Using Your Elite Status to Your Advantage Going Standby on United

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I’ve gotten some feedback that I may be posting about my own travels a bit too much recently.  I don’t actually disagree since I am in the middle of a ton of summer trips, and that is what is on my mind.  While I am trying really hard to return to a slightly more balanced assortment of posts on different topics, something happened today on my trip to fly and pick up my kiddo from grandma’s that I think might be a useful reminder to others, even if it isn’t helping with a more balanced posting schedule.

My plan when I picked my daughter up today at the airport in Kansas was to land, hurry to the area just before security to meet her, tell Grandma thanks for keeping her, and then immediately turn right around to re-clear security with her and head back to the gate to take the same plane back to Houston.  I wasn’t booked on that flight since it would be a tight turn for me to make, but I had hoped there would be room and I could do a “same day change” to get on that flight.  I did a quick glance at the available seats on the plane (even though that is not a definitive indicator of how full the flight is) and there were enough available that I thought we could make it instead of waiting around for three hours for the next flight.

We actually got back to the gate a few minutes before they started re-boarding the regional jet.  A bit out of breath, I nicely asked the gate agent if we could change to this flight instead of the next one.  She quickly said no that there was a fee and it was full anyway.  I said I have Platinum status so the fee would be waived, but we really wanted to try for this flight if at all possible.  She said there was a wait list already and we wouldn’t get on.

I was so excited to have my kid back from a weekend away, and still a bit out of breath from running through the terminal, so I just plunked down in the nearest chair without saying anything additional.  We stuck by close to the gate and let them know as they were paging missing passengers that we still wanted on if there was any room.  I said we had no checked luggage and were ready to go.  Ultimately we missed out by one seat and several standby passengers on the “official list” did clear.

This all happened really quickly, but I later realized I possibly should have used my elite status a bit more than I did.  I hate the “Do You Know Who I Am” attitude that can come from some who have elite status, so I actually err in not using my status enough much of the time in situations where it might matter.  This was one of those times.

According to United’s website:

Customers standing by are ranked by MileagePlus Premier® status. Specifically, United Global ServicesSM members will have the highest priority, followed by Premier 1K®, Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, Premier Silver members and then all remaining customers.  If there are multiple customers with the same Premier status, the fare class originally purchased will be used to determine priority. In the event there are multiple customers with the same Premier status and fare class, the time that the customer was added to the standby list will be the determining factor.”

I mentioned my status to the gate agent in reference to the standby fee she was trying to tell me about, but I should have pushed to be added to the standby list anyway.  If it works as it should, and customers standing-by are ranked my Premier status, then it isn’t a stretch to think that my Platinum status might have gotten me ahead of some on the list and we might have made it on the flight.

Truthfully that feels a little like “cheating” since others were on the list first, so that may have been at least part of why I hesitated to do it in the heat of the moment, but as the 3+ hours drug on in the little airport with my daughter I thought maybe I should have used my status a little more than I did.  At the very least, hopefully this is a good reminder to others on how the standby process works.  Getting on the official list would have been the smartest play even if I didn’t have status.  Of course, it could be argued the gate agent should have added me when I asked if we could get on the flight, but it wasn’t offered, and I didn’t push for it.

So, we ate junk in the airport for hours and talked about her weekend with her extended family.  We had a fun time on our sugar highs, but getting home a bit earlier would have been nice, too.

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  1. I was added to a standby list for a n/s GSO-LGA flight when my GSO-DCA flight was delayed (LGA was my final destination that day). Thanks to my high level elite status I shot to the top of the list and was the only standby to get on. I felt a little bad for the others waiting, but this is one of the promised perks of flying enough with one airline to earn high level of status.

  2. I’ve done same day standby lots of times, and never run into a gate agent who was unwilling to add me to the list. You should have pushed for it. Because of your status (I’m also a Platinum) you would have jumped to the front of the line and likely made the earlier flight. I’ve bumped other standby passengers before and felt bad about it for all of 2.5 seconds. After all, United is the one who makes the rules that say we get to cut in line. Sounds like your GA was a little lazy.

