The Value of United Elite Status: Prior to Departure & At The Airport

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The United MileagePlus® elite status program has 4 public elite levels and 1 invitation-only level designed for super high-spending customers.

Each of these status levels comes with a variety of benefits to help the frequent traveler, though each perk carries a different value depending on how often you may use it, what status you hold, and how often you may fly. With all the different benefits, here’s a deep-dive look into each one to help you understand:

  • The benefit and how it works
  • How to maximize each benefit so you get the most value
  • The valuation we place on each benefit
  • When it may be worth it to try for a higher elite status level

In this post, you’ll find all the information you need about each of the status levels, as well as all of the benefits prior to departure (ticketing, fee waivers, etc.) and at the airport. A second post will be dedicated to seating and upgrades (the 2 largest perks of United status).

United MileagePlus Elite Level Tiers

To understand the value behind each tier, it’s important to understand the basics of the MileagePlus program and how to earn each status.

Here are the MileagePlus levels:

  • Premier Silver (requires 25,000 flown miles and $3,000 spent)
  • Premier Gold (requires 50,000 flown miles and $6,000 spent)
  • Premier Platinum (requires 75,000 flown miles and $9,000 spent)
  • Premier 1K (requires 100,000 flown miles and $15,000 spent)
  • Global Services (invitation only)

Each tier has progressively better benefits, although in some cases benefits are the same across several tiers. (This is sometimes a good reason not to go for a higher level, when you can achieve the same benefit for less spending and fewer miles flown!)

United MileagePlus Logo
The United MileagePlus logo is 1 of the 3 largest loyalty programs in the U.S.. Image Credit: United.

For the majority of this post, we’re not going to look at Global Services benefits (although we may mention the perks and how they compare in certain sections). Since Global Services is by invitation only, it’s hard to place a value on specific perks.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of the rest of the tiers.

Minimum Accrual of 500 Premier Qualifying Miles

When you earn elite status, you qualify in part based on the actual miles you fly. For business people who may only take shorter trips, earning based on miles flown can be really difficult.

For all elite levels, you will earn a 500-mile minimum for each flight, no matter the route flown. For example, Newark to Washington Dulles is less than 500 miles flown, however elite members will still earn 500 miles. While it’s not enough to make up for the rate at which a long-haul flight would earn miles, this perk still helps business travelers earn elite status at a much faster rate.

It is relatively difficult to place a value on this, but we’ll assume members add 1 additional trip as they move up status levels, and that each trip is worth $25 in minimum Premier Qualifying Miles.

  • Premier Silver: $25
  • Premier Gold: $50
  • Premier Platinum: $75
  • Premier 1K: $100

Increased Award Mile Earning Rates

As a United elite, you’ll earn more award miles for every ticket purchased, whether that’s through United or a partner.

As a point of reference:

  • When a ticket is operated by United and issued by any airline, you’ll earn award miles based on the fare of the ticket.
  • When a ticket is operated by a Star Alliance or other MileagePlus partner airline and issued by United, you’ll earn award miles based on the fare of the ticket.
  • When a ticket is operated by a Star Alliance or other MileagePlus partner airline and issued by an airline other than United, you’ll earn award miles based on the flight distance and purchased fare class.

The Premier status you have will determine how many bonus miles you will receive. In all cases, the multiplier is based on the actual fare of the ticket, excluding any taxes and carrier-imposed fees.

  • Member: Earns 5x the fare, and earns a total of 5x the fare for award miles.
  • Premier Silver: Earns 5x the fare, and receives 2x the fare as Premier bonus award miles, for a total of 7x the fare
  • Premier Gold: Earns 5x the fare, and receives 3x the fare as Premier bonus award miles, for a total of 8x the fare
  • Premier Platinum: Earns 5x the fare, and receives 4x the fare as Premier bonus award miles, for a total of 9x the fare
  • Premier 1K: Earns 5x the fare, and receives 6x the fare as Premier bonus award miles, for a total of 11x the fare
The more you spend on United flights, the more award mile you’ll earn. The higher elite status you have, the more bonuses you’ll receive. Image Credit: United

At minimum, here’s how many award miles each status would earn in a year (assuming the member spends the minimum amount of dollars to earn each tier level):

  • Premier Silver: 21,000 award miles
  • Premier Gold: 48,000 award miles
  • Premier Platinum: 81,000 award miles
  • Premier 1K: 165,000 award miles

Based on these numbers and how many miles are required to book a trip, you can roughly see the value at each status level. Since United has moved to a more dynamic award pricing system, it’s difficult to peg each status level on a particular award earning level, but we can estimate:

  • Premier Silver: Good for just less than a round-trip economy class ticket within the U.S.
  • Premier Gold: Good for roughly 1 round-trip first class ticket within the U.S., or 2 round-trip economy class tickets
  • Premier Platinum: Good for roughly 1 one-way business class ticket to Europe
  • Premier 1K: Good for roughly 1 round-trip business class ticket to Europe

Combining this information, here’s how we value the total amount of award miles you would receive based on spending the minimum amount of dollars to earn each status level:

  • Premier Silver: ~$350 (21,000 award miles, which is worth roughly a round-trip economy class flight)
  • Premier Gold: ~$750 (48,000 award miles, which is worth roughly a round-trip first class domestic flight)
  • Premier Platinum: ~$1,200 (81,000 award miles, which is worth roughly a one-way business class international flight)
  • Premier 1K: ~$2,500 (165,000 award miles, which is worth roughly a round-trip business class international flight)
You will earn different miles for your ticket depending on the purchase price. A United agent can help tell you how many miles you will earn, and can help you redeem those miles for a ticket anywhere United or their Star Alliance partners fly. Image Credit: United Airlines.

