Sunday Reader Question: Is It Worth Going for United Platinum?

Dec 30, 2012

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TPG reader Chuck asks:

“I’m about 2,600 miles from qualifying for United Platinum this year.  I’ve thought about taking a trip before the end of the year to get the needed points. What value would you estimate being Platinum is, over my current Gold level for United Airlines?”

Placing value on elite status can be tricky, because it really depends on how much you plan to fly with your new status. If you don’t fly at all or use miles (and the free award deposits and fee waivers that come along with it), then the value would basically be zero.

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If you plan to fly a lot, you should take the following into consideration:

1) You’ll earn a 75% elite mileage bonus vs. 50% as a Gold. Even if you only fly 50,000 miles next year, that is a difference of 12,500 bonus miles and I value United miles at around 2 cents apiece, so that is $250 off the bat.

2) Platinum members receive two Regional Premier Upgrades when they reach 75,000 Premier qualifying miles (PQM) or 90 Premier qualifying segments (PQS), plus two more for each 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS earned thereafter. These can be used to upgrade on flights like transcontinental p.s. service flights, which are not eligible for complimentary upgrades.

3) You will likely get more complimentary upgrades as a Platinum than as a Gold. Of course this depends on your home airport and routes you fly, but Platinums are higher up the chain for complimentary Premier upgrades. Value: however much you enjoy first class vs. economy. As a tall traveler, I greatly enjoy being upgraded so I would factor the comfort of more upgrades into my valuation.

4) Platinum members can redeposit and change awards for free vs. paying $100 as a Gold and there are no close-in ticketing fees ($25 for Golds).

5) As a Platinum, United will reimburse you for the $100 Global Entry fee, which is a great service that expedites your immigration when returning to the US from international flights.

6) There are a bunch of smaller perks, like 10% off in-flight duty free,

7) Platinum members get better award availability in premium cabins

I’d recommend reviewing the Platinum benefits and deciding if it is worth it. If I was in your situation, I’d definitely go for Platinum and even if you can’t fly those miles by December 31, you can purchase EQMs via the Elite Maximizer. You can book a dummy flight that is around 2,600 miles making sure that the fare is a refundable one, then once the EQMs post, you can cancel the flight and you should still have the miles. You might have to float the charge on your credit card for a month if you can’t time it exactly with your statements, but if that’s an option, it could be worth it for you. Just keep in mind that EQMs purchased through United’s Elite Maximizer tend to be astronomically expensive – like in the range of 17-22 cents each, so those 2,600 EQMs would cost you $440-$570 or so – no small chunk of change!

However, I always live “go big, or go home” so if I were you, I’d try to get to Platinum if possible!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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