’t guarantee it, it doesn’t save you time.
    And how do you plan to handle E+ and complimentary upgrades when not traveling solo? Will you turn F down?
    And one tip, do a sanity check before heading to the “Elite” lines. I’ve had priority check-in with AA and DL @ LAX for my last half-dozen trips and I’ve never used it, the general check-in lines were shorter. Note the number of staff, just because the line is shorter, when they have 1/3 the agents, that line will crawl. Security lines (AA) have been a wash, but I have a feeling I’m just lucky with that.

    • @Tim, totally agree you need to evaluate the length of the lines and not assume the elite line is shorter. I know at IAH in terminal E and C the elite line has been significantly shorter every time I have checked. As far as F upgrades – we will play that one by ear and see what makes the most sense. For shorter domestic flights we may take turns if there are F upgrades. For longer flights, or days when C is being “difficult”, we may very well turn it down. For E+ we will likely upgrade the third person for the going rate while I have silver. As far as the benefits extending to the others while I am on a paid reservation, we will see how that one plays out in practice. My husband will actually hit silver status later this year as well (mostly due to business travel), but we will have just me having status for a while. It will be interesting to see how that one works out. We do plan more time when all of us are traveling, so that isn’t as much of an issue when we all travel together. Just getting through the security line with my daughter (even if my husband waits in the longer line or when it is just the two of us traveling) will be nice though. I can’t imagine them not allowing a non-status little one to go through the expedited security line with an elite adult. It will all be a learning experience though. 😉

  15. Good morning!

    What are “E” seats? Sounds like first class but why not say first class? thanks! Love your blog!

  16. Mp, I love your posts. While I can appriciate that most families can’t fly 25k miles to get status a flight challenge is somewhat doable. After a looong time trying to convince my wife to do one we enrolled in a gold challeng. The trick is to do the challenge with fights in mind. Not the other way around

  17. Great post today. I want to aim for an elite status from scratch but do not know which airline to shoot for. Do you recommend any programs that fit into my travel profile?

    The three factors that weigh in on my decision is:

    1) hub in NYC or alliance with an airline that is one
    2) elite status programs that are “family” friendly. I travel with my family of 6 all time. I see no point of aiming for elite status if the rest of my family (or at least my spouse) can not be upgraded as well. Is there a particular program that upgrades anyone you are traveling with? I see you post today, United upgrade up to 8 to E+ which is nice. Any other programs have a similar perk
    3) can earn elite status miles with credit card signups. Looking to do a churn soon and I can probably focus most of my miles towards status by signing up for credit card. Is Delta the one who has such credit cards that earn status mile?

    Sorry for the entry level questions, but any input would help.

  18. To those who say it’s not realistic for families to achieve status, remember that Delta has a lot of easy/cheap ways to earn MQMs. Last year there was a promotion I jumped on to convert 50k Amex points to 50k SkyMiles, and 25k of those were MQMs (instant Delta Silver Medallion status). They also have regular credit card promotions for 15k MQMs with one purchase or $1000 in spend, which means you’d only need 10k MQMs for status. This is especially helpful for families because you can pick the best seats on the plane and get 1 free checked bag per person.

  19. Love reading your site- by the looks of your profile it seems you are on the verge of Gold? Or am I not reading that correctly?

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