A Note on Buying Tickets Through Consolidators

In most cases, it pays to purchase tickets through a consolidator so you can earn more miles. A consolidator is basically a wholesaler buyer of tickets — they either buy tickets or fares in bulk, or are allowed to sell excess inventory on flights that the airline knows they won’t be able to sell themselves.

When you purchase tickets from a consolidator, you earn based on the distance flown, and not how much you spent for the ticket.

Consider a long-haul trip to Asia or the South Pacific. Your mileage earnings as a percentage of the miles flown will almost always be more than what the actual ticket cost, multiplied by the elite bonus level. Especially for lower-tier elites, if you can purchase long-distance tickets through a consolidator or as a special fare, you’ll benefit even more!

  • J, C, D, Z, and P fares earn 100% of the distance flown, plus a 50% class of service bonus
  • Y, B, M, O, A, and R earn 100% of the distance flown
  • E, U, H, Q, V, and W earn 75% of the distance flown
  • S, T, L, K, and G earn 50% of the distance flown

Priority Check-In

All elite levels have access to priority check-in areas, though this benefit can vary depending on the airport you’re at.

  • Premier Silver: May check-in at priority lanes (except for Star Alliance Gold queues)
  • Premier Gold: May check-in at Star Alliance Gold queues or first class lines
  • Premier Platinum: May check-in at Star Alliance Gold queues or first class lines
  • Premier 1K: May check-in at dedicated 1K queues, first class queues, or Star Alliance Gold areas

In all cases, having access to a dedicated priority check-in area helps when you need ticketing assistance, or when checking a bag. Not having to wait in a general queue can really save some time, especially when there may be issues with your reservation or in case of irregular operations.

The value of priority check-in really depends on how much you would use it. Some travelers never need to speak with an agent, so for them the value is much lower. But for a business traveler who checks a bag on every trip, the value is much higher.

In general, queues are shorter at non-hub cities. So if you tend to fly out of cities other than Denver, Washington Dulles, or Newark, for example, you’ll find the lines shorter to begin with and may not place as much value on a priority check-in queue.

United also provides priority queues for speaking with customer service agents at airports, which is a really nice touch. Throughout the terminal at major hub city airports, you’ll find these customer service podiums where you can inquire about seat assignments, get rebooked on alternate flights, and ask any other relevant questions.

These locations all have a regular line for non-elites, and then a queue for all elite level customers to receive faster service. This can be very helpful in cases of major weather delays with tons of folks scrambling to re-book flights. While the regular lines will be very long, you’ll have somewhat of an advantage standing in line at the elite counter.

We value this based upon increased usage of each elite tier, which means you’re more likely to check more bags as you fly more, and you’re more likely to encounter irregular operations where you may need to see an agent:

  • Premier Silver: $50
  • Premier Gold: $150
  • Premier Platinum: $250
  • Premier 1K: $350
All elites on United receive priority check-in, which allows them to to reduce the time they spend waiting in line. Image Credit: United Airlines.

Priority Screening

At major airports worldwide, United elites will get priority screening privileges, meaning they’ll be able to access security checkpoints faster. Usually, there will be 2 lines at most airports: 1 for regular customers, and 1 for those with elite status in a major frequent flyer program.

At U.S. airports, you’ll also find TSA PreCheck lanes, which provide expedited processing where you don’t have to take off light jackets or remove laptops from bags.

It’s important to note that priority screening queues obtained through elite status don’t include TSA PreCheck automatically. At some airports, these lines don’t have an option to funnel into the actual PreCheck checkpoint — so you’ll need to make a decision on where to line up. In most cases, PreCheck lines will be faster thanks to expedited screening, so you may not always want to use an elite line, even if it is a benefit.

We value this benefit based upon increased usage at each tier, and the time saved with the additional expedited queue. We also take into consideration that as a higher elite flyer, you will more than likely have PreCheck, though it isn’t specifically included as an elite benefit.

  • Premier Silver: $50
  • Premier Gold: $100
  • Premier Platinum: $150
  • Premier 1K: $200

United Priority Boarding Privileges

Unlike other airlines that tend to segment elite levels and boarding (like American, which practically has a separate group for every elite tier), United has decided to lump several elite tiers into few boarding groups, making for an interesting boarding process.

Pre-Boarding

As you can see, both United’s invitation-only Global Services level and highest public tier 1K members board at the same time, before all other passengers. In a busy hub like Denver or San Fransisco, it can seem like half the plane is pre-boarding (which is a very real thing).

Group 1

  • Premier Platinum members
  • Premier Gold members
  • Star Alliance Gold members
  • Customers seated in premium cabins (such as United Polaris, first, and business)

This is a HUGE boarding group. Group 1 will include a majority of elites (it includes both mid-tiers, which have a majority of the MileagePlus elite membership), as well as partner elites (Star Alliance Gold), and anyone seated in a premium cabin. If you think of a wide-body flight with 40+ premium seats out of a major hub with tons of elites…this will be nothing less than a stampede to the plane.

