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Does United Premier Silver status get you any decent benefits?

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It’s easy to get your mind set on reaching top tier airline status, because who doesn’t want to have the highest elite status level? But before you get there, you need to start at the bottom, which can still land you some decent perks. Here are the details you need to know about United Silver status, the entry level in United’s MileagePlus® Premier program.

If you fly United a lot, you’ll also be interested in these articles about MileagePlus:

How to Qualify for United Premier Silver Status

You can qualify for United Premier Silver status in one of two ways:

  • Fly 25,000 miles (PQM) and spend $3,000 (PQD) (if you are a US resident) on United or United partners within one calendar year (i.e. January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018)
  • Fly 30 segments (PQS) and spend $3,000 (PQD) (if you are a US resident) on United or United partners within one calendar year (i.e. January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018)

Of that flying, at least four segments must be on United or United Express versus partner flights.

What Does United Premier Silver Status Get You?

If you qualify for United Premier Silver status you will have the following benefits:

  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus seating at check-in. This is probably the best benefit of having United Premier status. Economy Plus seating can sell for as little as $20 on short flights and as much as $200 on longer flights. With Premier Silver Status you will have access for free upon check-in for your flight, which you can do 24 hours before your previous flight. The benefits of Economy Plus are having extra legroom and being more near to the front of the plane.
  • One Economy Plus Companion (on the same reservation). If you are traveling with a companion on the same reservation, your companion will also have access to Economy Plus seating for free at check-in time for the flight.
  • Complimentary Premier upgrades on day of departure. Don’t count on a lot of upgrades with United Premier Silver status, but it could happen. Those with higher status level come before United Silvers on the upgrade priority list, so if there are upgrades available at all it is likely that they will go to someone with higher status. United has made a point of selling many empty first class seats at a discount during check-in, so less first class seats are available for upgrades on the average flight compared with a few years back.
  • Complimentary Premier companion upgrades on day of departure. If there are seats available for an upgrade, your companion will also be eligible to receive an upgrade to first class.
  • Instant upgrades on Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets. For flights that are eligible for complimentary upgrades (flights within North America without a ‘BusinessFirst’ / Polaris cabin), if you’re buying ‘Y’ or ‘B’ coach fares, which are the two highest fares, you can get upgraded instantly if upgrade space is available. Upgrade space comes out of the ‘PN’ fare class, which you can read about here. Many discount fares cost much less than ‘Y’ and ‘B’ fares, and this is not eligible on those. A lot of the time though buying a first class fare will be cheaper than buying a ‘Y’ or ‘B’ fare and upgrading so this benefit has limited value.
  • 500 PQM minimum accrual. Whenever you fly, you will earn at least 500 miles toward your Premier Qualifying Miles. This means that even if you are taking a very short flight that is only 201 miles, you will earn 500 miles. If you were a base level member, you would only earn 201.
  • 7x fare redeemable mile accrual. United now gives redeemable miles based on the cost of the ticket rather than the distance that you fly. Base-level members only receive 5 redeemable United miles per dollar spent, but as a Premier Silver member you will receive 2 additional redeemable miles per dollar spent.
  • One free 50 lb checked bag allowance for economy flights. If you frequently check bags, this can save you a lot of money if you don’t already have another way to get a free checked bag. You can also get free checked bags by holding one of the United MileagePlus® credit cards. And note this is only available for flights operated by United, and not guaranteed for partner airline flights.
  • No fee to make changes to award travel 21 or more days from departure (non-status fee: $75), $50 to make award change within 21 days of departure (non-status fee: $100). This is really helpful because it lets you make simple date changes to awards in case your plans change. But you can’t change the type of your award, or you’ll incur a cancellation fee.
  • $50 reduced close-in award booking fee (non-status fee: $75).
  • $125 reduced award cancellation fee (non-status fee: $200).
  • Priority check-in, security screening, boarding, and baggage handling. You’ll board in Group 2, which includes United℠ Explorer Card* holders and Premier Gold level fliers.
  • Premier priority desk phone line.
  • Access to most sold out flights. If you want to buy the most expensive full fare ticket, you can buy a ticket on flights that are already sold out in coach.
  • Priority award waitlisting. You’ll be ahead of non-Premiers when you waitlist for Saver level award seats.
  • Standby for international awards.
  • Unrestricted access to United Standard Awards on United and United Express operated flights.
  • Better availability for United Saver Awards in Economy. This gets you access to ‘XN’ inventory awards, which are more often available than awards for non-Premier member fliers. United℠ Explorer Card holders also get access to this inventory.

These benefits will be applicable for the rest of the year that you qualify and the entire following year, and January of the year after that.

