This is a repost from 2013 because this benefit is still available and still under-publicized.
Elite members of United’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program get access to extra Saver award seats in economy class. (Platinum and higher members also get extra business and first class seat availability.)
While helping my friend who has no United status book an award with United miles, I saw that extra economy class award seats popped up when she signed into her account. That confused me, since she has no United status. The only thing I can think of is that her United MileagePlus Explorer Card is conferring her the extra space.
If so, that would be one of the biggest benefits of the card, and one that is completely unadvertised and possibly unintentional.
What I’ve Seen
My friend Megan wanted to book an economy award from Houston to Buenos Aires in the second half of May. The award calendar looked bleak, showing few options when I did a quick search on united.com.
I signed into her account to take a look at her balance to figure out the options. Here’s my friend Megan’s account.
I performed the search again while signed in to her account, and the space had changed dramatically!
If you look closely at the new calendars compared to the ones I saw before singing in, you’ll see that only economy space has opened.
Tons of white days turned yellow, which means that days with no Saver space are showing economy Saver space when she signs in. And three blue days turned green–May 3, May 10, and June 13. Blue meant there was only Saver business space. Green means there is saver business space and saver economy space.
As an example date, before signing into her account, May 17 had no Saver award space.
After signing into her account, Saver economy space magically appears!
By continuing through the booking process, it became clear what had happened.
If she continues to book May 17 at the Saver level, the Fare Class shown is XN. “Fare Class” is a one (or in this case two) letter code that signifies what cabin you are in and what you paid for that seat. Airlines divide their available seats into different fare classes that cost different amounts of money or miles.
The normal United fare class for an economy Saver award is X, and a Standard economy award is HN according to the Wandering Aramean. XN is the fare class for economy Saver awards booked by elites.
Elites have access to all the award seats United opens in the X fare class and any extras that United opens only to them in the XN class. Non-elites only have access to seats in the X fare class.
United.com conveniently will display how many seats are available on each flight in each fare class if you use Expert Mode as explained by One Mile at a Time. For the May 17 flight we’re looking at from Houston to Buenos Aires, there are 9 XN seats and 0 X seats.
Translation: an elite could book an award for up to nine people on the flight for the Saver price of 30,000 miles per person. A non-elite couldn’t book a single person at that price, instead having to pay the Standard price of 55,000 miles per seat.
This flight is an extreme example of extra seats available to elites, but it illustrates how valuable the benefit can be to elites.
Except that Megan is not an elite, so why does she have access to the extra XN Saver space?
Her United account is about 45 days old. She has never flown a United flight before. She has the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. The only thing I can figure is that having that card is somehow getting her access to XN space. That’s a pretty neat trick!
I do not believe this is a stated benefit of the card. Here’s the card’s advertised benefit related to award space.
This benefit refers to cardholders being able to book any seat, any time as a Standard award. There is some value to the benefit, but in general I try to avoid booking Standard awards, which tend to cost double the price of Saver awards. I would much prefer to get more Saver awards than be able to get any seat as a Standard award.
What this means?
For me, this could be great news. I currently have United Silver status, which gets me the extra economy availability–XN space–that this post discusses. But I will probably lose that status and benefit next year because I doubt I’ll requalify. If my United MileagePlus Explorer Card could pick up the slack and get me the same economy Saver award access, that would be incredible, and it would be worth paying the card’s annual fee to maintain access to elite-level Saver space.
What I don’t know
I don’t know for sure why Megan has access to XN space, giving her a ton more options for economy Saver awards. I’d like to see more data points from people without status but with the card and without status and without the card to try to determine if the card is granting access to XN space.
I don’t know whether the card grants access to IN and ON space too. IN and ON are extra space that United Platinums and above get for business class Saver awards (IN) and first class Saver awards (ON).
I don’t know if this is an intended benefit or a glitch on United’s part.
The extra economy Saver award space that elites can access is accessible to my non-elite friend who has a United credit card. I’ve never heard of this benefit before.