Group 2

  • Premier Silver members
  • Star Alliance Silver members
  • Customers who have purchased Premier Access or Priority Boarding
  • Cardmembers who have a UnitedSM Explorer Card or United MileagePlus® Club Card

This is another huge group, since it lumps in the lowest frequent flyer tier (where there’s a huge membership) and partner elites. Also, when you think of “priority” boarding, you don’t necessarily think of Group 2 — yet those who purchase this service will board here.

What makes this group even more chaotic is the fact that it includes pretty much all United credit card holders — and as you can imagine, there is an absolute ton of those folks. We mention this because you’ll likely value priority boarding less when you have to board with more people and compete to stow your bags.

Groups 3 through 5 include premium economy and economy. Group 5 will consists of all Basic Economy, with the exception of elites and those who hold a qualifying credit card, who will still board in their normal earlier boarding group.

As a recap, here’s where each of the elite levels board:

  • United Global Services: Pre-boarding
  • Premier 1K: Pre-boarding
  • Premier Platinum: Group 1
  • Premier Gold: Group 1
  • Premier Silver: Group 2

Here’s how we value priority boarding:

  • Premier Silver: $100, based upon occasional usage and a large boarding group
  • Premier Gold: $250, based upon increased usage, but combined with Platinum boarding
  • Premier Platinum: $300, based on even more usage, but combined with Gold boarding
  • Premier 1K: $500, based upon highest usage and boarding prior to other groups
As a United elite, you’ll be among the first to board the plane thanks to priority boarding privileges. Image Credit: United Airlines.

Priority Baggage Handling

As an elite, your bag should be among the first to come off the plane. When checking in with an agent, your bags will be tagged with a priority paper that lets baggage handlers know those bags should come out first.

In reality, it doesn’t always work this way, and it’s routine for bags to come out later in the delivery process. Especially on flights where you’re lumped in with many other elites, there will be a lot of priority bags coming out at any one time. At that point, there’s no differentiation between a Premier 1K’s bags and those belonging to a Premier Silver.

Since this benefit is hit or miss, here’s how we value priority baggage handling (mostly based on increased usage as you fly more):

  • Premier Silver: $25, based on occasional checked bags
  • Premier Gold: $50, based on more checked bags
  • Premier Platinum: $75, based on even more checked bags
  • Premier 1K: $100, based on highest likelihood of having checked bags

Premier Priority Desk Phone Line

Having access to a human agent is one of the most important elite benefits — they can make or break the booking experience and help you get on better flights, deal with weather cancellations, and take care of other important last-minute issues.

All United elite levels have a Premier Priority Desk phone line to reach out to.

  • Premier Silver: Premier Priority Desk
  • Premier Gold: Premier Priority Desk
  • Premier Platinum: Premier Priority Desk
  • Premier 1K: 1K 1Call Dedicated Line

The 3 lowest tiers — Silver, Gold and Platinum — share an elite line, so agents who answer the phones help all 3 types of customers.

But 1Ks — the highest public tier — have a dedicated “1Call” center that is better-equipped to handle requests regarding their elite benefits, upgrades, and other issues. This type of agent is empowered to help more than a traditional reservations agent.

We value the access to the dedicated phone line based on usage:

  • Premier Silver: $50, based on a few calls per year
  • Premier Gold: $100, based on more calls per year
  • Premier Platinum: $150, based on even more calls per year
  • Premier 1K: $300, based the most calls per year, including potential waivers or special assistance

It’s worth noting that United’s Twitter customer service team (@United) is not as good as either American or Delta, and response times are usually longer than with other airlines (even Alaska does better). If you’re a United elite, you should value the elite phone line access more than other airlines, since customer service on social media is worse.

Premier 1Ks also have access to the United “1K Voice” email address where they can email about non-urgent matters to receive assistance. This would include things such as compensation from flights that have issues, problems with crediting flights toward the MileagePlus program, etc.

While response times can be hit or miss, it certainly saves having to call in. We didn’t account for 1K Voice in our valuation since it doesn’t fall directly into this category, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.

Access to Most Sold-Out Flights

Last minute flights happen — whether for work or emergencies, you sometimes need to get somewhere in a matter of hours. The problem is that many flights in that scenario are often sold out, sometimes far in advance.

One of the benefits of being a MileagePlus elite is access to most sold out flights. With this benefit, you’re able to purchase an unrestricted Y or B (full-fare) economy ticket — even if the flight is sold out, you’ll still have a seat.

  • Premier Silver: Can purchase a Y ticket at least 24 hours prior to departure
  • Premier Gold: Can purchase a Y ticket at least 24 hours prior to departure
  • Premier Platinum: Can purchase a Y ticket at least 120 minutes prior to departure
  • Premier 1K: Can purchase a Y or B ticket at least 90 minutes prior to departure

Premier 1Ks have the best benefit of being allowed to purchase the next lowest (and cheapest) fare B, and being allowed to buy a ticket at least 90 minutes prior to departure.

Top tier United elites have access to even sold out fights within a few hours of departure. Being able to get on a sold out flight means you may be able to get home earlier, or get to a meeting on short notice. Image courtesy of United.

The airline takes into account how many of these types of tickets to sell, and they understand scenarios where doing so might oversell a flight and cause them to pay compensation to another passenger. This is a very well calculated risk, and they only offer this benefit knowing that they end up losing more money providing any compensation.

As with any flight, there’s always the potential for misconnecting passengers, folks who miss the check-in cutoff time, etc., which can free up a seat to account for an elite passenger buying a ticket on an otherwise sold-out flight.