    • Totally agree I should have pushed for it, but in the moment I clearly wasn’t thinking clearly. Now that storms are rolling in and my flight is delayed (and it may get worse) I am really thinking I blew it. Though the gate agent didn’t help. 😉

  3. I used to SDC to earlier hub-spoke flights all the time. Never felt bad about it at all. As a 1K in the Old Days, that was one of the things United did for me: they tried their best to get me home as fast as possible. In return, I spent lots of my employer’s money with them.

    The tactic that I found worked best required a paper boarding pass — providing that to the GA lets him or her rapidly see that you have status (and a record locator), without you having to ask if they know who you are.

    In this case, it sounds like you had a United Express gate agent at an outstation. My experience with them was similar to yours — they required more persistence, in general.

    And having used SHARES myself, I can totally see how they would be unwilling to sign up for more waitlist adds than they absolutely have to. Yeesh.

  4. I generally disagree with the first few comments in your post. With two little princesses in tow, I can totally relate to your personal adventures much more than the content of some other blogs I read living the single/kid free life. I think I that’s what makes this blog unique, I mean, how many times did I need to read about the amex 75k sign up? But your travels and adventures are generally unique and exciting, and I thank you for sharing.

  5. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked an agent to add me to the standby/upgrade list, been told “Don’t bother, there’s no possibility,” insisted, and shot to the top of the list. What really bemuses me is how often the agents are amazed. I understand that 99% of the people who ask are not plat/1K, but surely the agents have seen 1Ks before, and understand how the priority list works?

  6. ALWAYS push them to add you. Several times I’ve had the “list is full” discussion with a GA (on American) only to find out that even though there were 70 people on the list, as a connecting EXP I was #2 or #1. Status matters, and it’s not DYKWIA to use it.

  7. Totally agree with everyone else. Always push to get on the standby list if you have status.

    And btw – your status and the associated benefits are hard earned. Has nothing to do with DYKWIA

  8. Why the rush and have an instant turnaround with Grandma? You had three hours. That’s enough to have a meal togethet and not run through the terminal twice.
    Also, did you check FlightStats for seat availability?

  9. I wouldn’t feel bad about it as it was the airline’s rules and since I fly with them a certain amount, I would expect them to honor the rules and benefits of elite status (hope i didnt sound too high and mighty with elite status). And its not really about flying a certain amount with an airlines, its the fact that you flew more than the other people waiting to get on the plane. Now if all of the standbys were 1Ks, well yea you’re out of luck.

    I guess in this one instance, it was good that you didn’t push it as you did have another passenger with you. I’m usually travelling by myself so squeezing myself into flights on standby isn’t a problem. Two people sort of makes it difficult as then you want to be seated next to her and then the gate agents would need to find two next to each other (i use the term “need” loosely in this case as the gate agents probably assumed that you would complain about that anyway.)

  10. On Delta, even as a Silver I’ve seen some serious benefits on the standby list due to my status. Same-day standby/confirmed isn’t a benefit of Silver under regular operations, but this was IROPS specific. I got stranded overnight in Atlanta lately, and somehow I got rebooked on at 12:30pm the next day. I got to the airport and got put on the standby list for the 9:00am flight. The GA looked at me like I was crazy, but I jumped up to #1 of something like 40 for a 50 seat RJ with two empty seats. Moral of the story, it never hurts to insist on getting on the list even as a low-level elite. (Unfortunately in my case, the early flight went mechanical and I ended up asking her to take me off the list once my confirmed flight started boarding. Oh well.)

  11. Last year I was scheduled to have a 6 hour layover at PHX on a mileage run, but I got off the plane, went to the gate agent (same gate/plane), and asked to be put on the standby list. There were already a dozen people on it, and I went straight to the top and got the second to last seat (last seat went to someone else doing the same MR). Didn’t feel the slightest bit bad or guilty.

  12. Jon, thanks for the nice words. 🙂
    Tim, after C being there 5 days and me having been there just 4 days ago it was time to get home. Wanted to get home before bedtime so hoped for the earlier flight. Once we missed it didn’t want to go through the goodbye process and again.
    Everyone else, I still would feel slightly bad about doing it, but since it is 10:20PM and I just got home when I could have been home by about 6:20PM next time I will be pushing to actually be added to the “full” standby list.

