Experience as a United Premier Platinum Elite

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Not that long ago I had no airline elite status due to often using miles to fly (thus not earning miles) and simply not traveling quite as much as I have in the last few years.  However, in 2012 I became a United Silver (bottom tier elite), then United Gold (mid tier elite), and ultimately a United Platinum (upper mid tier elite).  I have held Platinum status for over a year now, after flying over 75,000 paid elite qualifying miles in 2012.  Now toward the end of 2013, I am sitting currently at over 98,000 elite qualifying miles on the year, and am just one trip short of becoming a top-tier United 1K flyer for 2014.  It’s time to share my thoughts and experiences as a United Platinum Elite member.

Highlights of Platinum Status:

  • Up to 8 E+ (extra legroom) seats at the time of booking for those on your reservation.  This is a huge benefit for my family as we would actually purchase E+ seats for some flights as we have found the extra legroom so much more comfortable for my tall husband and my squirmy kid.  E+ seats are often at least $40 or so per person on longer flights, so this has been a big savings and availability of E+ seats together at booking is often very good (unless you are booking at the last moment).  This is a big improvement over Silver and Gold status where you can only have up to one complimentary E+ companion, and with Silver status it is only valid at check-in.


  • Two Regional Premier Upgrades.  Premier Platinum elite members are given two regional premier upgrades that you can use to upgrade one cabin on paid fares on domestic flights, as well as those to Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, and more.  There has to be “R” space available to confirm the upgrade, but I have had good luck when locking the upgrade space in well in advance.  You can typically do this online, and can use them for your flights or a friend or family member’s flights.  Regional upgrades are how we secured business class seats to Hawaii, so I think that regional upgrades do have some very real value.

Regional upgrades can potentially get you in a lie-flat bed!

  • No last minute award booking fees or award change fees.  Award tickets virtually become your playground when you have Platinum status as you are exempt from all award ticket related fees that I can think of.  You can redeposit miles, change flights, book flights at the last minute, and more all without incurring a fee.  This fee-freedom applies for tickets booked not only for yourself, but for anyone when using miles from your account.  I have enjoyed being able to make speculative bookings that I may or may not need without having to think long and hard about whether it is worth a fee to cancel or change later on.
  • Fee Free Same Day Flight Changes on paid flights.  In addition to freedom from fees on award tickets, as a Platinum member you also have the ability to do unlimited “Same Day Flight Changes” for free.  This means on your United flights, you can change to flights up to 24 hours before or after your scheduled flight potentially for free.  You can even change the routing, as long as the origin and destination are the same.  This means that potentially you booked a very inexpensive flight at an off-peak time that required connections to save money, but the “same day” as your travels you may be able to change to the non-stop flight at the time you really wanted for no additional charge.  There has to be space available in your fare class, but I have had great success when trying to switch to the flight I want – especially at exactly 24 hours to the flight I want, or within just a couple of hours from that flight.  You can do this not just for your flights, but everyone on your reservation.  This perk has saved me and my family hundreds of dollars this year and allowed us to get home (or to our destination) faster.
  • 75% mileage bonus on paid tickets.  Compared to some other airlines, United is a bit stingy on the redeemable mile bonuses they give to elite members, but even with that getting a 75% bonus on redeemable miles is quite nice.  What this means is that if I book a flight that normally earns 2,000 United redeemable miles (which are different than elite qualifying miles), then due to my status I am actually earning 3,500 miles to use for future “free” travel.  Considering I will have flown 100,000 paid miles on United this year, this perk amounts to about 75,000 bonus redeemable miles that are conservatively worth at least $1100, so that is another actual real and tangible benefit to Platinum elite status.
  • Compensation for Global Entry.  I haven’t used this since I already have Global Entry, but United will pay the $100 fee for a Platinum member to apply for Global Entry.  Another real benefit if you don’t already have GE.
  • No phone service fee.  Platinum members do not have to pay the $25 fee for booking over the phone.  I rarely book over the phone anyway, but it is still nice to not be subjected to a fee when you need to do so.
  • Priority boarding, free checked bags, elite phone line, Star Gold Status, and priority security screening.  These perks of having Platinum status all mean something, but most are available even with lower tier status, and priority security doesn’t mean near as much as it used to for me and my family because of Pre-Check.  Priority boarding with Group 1 does help when we are traveling and want ourselves and our carry-on bags settled.  However, even that isn’t as important anymore since for the most part C doesn’t fly in a car seat at this point, so we don’t need as much time to get it down the aisle and installed.  I’m glad I have these perks, but, for the most part, they aren’t unique to Platinum status.
  • Upgrade percentages.  I don’t have a spreadsheet where I meticulously track each upgrade I do or do not get on United.  I don’t care enough, and simply don’t have the time for that, so I can’t give an exact percentage of how often I was upgraded as a Platinum elite.  However, I can approximate that having Platinum status means I get complimentary upgrades to first class on eligible flights about half the time.  That is dramatically better than when I was a Silver or Gold elite.  Keep in mind that I live at a United hub, and those flights are often harder to upgrade due to more elites.  I also am often traveling with a companion, so that will further hurt my upgrade chances (more on that in a moment).  I was upgraded almost all the time on flights where you would guess upgrades are likely such as on off-peak travel days like Saturday mornings and to destinations that are typically leisure-0riented (fewer elite business travelers).  I was also sometimes upgraded on flights that are typically harder such as flights to another hub and during busier travel days, but sometimes I was also number 40 on an upgrade wait-list a mile long.  All in all, I thought getting a complimentary upgrade to first about half the time wasn’t too bad.