That said, this benefit is really only useful for last-minute emergency business or corporate workers who might need to travel at the drop of a hat.

  • Premier Silver: ~$50, for a potential use once per year (based on how long it would take to find another airline ticket)
  • Premier Gold: ~$50
  • Premier Platinum: ~$60
  • Premier 1K: ~$75

Remember, when you book into a Y or B fare, you can receive an instant upgrade if there’s still space in the premium cabin. More than likely, when booking so close to departure, there won’t be any premium space left — but it’s worth noting that the benefit still exists if you find seats.

Lounge Access When Traveling Internationally

Lounge access is one of the top perks of being a MileagePlus Premier member, and when you’re on a long haul international flight, it can really make the difference.

  • Premier Silver: No lounge access
  • Premier Gold: Lounge access when flying internationally
  • Premier Platinum: Lounge access when flying internationally
  • Premier 1K: Lounge access when flying internationally

To enter any Star Alliance lounge, just show your same-day boarding pass listing your Star Alliance Gold status (which you have as a Premier Gold, Platinum, and 1K). Each elite member may bring 1 guest who is also traveling on a flight operated by a Star Alliance member airline and departing from the same airport.

When traveling on an international itinerary, you can receive complimentary United Club access as a United MileagePlus elite. Image Credit: United Airlines.

What’s really interesting about this benefit is that you can enter some lounges domestically, too. Star Alliance lounge access rules prevent access to United Clubs on domestic-only itineraries, but they don’t prevent access to other Star Alliance lounges.

So if you’re flying from Washington Dulles to Houston on United in any class of service, for example, your Star Alliance Gold status lets you access the Turkish Airlines Lounge in Terminal B of Dulles Airport. It’s not in the same terminal where United mainline flights operate — Terminals C and D — but if you’ve got time to spare, you can take the Air Train to Terminal B and enjoy upgraded food and amenities at no additional expense.

The same goes for the Lufthansa Lounge in the same terminal or in Detroit’s airport.

Here’s a full list of lounges you can access domestically:

  • Lufthansa Senator Lounge at Detroit gate D8
  • Avianca Lounge at Miami gate J8
  • Lufthansa Senator Lounge at Newark gate B60
  • SAS Business Lounge at Newark gate B60
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at LaGuardia gate B47
  • Lufthansa Business Lounge at Boston gate B11
  • Swiss Business Lounge at Chicago gate M8
  • SAS Business Lounge at Chicago gate M15
  • Lufthansa Senator Lounge at Washington Dulles gate B51
  • Turkish Airlines Lounge at Washington Dulles gate B42
  • Star Alliance Lounge at Los Angeles gate 148
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at Los Angeles gate 64A

Partner lounges tend to include bars, a buffet food spread, computer terminals, agent assistance, showers, and complimentary internet access, among other benefits.

We value lounge access highly, especially depending on the airport you are leaving from where there might be better lounge offerings.

  • Premier Silver: $0 (no access)
  • Premier Gold: $250 based on accessing a lounge a few times a year
  • Premier Platinum: $400 based on accessing a lounge multiple times a year
  • Premier 1K: $600 based on consistent usage
United Lounge Heathrow Terminal 2
When you fly on an international itinerary, you have access to both United Clubs and Star Alliance lounges depending on your elite status tier. Image Credit: Greg Stone

Complimentary Checked Baggage Allowance

No matter where you sit on the plane, all elite levels are given complimentary baggage to check, which can be a huge money saver depending on how much you fly.

  • Premier Silver: 1 bag at 70 lbs (32 kg)
  • Premier Gold: 2 bags at 70 lbs (32 kg) each
  • Premier Platinum: 3 bags at 70 lbs (32 kg) each
  • Premier 1K: 3 bags at 70 lbs (32 kg) each

These benefits are actually good for up to 9 companions on the same reservation. If you’re traveling with family or friends, they will all be extended the same complimentary checked baggage privileges per person, which can really add up.

Imagine if you’re a Premier 1K who can check 3 bags per person and have 9 people in a single reservation — that is over 27 checked bags! Checked bags for a domestic flight are $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second, so you can see the savings add up to be quite a considerable amount.

Hot Tip: If you clear an upgrade into business, first, or United Polaris, your complimentary checked bag limitations increase across the board to 3 bags at 70 lbs (32 kg) each.

Here’s how we value this complimentary checked bag benefit:

  • Premier Silver: $60 (checking 2 bags a year at $30 a bag)
  • Premier Gold: $150 (checking 5 bags a year at $30 a bag)
  • Premier Platinum: $300 (checking 10 bags a year at $30 a bag)
  • Premier 1K: $450 (checking 15 bags a year at $30 a bag)

A Note on Baggage and Hidden-City Ticketing

Since we’re talking about checked bags, it’s a good time to bring up hidden-city ticketing — something that’s becoming more and more prevalent as travelers try to find cheaper fares. This is where you book a ticket with no intention of actually reaching the final destination — you’ll get off at one of the intermediate stops instead to save money.

In general, we recommend never to do this if you have elite status with an airline, since it can jeopardize your participation in the frequent flyer program. But it also comes at a huge risk if you need to check bags.

If you check your bags as an elite for free, they’ll go to your final destination and won’t be available at the intermediary point where you’re ending your trip during a layover. Because of this, it’s never advisable to check bags when participating in a hidden-city ticket — and again, we don’t recommend even participating in this scheme if you want to be loyal to United for years to come.