  13. Good point on the bedtime (I think my mom would have wanted to spend some time with me catching up on my trip had she babysat my kid for the past 4 days rather than a quick hi/bye at the airport.)
    I’m curious what would have happened if you had booked the earlier flight originally but missed it. Would you automatically be on the standby/waiting list for the next flight? If so, would the computer see your status and put you high up on the list?

    • Joey, originally we had hoped my husband would do the pick-up so he could visit his parents for a little bit, but it worked out that I did both trips and had been lucky enough to have two days of a visit with my in-laws just a few days prior. Either way, we were all just ready to get back to normal…though it took a little longer than we hoped. If we just missed our flight we would be at the mercy of the agents to help us, or not. Even a big trip to the bathroom on the part of my kiddo could have caused us to miss so it wouldn’t have been wise to book it that way.

  14. If I were you I would shoot United a quick email mentioning that the GA refused to put you on the standby list. It’s a published elite benefit to get priority standby, and as a Plat it’s pretty likely you’d have made the flight. They might kick a few bonus miles your way for your trouble. 🙂

  15. I agree with Jon L, your personal travel stories are what makes this blog unique. In fact, I found the Venetian hotel reviews more out of place.

    As for exercising your status rights, I don’t see any difference in that and buying a Disney VIP pass, you are paying for it either way.

  16. After arriving in Houston while you were taxiing to the gate, you could have called the Platinum line and asked about a same day change (doubtful there would be a seat on the return flight in the same fare class if the plane was “full”). Next, you could have tried to use a UA kiosk to add your party to the standby list upon entering the terminal, and if this failed, you could have asked that your party be added to the standby list just for “kicks” and taken joy in the GA’s facial expressions as your party’s names “magically” elevated to a more favorable position.

  17. Ethan, she didn’t overtly refuse, just also didn’t do it. I bet if I pushed she would have, I just wasn’t in a pushy mood…though I may be next time. 😉
    DBest, thanks for your words about the personal travel stories. I like them to be a part of this site as well – maybe the last few weeks were just too heavy with them. Maybe not, who knows! Glad you like them though.
    Stealthradar, I have never seen a United kiosk at this airport past security, sadly. I did try to do it online, but that of course didn’t work. As it turns out, I should have done your last suggestion for sure though.

  18. Never feel bad about using your status! It has helped me secure last minute seats on standby lists many times, especially with weather delays when flights get cancelled. As a mom of two little ones, I love the family travel stories on this blog! Looking forward to the continuation of the Kauai trip report.

  19. Here is another little known information about flying standby/same day flight change with UA: If you make it (and as a platinum, you should make it most of the time) and get a new boarding pass for the new flight, it will be issued in Y class, with all the credit (1.5x PQMs and 1.5 PQSs) Y tickets provide. Plus, if you get in early enough and there are F seats available you jump on top of the F upgrade list.

    • @EamonSC – Not necessarily. The GA’s are supposed to issue the ticket in the same class as your original ticket – some simply reissue in Y because it’s quickest (or may be the only fare immediately available without some computer trickery). It’s nice when it happens but it’s not guaranteed.

      @Mommy – The only time I’ve felt “dirty” bumping someone (well, isn’t that an image?) is when I used a Platinum Availability Guarantee @ Starwood to bump someone from a Sheraton I knew was already oversold. There was no question someone was getting walked… and that the closest comparable hotels with any availability were more than 15 miles away (through traffic back into town the next morning). I needed a place, though, and the hotel makes that perk available as a business offer to me, so it really is “just business” at that point – mine vs. whoever got walked. I lost no sleep…

  20. Me, too – on the loving of the family trip reports. If there was one thing to be a bit heavy towards when things go out of balance, I would want it to be the reports of your trips, especially the ones that Little C is actually on.
    Real life anecdotes of the benefits of elite status (both airline and hotel) really help me to understand what I can expect to get, or what I could ask for and have a hope of getting.

  21. MP – On many UA flights, if there is even one seat left available for sale, it is “opened up” to most or all fare buckets (including award travel) about 24 hours before the flight. So, before requesting standby, suggest calling Platinum Res and asking for a Same Day Change (free for Golds and above). (What I don’t know is whether there is a cutoff for SDC – for example 30 or 60 minutes prior to departure).

    (You can check fare bucket availability using Expert Mode on the UA Web site, or Expertflyer.)

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