Status Seeker

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American Express used to say, or maybe they still do, that membership has its privileges. It turns out that’s only half true in their lame rewards program. But it’s very true when it comes to airline elite status.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but being at the airport is an enormous fucking pain in the ass. Elite status is awesome because it makes everything faster and easier and more tolerable, even at the lowest tier. I don’t know if that’s true on every airline, but it’s certainly true on United, as I learned when I became Premier Silver. (United calls elite status “Premier.”)

What I get by being Premier Silver is the following fanfuckingtastic perks. I’ve put in brackets what you can also get by holding the appropriate Chase United card, or other alternative methods.

  • early boarding [Awards, Explorer, Club]
  • more saver award ticket options for Economy class [no-fee card, Awards, Explorer, Club]
  • free first bag check [Explorer, Club]
  • guaranteed standard award ticket options if any unsold seats are available [Explorer, Club]
  • a much shorter security line [Club, TSA PreCheck/Global Entry]
  • a separate uncrowded check in desk (which, at Newark, is on a whole separate level, away from the teeming hordes) [Club, curbside checkin]
  • bags among first ones off the plane [Club]
  • free Economy Plus upgrade at checkin, if seats are available [Economy Plus subscription]
  • a separate reservations phone number to call, with ostensibly shorter wait times
  • 2 additional award miles earned per dollar spent on flying
  • reduced fee when changing or cancelling an award ticket
  • ability to book on oversold flights (but only at full fare)
  • minimum of 500 premier qualifying miles per flight, rather than 250

It doesn’t suck. And if you fly a ton, the higher levels of status get you, not surprisingly, even better shit.

The thing is that you have to fly and spend a lot to get elite status. If you do that, fab. But if you don’t, I’ll explain how you can get poor wo/man’s elite status, which is to say some of the above benefits. Get TSA Pre (or Global Entry), an Economy Plus subscription, and the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer or Club card. Those are shitty cards to earn on, compared to the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited combo, but they get you elite status privileges without having to earn it, and they also make earning status easier. And the signup bonuses don’t suck. Let me tell you about these fucking cards.

MileagePlus Explorer: 30,000 mile signup bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months, but periodically it’s 50K after spending $3,000; and make that 70K if you’ve been “targeted” (click here to check; h/t The Points Guy). You get an additional 10,000 miles each year after spending $25,000, which also waives the “$3,000 spent on United” status requirement. You earn 2 dollars per mile spent on United flights, and 1 mile for everything else. You get free first bag check, and priority boarding. You also get access to the same extra economy award seats that having status does, which is no small thing. If you’re chasing status, it might make sense to spend your first $25K a year on this card before switching to your Freedom Unlimited, because that waives the requirement of spending $3,000 on United tickets, and it also earns you 10,000 bonus miles.

MileagePlus Club: This bitch is $450 per year, and has a worse signup bonus: either $100 after first purchase, or first year free if you already have status and you’ve been “targeted” (click here to check; h/t MileCards.com). But this card is arguably what you want for status perks without status. You get the same shit as the Explorer, plus 1.5 miles per dollar spent (useful if you don’t have a Freedom Unlimited and your main destination for Chase points is United), special check-in desk, second free checked bag, security fast lane, bags among first ones off the plane, waived award ticket fee if within 21 days of booking (you ordinarily have to be Premier Platinum to get that). It’s most of the shit that makes status worth having. Plus, you get lounge access, which I think is not that great, but it’s certainly better than sitting at the gate or at the food court of lost souls. You also get elite status at Hyatt hotels and perks at Hertz, which both have five letters and start with H. And if things go really, really wrong for you, this card will get you emergency medical evacuation.

What you still don’t get compared to having  Premier status is a special phone number, free Economy Plus seats when available, access to sold out flights, and extra award miles earned for flying. And if you don’t have the Club card, you have security line hell, bag check line hell, baggage claim hell, and $75 charge for booking award tickets sooner than 21 days in advance.

But you can compensate for some of these things. TSA Pre (or Global Entry) gets you a shorter security line, and the Economy Plus subscription ($499-$1099 per year, depending on flying region and number of companions) gets you guaranteed Economy Plus when you book. For a shorter bag check line, bring some tip money and use a skycap at curbside checkin. If you can find one.

That’s pretty good, but I’m still motivated to keep status. Understanding how to do that, though, is perplexing, so I’m gonna save it for tomorrow.

For completion’s sake, here are other UA cards that you probably don’t want, but do exist:

MileagePlus: You can’t apply for this, only convert to it. It’s pointless to spend on, as it offers only 0.5 United miles per dollar spent. But It has no annual fee, so it’s a good option for converting from an Explorer or Club for the benefit of your credit score, and for retaining more award ticket options if you don’t have Premier status.

MileagePlus Awards: You can’t apply for this, only convert to it. It’s $60 per year, and offers one mile per dollar spent. priority boarding, expanded award space, and that’s all. It’s not a very compelling value compared to the other options.

TravelBank: This is a new (September 2017) no-annual fee card. It does not earn MileagePlus miles, nor get you any special perks besides no foreign exchange fee. Its signup bonus is a $150 United travel credit. Apart from that It is basically a 1.5% cash back card, but you can only use the cash at United. Hard pass.

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