Discounted or Waived Same-Day Flight Changes

As a MileagePlus elite member, you may be able to confirm onto another flight for free, which can provide significant savings. United is one of the most generous domestic carriers for allowing elites to same-day change.

  • Non-Premier Members: $75 for a same-day change
  • Premier Silver: $75 for a same-day change
  • Premier Gold: $0 for a same-day change
  • Premier Platinum: $0 for a same-day change
  • Premier 1K: $0 for a same-day change

First off, there are a few rules so you can better interpret the value of this.

  • Your ticket number must begin with 016 (United) — so you can’t do a same-day change on a ticket issued by Lufthansa, for example.
  • The same-day change option will be available starting at 24 hours before your original flight.
    • If your flight is at 6pm on Tuesday, you’ll begin to see same-day change options at 6pm on Monday.
  • You can change your flight in either direction (backward or forward).
    • Using the same example, you could depart on a flight beginning at 6pm on Monday, or going so far as 6pm on Wednesday (almost a 48-hour spread across the original flight schedule, which is an absolutely fantastic benefit).

Hot Tip: If you play this right, you can save a ton of money! For example, flights are traditionally very expensive on Sundays. To avoid paying an arm and a leg, you could book a ticket for Saturday and then same-day change to a Sunday flight.

  • When you same-day change, you’re looking at other flights at the same fare class.
    • If you purchase a V class ticket, you’re looking for other flights that are still selling the V fare bucket. If that fare bucket isn’t offered, you can still same-day change, but you must then pay a change fee and any applicable charges.
  • You can standby if your fare class is not available on the flight you want to move to.
    • For Silver elites who get charged $75, you won’t pay the fee until you’re cleared into a seat on the flights you’re standing by for. For all other elites, the same-day standby is essentially free; when you clear into a seat, it won’t cost you anything as a same-day change.
  • You can only same-day change for the exact origin and destination airport.
    • However, you can book onto a new flight with different connection points, making this a very liberal allowance. Passengers have been able to same-day change for flights solely transiting the East Coast, when their previous flight routed through San Fransisco — you can see the options are quite varied.
United has one of the most valuable same day change policies of any airline. A ticket agent can assist with moving your flight. Image Credit: United

Here’s how we value same-day changes:

  • Premier Silver: $0 (there is a $75 charge per occurrence)
  • Premier Gold: $300, based on an estimate of 4 same-day changes
  • Premier Platinum: $600, based on an estimate of 8 same-day changes
  • Premier 1K: $750, based on an estimate of 10 same-day changes

United has probably the most generous same-day change policy of any of the “big 3” carriers. On Delta, you can only same-day change to the same fare code that you were originally booked in, and only change to flights on the same day as your original flight. On American, you’re restricted to same-day changing to flights that have “E” inventory, and not your original fare code.

On United, however, you can see you’re free to make changes to flights within 24 hours in either direction of your original flight, which is extraordinarily generous. When valuing United elite status, you should take this into account.

Bottom Line: If you’re a person who frequently makes same-day flight changes, United will be the best elite program to stick with.

Discounted United Club Membership Rates

As a Premier Platinum or 1K, you get discounted United club access. United Clubs are airline clubs located in major hub cities and key markets that offer comfortable seating, complimentary food and beverages, internet access, and ticketing assistance.

For single-member memberships, here’s what you’ll pay:

  • General Member: $550 or 70,000 miles
  • Premier Silver: $550 or 70,000 miles
  • Premier Gold: $550 or 70,000 miles
  • Premier Platinum: $500 or 65,000 miles
  • Premier 1K: $450 or 60,000 miles

As you can see, Platinum members get a $50 discount off of the general member price, while 1Ks get a $100 discount.

Club memberships are very important, especially for the ultra-frequent flyer. Not only will you have a quiet place to relax and work prior to your flight, but in the case of irregular operations where flights get delayed and canceled, you’ll have access to agents who are empowered to help (and there won’t be a huge line to speak with them).

One of the most valuable perks of lounge access is being able to speak to United ticketing agents who are able to help with flights, rebooking options and upgrades. Image Credit: United Airlines.

It is not uncommon to see an extremely long line in the terminal to speak with a customer service representative after a bad night of storms — but in the club, there will just be a few people in line. As a Platinum or 1K, you should value club access highly; if you can’t access it through a premium credit card, you should definitely consider purchasing it at a discount.

Hot Tip: We highly recommend NOT using your miles to purchase lounge membership, as you can get a better value redeeming for premium cabin tickets to destinations around the world.

We won’t place a value on discounted lounge access since there are several ways to obtain lounge membership, and not everyone will take advantage of these savings.

Discounted or Waived Phone Service Fees

Normally, when you call into United’s reservations center or buy a ticket at an airport, there is a service fee for the interaction with an agent (this is separate from award ticketing fees):

  • By phone: $25
  • At a city ticketing office: $10
  • In person at the airport: $50

This fee is waived for 2 of United’s elite levels — Premier 1K members, and invitation-only Global Services members.

  • Premier Silver: No service fee waiver
  • Premier Gold: No service fee waiver
  • Premier Platinum: No service fee waiver
  • Premier 1K: Service fee waived
  • Global Services: Service fee waived

Here’s how we value this fee waiver:

  • Premier Silver: $0
  • Premier Gold: $0
  • Premier Platinum: $0
  • Premier 1K: $100 (4 tickets per year booked by phone)

Hot Tip: Want to fast track to elite status? Having the right credit card in your wallet can help you earn complimentary airline elite status!