Little C enjoying her complimentary first class upgrade

Lowlights of Platinum Status:

  • Upgrade when traveling with companions.  United allows complimentary space available upgrades for the elite traveler plus one companion, but they sure don’t make the process simple.  When you are on the same reservation as a companion, and check-in for your flight at 24 hours out, you will be asked if you want to be split from your companion and both placed on the upgrade list.  If you split the reservations and are placed on the upgrade list you may both be upgraded, but you may not be.  Additionally, you will be on a separate reservation from your companion and now some of your elite benefits like free same day changes won’t automatically apply to that other reservation.  If you decide not to split the reservation to be placed on the upgrade list, then you and your companion simply aren’t placed on the upgrade list at all.  It really is bananas.  What I do is simply not check-in until just a little before the flight (1-2 hours).  This way you still could be auto-upgraded with your companion, the same way you can be up to 72 hours in advance as a Platinum.  If the upgrade doesn’t happen that way, I just usually pass on it all together.
  • Two Regionals Premier Upgrades don’t go very far.  While it is great that Platinum members get two regional upgrades, the reality is that doesn’t go very far.  Essentially that means than on one paid round trip per year you can potentially secure an upgrade.  Or, if you have a family, you and one family member can upgrade on one direction of a trip.  That is nice, but considering how many trips you take as a Platinum traveler, that is a very small number of confirmed upgrades.
  • There are a lot of 1K travelers.  The other downside of Platinum status is that there are still a whole bunch of folks with higher status than you.  This really only matters if you are going for upgrades, but be aware that while flying 75,000+ miles a year is a bunch, there are many people who fly more than that and will be above you in the pecking order for upgrades.

Overall Experience:

I had a very good year as a United Platinum traveler in terms of elite benefits.  I avoided well over $1,000 in change fees, booking fees, E+ seat fees, and more.  This is real savings, as I did spend a good amount on some of those fees before having status, and would have continued to do so.  I was able to change dozens of flights via “same day change” to get home to my family as quickly as possible.  I earned 75,000 more redeemable miles worth at least $1,100 thanks to a 75% redeemable mile bonus.  I earned two regional upgrades (which turned into five due to a customer service issue), and was upgraded on roughly half of my flights via complimentary upgrades.  I generally had very prompt and helpful customer service over the phone via the elite line.  United is not a perfect airline, and they do not have a perfect elite system, but my experience at the second highest elite level was overall very good.

It was worth some incremental flying to get this elite level, and starting next year Platinum will be the highest elite level you can get as a US resident without spending $10,000 elite qualifying dollars on paid tickets.  Spending $25,000 annually on a co-branded United credit card will exempt you from the qualifying dollars requirement for all elite levels except top-tier 1K.  This means that more people from the miles and points community who like to fly on pretty inexpensive tickets, but are willing to utilize the co-branded United card, will top out at Platinum status starting next year.  I have to say Platinum isn’t a bad place to be, though I am looking forward to the 1K status I should have very soon.

What has your experience been if you have United Platinum elite status?

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  1. As a lifetime 1K, I don’t recommend folks go out of their way to earn the status now. While, as you’ve noted, there are some good perks, in general, you tend not to feel that your loyalty is rewarded. The worst part now is the upgrades; through what’s commonly known as the TOD system, UA tries to sell “your” upgrade to the highest bidder, so it’s very difficult to get complementary upgrades, even as a 1K. Without the upgrades, the status isn’t really worth the effort to obtain.

    UA rules are now so complicated that nobody understands them. Like I found it interesting that the “same day change” waiver applies to the companions on your reservation. Are you sure that’s the case? I’ve only inquired about it twice, but both times I was told I could do it for free, but my companions could not. Was I simply misinformed? If so, that would be another useful perk (but one that you could lose if you split your reservation try to get upgrades).

  2. Great summary! I had a similar experience. To me, the lack of award change fees and same day changes were the biggest benefits. The flexibility it affords when we wanted or needed to change our flights was nice, and I must have changed our honeymoon award a million times. Unfortunately, I have just under 45k miles this year, so it will be silver for me. 🙁

    UA really needs to resolve the companion issues. While it did result in a lot of free miles for my wife and myself complaining about the issues, there were times where we lost E+ or couldn’t sit together because I had been upgraded and she had somehow been left down the list.

