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Piggy Backing Elite Benefits

Piggy Backing Elite Benefits

While I was on my mega trip 3 weeks ago, I needed a last minute award ticket to Baltimore for this past weekend.

Since it was within 21 days of departure, had I booked my flight with United, American, or US Airways, I would have been hit with a $75 close-in ticketing fee. 

I have talked many times about these fees and what a huge scam they are for customers since it doesn’t cost airlines anything extra if you were to purchase your award ticket 365 days in advance or the week before departure…

Normally when I have to make these types of last minute award purchases, due to these non-sense close-in ticketing fees, I first look to British Airways Avios (to use on American) or Southwest, both which have no close-in ticketing fees. This means that you can literally book an award the morning of your flight and not pay an additional fee! 

Unfortunately for me, there was no availability on British Airways and Southwest was too expensive for my liking.

Although I hate to burn United miles for anything that isn’t international travel, United seemed like the best option for my last minute trip because it was only 20,000 miles and also had the most convenient non-stop flight options. That being said, United also wanted to collect the $75 close-in ticketing fee!

When I booked this United ticket 3 weeks ago, I was still on my trip and my friend Eric and I were also in the process of booking a separate last minute award flight on United from Dublin to Croatia via Amsterdam. Luckily, my friend Eric is United 1K and booked the Dublin tickets via his account with his miles. Eric’s 1K status allowed us to not only make any flight changes to the ticket for free but also got us out of paying the $75 close-in ticketing fee (which is waived for United 1Ks).

The plan was that he would book the award ticket from his account and I simply would transfer him 25,000 United miles via Ultimate Rewards. (Side note: Chase has been known to close people’s credit card accounts because they transferred their Ultimate Rewards to loyalty programs not associated with their name. If you are transferring Ultimate Rewards to accounts that aren’t under your name, transfer all your existing points to either your Personal or Business cards, so they are separate so you don’t lose all your points if your card gets closed!)

Since Eric was already booking the Dublin award ticket for me,  I figured I might as well get him to book my Baltimore ticket and I would just add another 20,000 miles to my tab.

Using Eric’s 1K account and his United miles, I booked myself a United award ticket from Chicago to Baltimore.

Since I was booking thru Eric’s account, United for some reason assumed that Eric was flying and allowed me to select an Economy Plus seat (1K / United Elite perk) and put me in the queue for a complimentary upgrade!

Since I have TSA Pre-Check, I went ahead and added that information in as well.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when I went to check-in and noticed that Eric’s United 1K number was still on my ticket as was his United 1K status…

Normally I would change out his United number for mine but since this was an award flight, there wasn’t any mileage accrual so it didn’t really matter.

Now I have known about this piggy backing glitch for a while and it has been widely publicized but this was my first time taking advantage of it and it was awesome.

More surprising than Eric’s 1K status being on my boarding pass was the fact that my TSA Pre-Check cleared and worked without issue! 

Fast forward again to this Sunday when I received an email from United that I had been upgraded to Domestic First Class! Even more comical, was that Eric’s Elite number was once again included in the email!

It is really a shame that Chase cracks down on people transferring Ultimate Rewards to accounts not in their name because enterprising United 1Ks could make some serious money booking award tickets for people from their accounts and then being reimbursed via Ultimate Rewards! 

Hotel Piggy Backing

While the United glitch is weird because when I put my name on the ticket, United should have figured out that Eric wasn’t flying, thus the 1K benefits should have been nullified (but hey I’m not complaining!), you can do this same trick fairly easy with Hotels if you know someone who has Hotel Elite Status!

While I have free mid-tier status at SPG, Hilton, and Hyatt (which basically only gets me free internet), there are certain top-tier perks like free breakfast and room upgrades that can be extremely useful.

For example in Seychelles, thanks to my free Hilton Gold Status which came with the Citi Hilton Card, we got free breakfast for 2 during our stay there. Given that Seychelles is an island in the middle of nowhere, breakfast was $50 a person a day…

When I don’t have top tier elite status but I would still like the elite benefits like free breakfast, a trick I have figured out is to make the reservation under your name and then add a friend who has top tier status to your reservation as a guest.

What I have found is that as long as the top tier elite’s number is tagged onto your reservation, even if the other person doesn’t check in, the hotel will typically still give you the top tier benefits!

For example, my friend stayed at the Park Hyatt Chicago last January and I was Hyatt Diamond at the time from the SMD4, so I let her tag my Hyatt number onto her reservation. When she checked in (without me), she was given a room upgrade and free breakfast!

I have found that this trick even works if you are doing an award stay, although sometimes you have to call in and have them manually add your guest to your reservation.

While you obviously benefit from the perks of having your friend’s top tier elite status tagged onto your reservation, for your friend, it can be beneficial because they will either get the points (which usually aren’t much) or elite stay credit from the stay (which helps them re-qualify for next year but serves no purpose to me)!

So while it is a trade off in terms of forgoing points or elite stay credits for free breakfast and room upgrades, most times I have found it to be well worth it but of course it is all personal preference. 

Unlike the United glitch, the hotel piggy backing trick probably won’t change in the near future because it is too hard to verify if the top tier elite guest is actually staying in the room or not!

Recap

While the United glitch is something that United could fix at anytime, if you have plans that might need to be changed unexpectedly or have to book a last minute award ticket, it might make sense to book your tickets via a friend that is United 1K!

It will save you a ton in terms of unnecessary fees and the potential for a free upgrade is a nice perk!

If you are asking yourself, “Parag, that is great for you but I don’t know anyone that is United 1K, what should I do?”

The answer to that is simple! I myself was in that position last year and didn’t know anyone that had elite status but then a funny thing happened when I started going to all the Frequent Traveler Universities, Chicago Seminar, MegaDO events, etc…….I made a ton of new friends! In fact, I met Eric last year at the Chicago Seminars!

So while it is great to read the blogs and learn a lot, the real value of travel hacking is to go to those events and build your network, learn new tips, and of course make some new friends. Then if you are ever in a bind and need someone to book a last minute award ticket via their account, people are happy to help because they know you! 

-Parag

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3 Comments

  • Daniel Zimmerman says:

    This is not a United "glitch". It is how the system has always worked (at least on Continental, which is where the current United system came from), and will likely always work. Award tickets always have the current-as-of-flight-date privileges of the frequent flyer account from which they were booked (but _not_ elite upgrades, unless the account holder is also a holder of one of the United Chase credit cards that gives elite upgrades on award travel). So if, for instance, an award ticket is booked for next March by a current 1K who fails to requalify and ends up Silver instead, the passenger who flies the ticket will effectively have Silver status (one free bag, ability to choose nicer seats at check-in time).

    There actually used to be a glitch – which _was_ fixed, quite a while ago – whereby anybody with Gold status or higher could assign "elite-only" (economy plus for free, exit rows, bulkheads) seats on _any_ ticket for _any_ passenger an arbitrary amount of time in advance given the confirmation number. That was a nice glitch. 🙂

  • dj says:

    How would you "add" an elite guest to your hotel reservation along with their elite number?

  • Frequent Flyer University says:

    @Daniel – Thanks for the detailed info. I was referring it more as a glitch in that it is beneficial to customers.

    @dj – Just call up the hotel and tell them you want to add an extra guest and feed them the number. Haven't had any issues doing it in the past.

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