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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.
- 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.