For example, if you qualify for United Premier Silver Status in August of 2016, your status will be valid from August 2016 to December 2016, all of 2017, and January of 2018. While your status benefits will still be valid in January of 2018, if you want to requalify for status beyond then all requirements must be met by the end of 2017.

What is United Premier Silver Status Worth?

The most valuable benefits that you get for having Premier Silver Status are, for most, access to EconomyPlus seating, a free checked bag, and reduced award fees. The EconomyPlus benefit alone could get you $1,000 or more a year in value versus paying for EconomyPlus on its own.

Economy Plus Seating Access

Even if you only fly United a couple of times a year, you could easily save a few hundred dollars on Economy Plus seating access alone. Economy Plus seating usually sells for as little as $20 on short flights but fees can reach $200 for long-haul international flights.

Both yourself and a traveling companion booked on the same ticket can have access to Economy Plus seating at check-in time for your flight, which is 24 hour prior to the first flight on the itinerary. At that point in time, you will have access to Economy Plus seating for all flights on your itinerary, even if some flights are further than 24 hours from then.

While not everyone finds EconomyPlus necessary, it is nice to have a couple of extra inches of legroom and be closer to the front of the plane, especially if it doesn’t cost you anything extra.

The one problem you could run into with EconomyPlus seating is that there are no guarantees that there will be EconomyPlus seats available upon check-in for your flight.

Those with higher status levels get access to EconomyPlus seating sooner than Premier Silver members, and people with no status can buy EconomyPlus seating at any time.

Those with status, of course, also have the option to purchase Economy Plus seating earlier than they would have access to it for free, but there are no refunds for EconomyPlus seating even if there are still seats available at the point when you would have access to it for free.

It’s rare you’ll find a seta with no EconomyPlus seats available at all, but you may run into situations where only middle seats are available in Economy Plus. Then, of course, the question is: middle seat with extra legroom or window/aisle seat with less?

If you usually purchase EconomyPlus, United Premier Silver status could easily save you hundreds of dollars per year. If you wouldn’t otherwise purchase EconomyPlus seating, having access to the seating for free because of your status won’t save you money, but it will, at least slightly, increase the comfort of your journey.

Free Checked Bag

Having access to free checked bags through Premier Silver status isn’t going to be helpful to everyone, but it could help some.

If you primarily fly internationally, you likely already have a free checked bag included in your ticket.

If you have the United℠ Explorer Card or the United MileagePlus® Club Card* issued by Chase, you already have a free checked bag benefit that will not be expanded by having status, rather the benefits will overlap. You can find out more about credit cards that offer a free checked bag benefit in our guide.

The free checked bag benefit is mainly going to benefit those that primarily fly domestically and don’t already receive a free checked bag as a credit card benefit. If that sounds like you, being able to check a bag for free through your status will save you at least $25 per one-way domestic flight.

Reduced Award Fees

If you book a lot of award travel, award fees can add up depending on how you do it. While there’s no overall award booking fee that applies to all itineraries, you will run into a lot of fees if you book last minute or if you make changes to or cancel an award fee. As a United Premier Silver member, you generally won’t receive a fee waiver, but you will receive reduced award fees.

Booking an award last minute (21 days or less prior to departure) will only cost you $50 instead of $75.

Making a change to an award within 21 days or departure will cost you $50 instead of $100. If you make that change more than 21 days prior to departure, the change can be made for free instead of $75. If you have to cancel an award, the charge will be $125 instead of $200.

Depending on your award travel habits, these fees may or may not make a difference to you at all, but the change fees alone could save you a good chunk of money or help you get a better routing for no fee.

Say that you are looking to travel with your family over spring break. You find availability for the dates you want, and while it’s not ideal, you book it anyway because you know that spring break is a tough time for award travel.

Two weeks later, better flights become available. If you didn’t have status, it would cost you $300 to make this change for a family of four assuming your flights were still more than 21 days away. With United Premier Silver status, you would be able to make this change for free. If this change was made within 21 days of departure, not having status would cost $400, while having status would only cost $200 for a family of four.

Depending on how you use your miles, this might not save you any money, but it could save you a couple hundred dollars per year and/or help you change your flights to more desirable itineraries after making your initial booking.


What About Upgrades to First Class?

In short: don’t count on them.

Members with 1K, Premier Platinum, and Premier Gold status are all going to be higher than you on the upgrade list. Even those members have been finding upgrades harder and harder to come by over the years as United tries to increase revenues by selling unbooked first class seats at a discount to those who have booked economy tickets during check-in.

Airlines, including United, have also been decreasing the cost of booking first class from the get-go on a whole.

It’s definitely not worth booking extra flights to hit United Premier Silver status with the hope of getting upgrades to first class, but depending on your travel patterns the other benefits of Silver status could make it worth it.

*The information related to the United MileagePlus® Club Card and United℠ Explorer Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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July 19, 2016