Priority Waitlisting for Award Travel

When you are unable to confirm an upgrade at time of ticketing, you will be placed on a waitlist. As upgrade inventory opens, the waitlist processes in order of elite status:

  1. Global Services
  2. Premier 1K
  3. Premier Platinum
  4. Premier Gold
  5. Premier Silver

For most flights, you need to request your waitlist 24 hours prior to departure, so there is sufficient time to process any upgrades. If the upgrades aren’t processed prior to that time, they are added to the airport standby list for processing at the gate.

If you need to waitlist for an upgrade, having higher elite status will help you get the upgrade sooner than others. Here’s how we value this benefit:

  • Premier Silver: $25 value (most Silvers won’t clear an upgrade like this)
  • Premier Gold: $50 (even as a Gold, it is difficult to clear an upgrade like this)
  • Premier Platinum: $100 (this benefit puts you ahead of Golds and Silvers, and you’re allowed to use RPUs)
  • Premier 1K: $200 (you’ll be ahead of Platinums and all lower elites, and you have access to RPUs and GPUs)

Standby for International Awards

In some cases, you may find yourself with an award travel ticket that has several segments in business class but 1 or 2 segments in economy, simply due to lack of award availability.

Premier members who use miles to book an award trip in the premium cabin and have some segments in economy can standby for the higher class of service within 2 hours of departure. They can do this by notifying the airport agent of their request — they’ll be placed on the waitlist higher than revenue upgrades.

This is hard to value, since it is really a unique circumstance — we’ll call it $50 for all elite levels.

When you book an award on United, it’s important to consider the seats that your aircraft will have. Lay flat seats are the ideal way to travel. Image Credit: United

Unrestricted Access to United Everyday Awards on United and United Express Flights

Part of United’s mileage redemption scheme includes being able to redeem miles for any flight, even if there are no award seats. If there’s 1 seat left, you can use your miles, albeit at a much higher price (traditionally known as “anytime” pricing).

As a MileagePlus Premier, you have unrestricted access to these United Everyday Awards, no matter the flight, so long as it is operated by United or United Express.

This is another benefit that’s difficult to value, since it will be used in very specific cases. We’ll set the value at a generic $50 for all elite levels.

Better Availability for United Saver Awards in Economy

All United elite levels have access to expanded award availability in economy. This can prove very useful when trying to complete a complex itinerary, especially if you need to depart from your home airport and fly to a larger gateway airport to embark on an international segment.

While there’s not a hard and fast rule about where this additional availability exists, you’ll usually find it on less-sold flights (and likely not on flights nearing capacity). Still, United may restrict the availability of flights to non-elites so they’re forced to buy a cash ticket — in these cases, you may find some additional award seats available that are specifically reserved for elite members.

Hot Tip: To see this expanded availability, you need to log in to your MileagePlus account and search online so the system recognizes who you are and can present results accordingly.

We’ll value this as $50 for all elite levels, since it is tough to place a specific dollar value on simply being able to see/book more award seats.

Better Availability for United Saver Awards in Select Premium Cabins

While all elite members get better award availability in economy, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members also get expanded availability in premium cabins such as business, first, and United Polaris.

As with economy awards, to see the better availability you need to log in to your online MileagePlus account so it recognizes your elite level.

In theory, better premium cabin availability is a good thing — but in reality, don’t get your hopes up about what’s truly there. If you’re looking for Houston to Sydney, for example, there’s not going to be a ton of dates ready for the taking.

Many people overestimate the value of this benefit. While it sounds great on paper, actually finding better award seats on premium international routes can be difficult. That said, they certainly do exist, though it might require a bit of flexibility as to when you leave or return home.

We’ll value this at $50 for applicable elite levels, since not everyone will redeem for premium awards.

Traveling in business class is one of the best ways to maximize your frequent flyer awards. Image Credit: United

Reduced or Waived Close-In Booking Fee

United charges fees for booking MileagePlus tickets within 21 days of departure to help prevent consumers from using miles for last-minute tickets (when cash fares would otherwise be expensive). It’s designed to add a cash penalty component to deter people from using this mileage option.

But MileagePlus elites have a reduced or waived fee.

  • General Member: $75 to book any mileage ticket less than 21 days from departure
  • Premier Silver: $50 to book any mileage ticket less than 21 days from departure
  • Premier Gold: $25 to book any mileage ticket less than 21 days from departure
  • Premier Platinum: no fee to book any mileage ticket less than 21 days from departure
  • Premier 1K: no fee to book any mileage ticket less than 21 days from departure

As you can see, Premier Platinums and 1Ks have this close-in penalty waived, similar to both American’s and Delta’s top-tier elites.

Here’s how we value this benefit, taking into account the fees for booking under 21 days and booking over the phone:

  • Premier Silver: $0 (this level incurs fees for booking under 21 days and over the phone)
  • Premier Gold: $0 (this level incurs fees for booking under 21 days and over the phone)
  • Premier Platinum: $100 (at least 1 ticket booked under 21 days; no phone fee)
  • Premier 1K: $100 (at least 1 ticket booked under 21 days; no phone fee)
United At Gate
The benefits of United status are valuable, but it’s important to make the most of them to ensure you are able to maximize the perks. Image Credit: United Airlines.

Reduced or Waived Redeposit Fee

When you book an award reservation, there may be reason to cancel it — perhaps due to an unexpected business trip, illness, or other conflict. Getting your miles back is super important so you can book for future trips.

