Or: Did You Earn United Status Without Knowing It?

I have Silver Status on United. See! ———->

It just posted a few days ago even though my last paid flight with United was in March. What was happening? I had earned Silver Status in March, but United’s errors–human and computer–had kept my status from updating to Silver.

There are two requirements to reach United Premier Silver status: accrue 25,000 Premier Miles and fly four United or Copa flights. Premier miles, with some exceptions, are earned at a rate of one Premier Mile for each mile flown on a United or partner flight that is credited to one’s United account. Premier Miles are a counter that lets the airline track your status; Premier Miles have no value and cannot be redeemed. (More on premier miles and redeemable miles tomorrow.)

This January I flew a paid coach ticket on Turkish Airlines–LAX to Istanbul to Entebbe, Uganda; Nairobi to Istanbul; and finally Istanbul to LAX. Six weeks in Africa and Turkey for an $1100 ticket. (Government taxes were over $500, so I thought it was an incredible deal.)

I credited the 19,523 miles to my United account since both airlines are in the Star Alliance and alliance partners let you credit flown miles to the account of your choosing.

When purchasing my ticket to Africa, I typed my United frequent flier number into the field for frequent flier numbers. But after the outbound, my miles didn’t post. I filled out the old United form for requesting missing mileage credit, and within a few days, my miles were manually added.

The return miles didn’t post automatically either. By the time I requested them, the United/Continental merger was complete, and a new form was available for missing mileage credit. The new form requested information I didn’t have like my seat number, so I just made those things up.

Eventually my miles credited for all my Turkish segments, so I had 19,523 status miles, just about 5,500 short of United Premier Silver status. I had a plan to get those miles too. Last year, I had decided to go to Atlanta in March 2012 to watch the ACC basketball tournament.

Within a few days of making the decision, my daily scan of the flyertalk Mileage Run Forum showed LAX-ATL roundtrip on United for $150. (See this post on how to use the forum to score cheap deals and impromptu vacations.)

Normally I prefer the shortest travel times possible above the option to score more miles by flying a roundabout route. But this was different. I knew that if I could make this trip’s routing 5,500 miles I could earn status for my next trip, which meant Economy Plus seating and a free checked golf bag to Hawaii.

Unfortunately the only routing that was available for $150 was LAX-DEN-ATL-IAH-LAX, which is only 4,129 miles. Since I was booking about six months in advance I went ahead and booked that itinerary. The price was impossible to beat, and I had a trick up my sleeve to change the routing for free.

The trick is that airlines are constantly changing their schedules a few minutes this way or that. Once a minor schedule change posted to both my outbound and return, I called up United. I explained that the schedule change didn’t fit my schedule. Helpfully, I had already searched for the exact flights I wanted and fed them to the agent.

As implausible as my claim was–that a ten minute schedule change didn’t work for me–the agent never questioned. He was happy enough not to have to search for replacement flights. I changed the routing to LAX-IAD-ATL-IAD-LAX, which lengthened it to 5,644 miles or about 25,200 total status miles when added to my Turkish Airlines flights!

I also changed the return from a Tuesday to Sunday night right after the final game of the tournament. I have found that when making free changes after schedule changes, I can change the flight up to four days without them complaining. Any more, and they’ll start to balk.

You would think that within a day or two of flying back from Atlanta, my status mile counter would update on united.com, and I would be granted Silver status. Would I be posting if it were that easy?

The LAX-IAD and IAD-LAX segments posted but not the United Express flights to and from Atlanta. That meant my third trip to the missing mileage credit form. Within a week, the United Express legs credited, meaning I was over 25,000 status miles, but I was still listed as a general member.

Maybe this was the problem:

I had met the miles qualification, but maybe I hadn’t met the four flights on United requirement. I had flown four takeoff-touchdown segments, but maybe “flight” meant itinerary, and I’d only flown one roundtrip itinerary.

I finally got around to calling United’s Mileage Plus department last week after emails and tweets failed to evoke a response.

The agent’s first response after looking at my account: “You should have qualified for Silver status, let me talk to my supervisor.”

A minute later: “OK, I just learned something new. You have to fly four segments with United; you’ve only flown two.”

I explained that I had flow four segments on United and United Express on my trip to Atlanta.

A minute later: “The IAD-ATL and ATL-IAD segments weren’t on United or United Express.”

I assured him they were. I knew what planes I had gotten onto.

A minute later: “I learned something else knew! They used an unusual airline code for the United Express flights that I hadn’t seen before. You’ve met all the requirements for Premier Silver, and you have been made Premier Silver effective immediately. Your card will arrive within two weeks.”

So three missing mileage requests, two things learned by the United agent about his own loyalty program, and one fifteen minute phone call combined with 25,000 status miles to get me to United Silver Premier.

The benefits aren’t fantastic, but they are nice. I expect to get some Economy Plus seats on future United flights. I have to wait until check in (24 hours until departure), but a few extra inches at my height is crucial. And when I fly to Hawaii, I can take my golf bag for free, saving $50 roundtrip.

Has anyone else had similar trouble having their status automatically recognized?

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