First United Silver Experience

About six months ago, I earned United Silver Status, my first ever airline status. And two months ago, the status finally showed up in my account. (Why the delay? See: “A Quixotic Quest to United Silver Status“)

My first United flight since earning the status was Labor Day, September 3. I had booked a oneway economy award on United’s direct Pittsburgh to LAX flight for 12,500 miles.

I was happy to get the only direct flight for 12,500 miles when it was selling for $600. After a wedding and a week on the road, I didn’t want any connections.

The key benefits of United Silver as they pertained to this trip were a free upgrade, priority check-in, and priority security. I’ll go through each.

Free Upgrade

As a Premier Silver, I am eligible for free upgrades to First Class. But as a Premier Silver, I am at the bottom of the pecking order for that upgrade. Since the flight–the last one home on Labor Day–was completely full, and United’s A319s are configured with eight First Class seats, I knew my chance of an upgrade to First Class was nil.

8 Seats in First Class, 40 Seats in Economy Plus

But I was excited about a possible free upgrade to Economy Plus, the seats at the front of the plane with an extra four inches of leg room.

As a Premier Silver, I also have last crack at these seats, only available to me at check-in. All other premiers can choose Economy Plus seats at booking. Golds can put a companion on the same ticket in Economy Plus with them. Platinums and 1Ks can put eight companions in Economy Plus.

And of course, everyone purchasing a ticket from United is offered the chance to buy an Economy Plus seat.

The flight left at 7:25 PM on a Monday. At 7:25 PM on that Sunday, I was at a wedding reception. Before digging into the food, I pulled out my phone to check in. There were still three Economy Plus seats left. All were middle seats.

I had 22D, the first row aisle of regular economy, reserved. But I knew that any Economy Plus seat–even middle seats–would be better. And as luck would have it, one of the open middle seats was in the first row of Economy Plus, the bulkhead, which offers even more space than other Economy Plus seats.

I didn’t save the image of my PIT-LAX seat choices. Here’s the seatmap for my February flight from Tampa to Washington-Dulles. As you can see on this seat map, only two Economy Plus seats are gone. But most will disappear by the time I can check in.

My choices were 7E, 11E, and 20E. I can only imagine a bulkhead seat was still open because its previous owner had just been upgraded to First Class.

I jumped at the bulkhead seat, 7E. I’m 6’4″, and as you can see, my knees are nowhere near the bulkhead. It’s nice not to be digging into someone’s back in the back of the plane.

Plenty of Space–Even for Giants

The other cool thing was that my feet could go under the bulkhead because it didn’t extend to the floor. That made the seat even more spacious as I stretched out my legs fully.

Being in a middle seat didn’t bother me at all. Since our trays were in our armrests, those were slightly wider, giving plenty of elbow room. The seats were slightly narrower for the same reason, but I’m pretty skinny.

Priority Check In

I wouldn’t check in at the airport unless I had to. Pittsburgh allows scanning of boarding passes from your smartphone, so I checked in on my phone and never had to print anything.

Thus I didn’t get a benefit here, but I still had a seamless check-in experience.

Priority Security

My mobile boarding pass said I had Premier Access to security, so I skipped the huge queue at the TSA checkpoint. The priority line was empty.

I had split a taxi with two fellow wedding guests, and I had suggested they try to follow me into the priority lane even though they didn’t have priority access.

I went first and flashed my phone, which showed that I had priority access. They followed and received no guff. I’m not sure if this is replicable, but it was worth a try and saved them at least 15 minutes in line.

Other Benefits

If this were a paid flight, I would have earned a 25% bonus on mileage flown because of my status. Since this was an award, I earned zero miles. (But it’s still crucial to factor this into the “Miles Foregone” category of the Mile Value Calculator.)

I could have checked one bag for free. But I am a one-bag evangelist, so I didn’t need or want to check a bag. I cheated this time and had two bags. My normal carry on and a suit bag for the wedding. I had to look this good:

Four T-Rexes before the Wedding

Recap

I was very pleased with my first experience as a United Premier Silver. I didn’t get into First Class–a pipe dream considering the flight time and aircraft–but I did get a bulkhead Economy Plus seat with plenty of room for an NBAer (or JV basketball center.)