As is common on many airlines, there is a redeposit fee charged to get those miles returned to your account.

Here are the fees for making a change or canceling with redeposit 61 or more days before departure:

  • General Member: $75
  • Premier Silver: $50
  • Premier Gold: $25
  • Premier Platinum: No fee
  • Premier 1K: No fee

If you’re within 61 days of departure, these fees increase substantially, even for a Premier Silver or Gold — if you’re in these bottom 2 elite tiers, you won’t want to do this too often. Here are the fees for making a change or canceling with redeposit 60 or fewer days before departure:

  • General Member: $125
  • Premier Silver: $100
  • Premier Gold: $75
  • Premier Platinum: $50
  • Premier 1K: No fee

For full redeposit prior to departure, really the only great value here is being a Premier 1K, where you have full redeposit rights without restrictions as long as you cancel beforehand.

To redeposit miles after no-showing for a flight, you’ll pay $125 in all elite tiers, as well as non-elite general members. Obviously, to avoid this fee you definitely want to cancel your award flight before departure — don’t wait!

There are several important notes regarding award redeposits:

  • If you want to change an intra-Japan award ticket on ANA, you must do so at least 4 days prior to departure.
  • When determining fees based on the number of days before a flight, the number is calculated based upon the exact time of departure.
  • In a case where you cancel with no redeposit, a fee is assessed based on the date you change or then request redeposit, not the date you cancel the ticket.

Here’s how we value this:

  • Premier Silver: $0, since you incur a fee for redeposit
  • Premier Gold: $0, since you incur a fee for redeposit
  • Premier Platinum: $50, since you incur a fee for redeposits 60 days or fewer from departure
  • Premier 1K: $150, since you can speculatively book award tickets and cancel freely with no penalty
If you need to cancel or rebook an award ticket, it can be very costly without having United elite status. Image Credit: United Airlines.

Reduced or Waived Award Change Fee

United lists this as a separate benefit from the reduced/waived redeposit fee above — they’re very similar, but slightly different. A redeposit is getting your miles back into your account, but a change is simply changing the award you already have booked (not returning the miles back into your account).

These are the fees for making an award change 60 or fewer days before departure:

  • General Member: $125
  • Premier Silver: $100
  • Premier Gold: $75
  • Premier Platinum: $50
  • Premier 1K: No fee

These are the fees for making an award change 61 or more days before departure:

  • General Member: $75
  • Premier Silver: $50
  • Premier Gold: $25
  • Premier Platinum: No fee
  • Premier 1K: No fee

When booking awards, you need to be very careful to avoid having to make changes — each change will incur a separate fee, and for lower elites this can sometimes be quite costly.

There are also a couple important things to note when booking awards:

  • Be sure you are traveling the right carrier. For example, there is a premium cost for traveling in Lufthansa business class vs. United business class. If you book United and want to later change to Lufthansa, you’ll have to pay the change penalty. Pick the right products for your trip — if you consider Lufthansa preferable over United, book that outright instead of switching later.
  • Consider your routing vs. your fees. Say you’re headed to the South Pacific on an award via Asia to Australia, but you see a nonstop award open from the U.S. to Australia. Before switching, consider the fees. Is it better to get a more direct routing but pay a change or redeposit fee? This value is really determined by your time and how many connections you want to make.

We value this benefit nearly the same as award redeposits:

  • Premier Silver: no benefit since you incur a fee for changing
  • Premier Gold: no benefit since you incur a fee for changing
  • Premier Platinum: $50, since you can make a change to a ticket more than 60 days out for free
  • Premier 1K: $150, since you can speculatively book award tickets and change them freely with no penalty

Hot Tip: Even with the ability to cancel and redeposit awards, you can’t abuse this privilege. Don’t make bookings for the same day of travel and try to decide between them — one of the itineraries will cancel. And don’t hold seats with an award to try and cancel at the last minute in hopes of an upgrade. Some elites have tried this before only to be removed from the program.

Star Alliance Benefits

Each tier in the MileagePlus program is equivalent to a tier within the Star Alliance program, allowing benefits across the entire network of Star Alliance carriers.

Here are the equivalent status levels for MileagePlus members:

  • Premier Silver: Star Alliance Silver
  • Premier Gold: Star Alliance Gold
  • Premier Platinum: Star Alliance Gold
  • Premier 1K: Star Alliance Gold
One of the most valuable perks of Star Alliance Gold is the reciprocal lounge access with partner airlines. Image Credit: United

Let’s take a look at each of the benefits of Star Alliance status. First, there are a couple benefits that both Star Alliance Silver and Gold members will receive:

  • Priority reservations waitlisting — If for some reason you can’t be confirmed on a specific flight, you will have priority on the waitlist before other passengers should a seat open.
  • Priority airport standby — If you’re standing by for a flight at the airport, you will receive preference for any seats that may open up on a standby flight.

