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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.)

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 3.16.55 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-05 at 3.16.51 AM

United credit card holders also get the extra Saver economy award space set aside for elites. That includes people with the United Explorer, Business Explorer, and Club cards.

I consider this one of the biggest benefits of the cards, and, oddly, it is a benefit that is completely unadvertised and possibly unintentional.

Recent Example

I have the United Business Explorer card and no elite status with United. I was recently looking for award space from Virginia to Hawaii in October as part of my Summer/Fall travel plans.

Here was all of the Saver award space in economy from Washington-Dulles to Honolulu before I signed into my account.

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That’s three possible itineraries. (The fourth, which costs “45k” is Standard award space.)

I signed in–alerting to show me the extra award space reserved for elites and credit card holders–and ran the same search. There were about ten itineraries with Saver award space. Here are the first six.
Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 3.53.34 PMLet’s look closer at that 3:50 PM to 9:45 PM itinerary that shows up when I sign in (second screen shot), but not when I don’t (first screen shot.) Once signed in, I am in Expert Mode, which allows me to see the number of seats in each fare class on a flight.
Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 3.54.37 PMThe problem is that the second flight has X0 and XN9. “X” is the Saver economy award space open to everyone. “XN” is the extra set aside for elites and credit card holders. This award has nine Saver seats for elites and credit card holders but none for Joe Schmo. That’s why it showed up when I signed in but not before.

This flight is an extreme example of extra seats available to elites, but it illustrates how valuable the benefit can be to elites.

And It’s a Secret Benefit

While I can not directly link to the current United Explorer offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

The offer page touts an extra award space benefit, but not the one I’m talking about.

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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.

No, You Can’t Book This Extra Space with Partner Miles

I’m not going to book a a trip from the East Coast to Hawaii with United miles. The same United flights are much cheaper with Singapore miles. Unfortunately, when using Singapore miles you can only book United Saver award space in the “X”, “I”, and “O” fare classes–that is, the Saver award space open to non-elites and non-credit card holders.

So I had to sign back out of my United account to search for that space. Any United Saver award space you find when searching without signing in should be equally bookable with all Star Alliance miles.

Bottom Line

United credit cards give you access to extra Saver economy award space on United flights when redeeming United miles. This is an unadvertised benefit and puts you on even footing with United elites.

The extra award space is not available for booking with other Star Alliance miles.

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