A Unicorn! The Lowest Status to Ever Give Me So Much Free Stuff

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Incredible Value From 1 Flight with United Silver Status + Amex Cards

My wife and I just got incredibly outsized value from my United Silver status, and I need to share it with you. It’s that much of a unicorn. Between my measly status and using some Amex cards, free turned into “massive cost savings”. Check this out.

Phase 1 – Free Money in United TravelBank

My wife and I had $200 in United TravelBank credit that we loaded using her Business Platinum Card from American Express at the end of last year. This triggered the airline incidental credit, so we got $200 in my United account for free.

Phase 2 – Buy a United Flight

Maybe this is 2b.

2a as a precursor: If you haven’t followed the last few months of my posts, my wife and I weren’t really living in one place. We bounced around while she was applying for jobs online after graduating from veterinary school in Brazil. In 2 trips from Brazil up to the U.S. several months apart in 2021, we brought the maximum checked bags possible, plus paying for an extra using Amex airline incidental credits on several cards. We paid maybe $80 total to move as much of our stuff as we could up to the U.S.

That brings us the present. Our stuff was in a storage unit near my parents’ house while we figured out our plans for a place to live in the U.S. Now that my wife got a job in California, we needed to get ourselves out there. Plus, get our stuff there.

Once we figured out that we’d be flying United (direct flight for the win!), we loaded another $200 of TravelBank credit from my wife’s Business Platinum Card. We started with $400 of credits in my United TravelBank, and the total cost of flights was $482.32 after tax.

Our out-of-pocket cost for the flights: $82.32 after the Amex rebates.

Phase 3 – United Upgrades Us, Surprisingly

I have Silver status with United. Not that I took any United flights last year, mind you. I stayed at a bunch of Marriott hotels last year and got Titanium Elite status. Being stuck in Tanzania for 2 weeks had a big role in that. A perk of Marriott’s Titanium Elite status is that you get United Silver elite status for free.

The morning of our flight, we got an email from United that my wife and I had been upgraded from economy to first class. I had 0 expectation of this happening. Turns out the flight was pretty empty, so they must have been upgrading anyone with the slightest bit of status.

Image of man with foot on top of suitcase, waiting at airport - a perk of United Silver status is that he can check a bag for free, providing extra value on each flight

Phase 4 – Baggage Plan Expands

Originally, our plan to get stuff out to California looked like this. We would count on my status to get us a free checked bag each. Then, we changed my preferred airline on my Platinum Card and Platinum Card from Schwab to be United. Flying in economy, we could pay for a 2nd bag ($45) and 3rd bag ($150) for each of us, essentially using up the $200 in incidental credits on each card.

This would help us get 6 total suitcases, plus carryons, out to California. At some point, we’d figure out the rest of the stuff in storage. This all happened short-notice, so we’d focus on the essentials and sort out the other stuff later. Great plan.

Since we got upgraded, United now offered us 3 free checked bags each. And since we were planning on paying for another checked bag for each of us anyway (and will get it reimbursed from Amex), we ran to our storage and prepped 2 more suitcases–1 more checked bag each.

All in all, we checked 8 suitcases, carried on a backpack and a small roller bag each, and we paid nothing for any of those bags. Why? Amex will reimburse us the $150 each for the 4th bag, and the first 3 bags each were free. Thanks, United!

The value in return from my “almost forgot I had it” United Silver status has got to be the highest ratio of ‘return’ to ‘status level’ in history.

Final Thoughts

I can’t believe this flight and all of the value it provided really happened. I normally assign no value to United Silver status and would never actually pursue it. However, United upgraded even the lowest riffraff of MileagePlus on our flight, Amex reimbursed us for the extra checked bags, and we moved a whole bunch of stuff from Brazil to Florida to California for about $160 out of pocket. The United flight portion was a crazy unicorn. No way this ever happens again. I had to brag about it.

Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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13 COMMENTS

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve held United Silver status the same way as your wife for a few years now and I have to admit that I’m a fan. I’ve been upgraded to domestic first class about half the time on award tickets, which is amazing. As a contrast, back around a decade ago when Delta actually seemed to care about loyalty, I was a silver member as well. I was a pretty huge fanboy and even though I didn’t fly a lot of revenue tickets I did a handfull every year and was never upgraded. Ever.

    I’m certainly no fan of United’s current CEO and his tightfisted philosophy of squeezing a silver dollar until the eagle screams but I gotta admit that United blows Delta out of the water on this one. Hopefully this will stay the same in days to come. It’s certainly the only tangible benefit I’ve experienced from my Marriott Titanium status.

    • United also crushes American for complimentary upgrades.

      When I was United Silver I would frequently get upgraded on flights to Central America, the Caribbean, and Canada.

      At the same time I was (and still am) American Platinum but have never received a complimentary upgrade to any of these destinations. Free upgrades on international flights also get free United lounge access.

      American will leave First/Business empty but United will upgrade even code share low status elites until First/Business is full.

      American requires “stickers” for Golds and Platinums for all flights over 500 miles.

      • I had 10 paid first class flights on American last year and there were never any empty seats at boarding. I also discovered it was cheaper to book coach and pay for upgraded seats (exit row) at booking. Other than free drinks, I never got more than chips or crackers in first. Also, living on the east coast, forces one to go through Charlotte, the worst airport for connections in the US.

  2. “All in all, we checked 8 suitcases, carried on a backpack and a small roller bag each, and we paid nothing for any of those bags. Why? Amex will reimburse us the $150 each for the 4th bag, and the first 3 bags each were free.”

    You did pay for the 4th bag… through your AMEX Plat membership fees.

    • Ah, thanks for pointing that out. It was actually more than free, since I used so many benefits from Amex last year that the card became profitable. So, yes, if I take the card itself into account, the savings are even higher–the card was profitable for us.

    • Ah, thanks for pointing that out. It was actually more than free, since I used so many benefits from Amex last year that the card became profitable. So, yes, if I take the card itself into account, the savings are even higher–the card was profitable for us.

  3. What segment(s) were you upgraded on? Your post is very vague about what flights you were upgraded on: what cities did you start and end from and on what dates?

    • There weren’t segments with an S. As it clearly said, there was just one direct flight in the itinerary. The itinerary isn’t the point of the article, but it was RSW-LAX.

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