And there are many more benefits for Star Alliance Gold only:

  • Priority airport check-in — When you travel on any Star Alliance carrier, you can check in at the designated Star Alliance Gold lane, usually along with business class.
  • Extra baggage allowance — You’re allowed to take an additional 44 pounds, or 1 additional bag on all eligible flights.
  • Gold Track — This includes priority security and immigration in select airports. You can usually find this at major Star Alliance hub airports, such as Cairo, Frankfurt, Singapore, and Chicago.
  • Airport lounge access — You can access any Star Alliance lounge worldwide when traveling on an eligible flight. You can find lounges in most major airports — some locations include specific airline lounges, while others include alliance-wide lounges, such as in Los Angeles.
  • Priority boarding — You’ll be able to board in the designated priority lane as part of the airline you are flying. Usually, this is with or near business class or another premium cabin.
  • Priority baggage handling — When traveling with any Star Alliance carrier, your bags will be tagged with a special priority tag and be offloaded from the plane first to arrive at the carousel before other bags.
Star Alliance Members
Each of these Star Alliance partners has a network of lounges that you are allowed to use as a United MileagePlus Gold, Platinum, or 1K elite when flying on a qualifying international itinerary. Image Credit: Star Alliance

Like most of the other benefits, we value this based on increasing usage with higher tiers. The general rule of thumb is that the more you’re flying, the more likely you’ll use a Star Alliance carrier, and the more you will use the associated benefits.

  • Premier Silver: $100, since you only receive Star Alliance Silver status
  • Premier Gold: $300, since you have Star Alliance Gold status and can receive domestic Star Alliance lounge access
  • Premier Platinum: $400, since you have Star Alliance Gold status and can receive domestic Star Alliance lounge access (will use more often)
  • Premier 1K: $500, since you have Star Alliance Gold status and can receive domestic Star Alliance lounge access (will use even more often)

Star Alliance elite status is definitely one of the most valuable alliance programs there is — many believe Oneworld is too small, and that SkyTeam doesn’t have many high-profile carriers. Because Star Alliance is so big, you’ll find some sort of alliance representation (and a lounge to relax in) in almost any major international city, which certainly is an important thing for frequent travelers.

Final Valuations

To help you compare every benefit with every United MileagePlus tier, here is a concise summary of how we value all of the United tier benefits:

Premier Silver ($2,035 value)Premier Gold ($4,250 value)Premier Platinum ($7,000 value)Premier 1K ($14,025 value)
Complimentary Access to Economy Plus$30$600$800$1,000
Access to Preferred Seating$100$150$200$250
Complimentary Premier Upgrades$400$600$900$1,500
Instant Upgrades$200$200$300$400
Regional Premier Upgrades$0; no regional upgrades$0; no regional upgrades$400 (2 RPUs valued at $200 each after hitting status)$800 ($200 per RPU, not counting any additional earned after elite qualification)
Receive 6 GPUs upon earning/renewing status~$2,400 ($400 per GPU, since it requires a certain minimum fare code to be booked for each one)
500 Premier Qualifying Mile Minimum Accrual$25$50$75$100
Increased Award Mile Earn Rates~$350say around $750say around $1,200say around $2,500
Priority Check-In$50$150$250$350
Priority Screening$50$100$150$200
Priority Boarding Privileges$100$250$300$500
Priority Baggage Handling$25$50$75$100
Premier Priority Desk Phone Line$50$100$150$300
Access to Most Sold Out Flightsaround $50~$50around $50around $475
Lounge Access When Traveling Internationally$0; no access$250$400$600
Complimentary Checked Baggage Allowance$60 (checking 2 bags a year at $30 a bag)$150 (checking 5 bags a year at $30 a bag)$300 (checking 10 bags a year at $30 a bag)$450 (checking 15 bags a year at $30 a bag)
Discounted or Waived Same-Day Flight Changes$0$300$600$750
Discounted or Waived Phone Service Fees$0$0$0$100
Priority Waitlisting for Award Travel$25$50$100$200
Standby for International Awards$50$50$50$50
Better Availability for United Saver Awards in Economy$50$50$50$50
Better Availability for United Saver Awards in Select Premium Cabins$50$50$50$50
Reduced or Waived Close-In Booking Fee$0$0$100$100
Reduced or Waived Redeposit Fee$0; no benefit$0; no benefit$50$150
Reduced or Waived Award Change Fee$0; no benefit$0; no benefit$50$150
Star Alliance Benefits$100$300$400$500

Final Thoughts

As you can see, United elite status is a diverse mix of benefits, each with different benefits and values. By utilizing these benefits to the fullest potential, you’ll get the most value from your respective elite status tier.

  • Premier 1K is really only for those folks that feel they’re going to fly enough to be able to use the top perks such as Global Premier Upgrades or Regional Premier Upgrades. If you’re forcing yourself to fly just to earn status, but won’t be able to use these upgrade certificates it simply isn’t worth it.
  • Premier Platinum is meant for heavier than usual business type travelers and does come with many of the same perks of Premier 1K. It is far more attainable than Premier 1K, so for even some leisure travelers this level could be realistically achieved, but like anything, shouldn’t unless the benefits will be utilized to their fullest potential.
  • Premier Gold is the entry level of United’s status levels where there are actual substantive benefits. If you’re going to go for status, make sure you at least make it to Premier Gold as this is where you’ll see many popular benefits start to kick in.
  • Premier Silver is United’s lowest level, and for most people, probably isn’t worth earning. If you get it though a hotel program or credit card, then it is a no-brainer, but otherwise probably isn’t worth striving for outright.

United’s elite program is one of the largest in the world, and comes with some of the most popular benefits. Make sure to choose the status level that best fits your lifestyle and travel goals!


Featured Image Credit: USAToday.com

James Larounis

About James Larounis

Jamie first got his hook on miles and points during a high school choir trip to Europe, where he flew in Lufthansa First Class (thanks to his dad’s then US Airways miles) because economy was sold out.

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