Priority access to security was a big hit with me and my companions.

I didn’t take advantage of the other benefits on this trip. But a free checked bag would be nice to Hawaii, and I can’t wait to earn a 25% redeemable-miles bonus on my first paid trip on United.

16 Responses to First United Silver Experience

  1. Welcome to airline status! Once you’ve earned it, you never want to give it up. :P

    • I’ll tally the benefits when this status almost certainly expires next year. I can give it up after a rational, dispassionate analysis. I think. This is LA, so I’m not immune to a little status-faction.

  2. This may seem like a dumb question, but could someone explain “priority access to security”? Isn’t security run by the dreaded TSA, funded by everyone’s tax dollars? How does elite status with an airline bring about better service here? I can understand priority check-in and boarding, which are maintained by the airline, but how do elites rate priority access to security?

    • You haven’t seen the priority access lanes at all security check points? I think it’s crazy that airlines can get some customers quicker access to the screeners, but that’s the system.

  3. Do you know if it’s possible to pay the extra $50 (or whatever they charge for Economy+) in addition to award miles to get those seats? Or once you book regular economy award you’re stuck there without any status?

    • They’ll offer anyone the chance to get Economy Plus, usually several times. When selecting seats on the award, at check-in, etc.

      • Really? Interesting…never tried it. Is there an extra charge when using a regular coach award, or do they just charge the same miles?

        • The same miles. You just have to pay cash for the E+ seat. Try a dummy booking now and at seat selection, hover the cursor over E+ seats.

          • Maybe it’s because I didn’t have enough miles, but I couldn’t select the E+ seats, but the others worked ok. I’ll try this out later when I’m booking a real flight. Thanks for the tip.

  4. @DaveS: There’s typically a (potentially) shorter line with access restricted to those with priority, so you can get to the TSA earlier.

    Elites rate priority access because while the TSA runs the checkpoints, the airport and airlines run the facility and own the floorspace leading up to the checkpoints, including the security lines. The TSA’s responsibility is to perform security screening – the rest is up to airport management.

    If you want actual better treatment from the TSA, then you would typically need to be involved in the PreCheck program (domestic itineraries only).

  5. Glad you had a good experience with UA Silver! Those with top tier status love to say lower tier status has no value, but I very much disagree. I’m UA Silver for about another month or two before I move up to Gold, but the improvement from no status to Silver has been much appreciated.

    • I really think airline “status” is the most aptly named concept in the miles game. The top tiers like to denigrate the bottom tiers because it raises their status as top-tier holders. And because top tier really is way better. But Silver is better than a poke in the eye.

      • People who’ve had status for years may have last flew as non-status pax when that experience was similar to what a Silver gets today. Priority seat assignments did not matter so much when load factors were lower. Bags were free if you really wanted them. Upgrades are nothing more than a pleasant surprise for silvers at this point so no huge gain there.

        There’s a significant gain, although the right CC certainly gets a lot of the same perks in many cases.

  6. I may be in the minority on this point, but I disagree that a middle seat in E+ is superior to an aisle seat in Y.

    Heck, there are even seats in Y on USAirways 757s that I prefer to ANY of their seats in First Class.

    I cannot stand a middle seat under any circumstances. I’ve simply been doing this for far too long and had too many incredibly uncomfortable flights due to inconsiderate morons on either side of me (bad colds, burping, oversized, waay too chatty, smelly, etc) to have any interest in having two on either side of me!

    Give me an aisle seat any day of the week and at least I know that I’ll have a fair amount of extra elbow and breathing space and just one pax next to me. I wouldn’t have forfeited 22D for 7E!!

    • Understandable. To each his own. For me, leg room is paramount.

    • I expect that you’re not in the minority, but I can see either side. It really depends on leg length vs shoulder width (or torso width if you’re a bit heavy), and also on what you want to do on the flight (if your arms are too long to use a laptop in E- but can manage in E+, E+ has to win if you need to use your laptop).

      I’m a fairly tall guy, but just short enough that domestic pitch is just fine. Were my legs a couple of inches longer I’d probably change my tune in a heartbeat.

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