  3. iahphx, I have had no trouble doing SDC for everyone on my reservation both online and over the phone. Indeed if you split the rez this perk will not automatically be available to your traveling companions.
    Ethan, I agree the companion upgrade issue is a real annoyance that should have a fix.

    • iahphx, I can’t speak to what the official policy is, but usually when I use it is isn’t anyone being nice…just the computer presenting it as an option. Unless of course the computer is simply being nice, which is fine by me. 😉

  4. After going out of my way to get status (i only fly for leisure and not work) I’ve decided that for 2014 it just isnt worth it for casual flyers like me to spend on flights just to get status for kicks (i’d just fly every other weekend for brief getaways but financially it was stupid but I had a great time)

  5. As a Premier 1K living in a hub, would echo prior comments re longer odds on upgrades – about 35% of the time, it will happen for me. That counts both going to other hubs and more obscure places. For United, with the new rules going into place re spending minimums and many buying the upgrade seating, the theme is clear – revenue is far more important than loyal patronage by regular flyers.

  6. My husband and I both are lifetime United Premier Gold, having each flown over a million miles on United. At one time, we both had 1K status (Platinum didn’t exist with UA until the Continental merger) for several years, both pre- and post-merger. However, once we achieved lifetime Gold, we stopped only using United and instead chose flights that best suited our times/routing with whichever airline served us best.

    The difference? We are happy with Gold. Do we get upgraded as often? No, but the difference is relatively minor in our experience. I live by SNA and fly out of SNA or LAX most often; when flying from/to SNA, I get upgraded about a third of the time now. When I was 1K, I got upgraded a little more, but not quite as half the time. When flying from LAX, I don’t get upgraded often, but I’m competing with 1Ks and Platinums now; when I was 1K, I got upgraded a third of the time roughly, but it was less often post-merger.

    We still get access to E+ seats at booking–for us and up to 1 companion each. That’s plenty, as we never used that perk for more than 1 other passenger anyway, so being Platinum or 1K didn’t make much difference.

    We still get Star Gold privileges, so being Platinum or 1K doesn’t make any difference there.

    We do have to pay a nominal fee when changing award tickets or redepositing miles, but we pay less than Silvers or non-elites. Platinums and 1Ks get this for free, but we do this only occasionally, and the total cost to us is not nearly as bad as having to ONLY choose United to reach Platinum or 1K now.

    Considering UA now allows more people to pay for upgrades, the upgrade pool is diluted. I’m sure we’d see better award availability if we were Platinum/1K, but the difference doesn’t make us want to fly more on UA for that alone. The coming devaluation on UA also ensures there likely will be more biz/first award tickets available to Golds, in our opinion, both on UA and on Star partners–since their levels are going up, too.

  7. Premier Platinum living in a hub. Have only received 2 CPUs all year in 20+ flights. Hope to bat higher than .100 next year as 1K.

  8. Having been a Gold/Platinum/1K the last few years, I would say the sweet spot to be is Platinum:

    * Being a gold just isn’t what it used to be, and you definitely don’t feel appreciated. Bonus miles is now only 50%, and you board in Group 2, along with all those who have the United Explorer credit card.

    * Biggest benefit of Platinum over Gold is the no-fee flight changes, especially on award flights. The reason to invest in United/Star-Alliance is their reward ticket possibilities, and being able to make changes without paying fees is HUGE.

    * 1K doesn’t provide significant advantages over a Platinum. The 6 system-wide upgrades are practically useless, as I don’t like to play the lottery with higher-fare tickets.

  9. As a UA MM Gold for life, and a Southwest Companion Pass holder, I’m satisfied with UA Gold as my “sweet spot”. (I value E+ seating, free SDC, international lounge access, and free or $25 award changes; I’m careful to avoid $100 award redeposits and $200 revenue tix change fees. I value Southwest no change fees, de facto refundable points bookings, and of course free CP travel much more highly than domestic UA upgrades. I sometimes choose UA when I want SDC change flexibility, since Southwest makes you buy up to full fare for SDC changes.)

  10. EWR based 1K last year and just topped 107K for this year. I have to say the UG experience is not just about the 1K status, it is about the miles. If you just made your 1K, you can expect to be in the bottom of the list.

    I just calculated my PQM for this year at about 107K, and I pretty much fly weekly. I was going to be short, and getting ready to pay for some coast to coast runs to make my number, but a couple of last minute European trips came through and saved my tail.

    As a 1K in EWR I see an UG about 75% of the time, and only had one bad flight to the west coast where I did not even get 7A or 7F in Economy Plus. 6 hour middle seat trips will really humble a spoiled 1K dude!

    All in all I have to say that UA is one of the best in customer service, and while the programs may have been cut back from days past, they still have them for the top tier flyers, and lets face it, that is keeping fuel in the tanks. If you have anything other than 1K or GS, or are wearing a uniform, then boarding is basically like the cattle yards. Even as a 1K I have seen half the plane get on in lane 1.

    Want to beat everyone? Buy a cane. But don’t let anyone catch you NOT using it, or they will beat you with it. Especially in EWR.

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