United Mileage Plus has shipped out their membership kits for 2019 and apparently saved themselves the hassle of sending any membership cards, instead they included just one tiny baggage tag.
Not sure if this is an error or by design but it seems to be extremely strange that United would go through the hassle of sending this useless luggage tag around the world but no actual membership card.
Back in the day when the airlines and hotels computer systems were even more unreliable than they are now it was pretty much a must to always carry your elite membership card in order to get access to lounges and to receive other status associated benefits.
Nowadays most airlines and definitely all hotels (ok, maybe not Marriott) have changed to the simple fix of attributing all Elite benefits to a passenger as long as the reservation reflects the status and it’s printed on the boarding pass.
There are however a couple situations, mostly IT related that could prevent a status from reflecting properly or where physical proof might still be required when trying to use the lounge or priority services on the ground.
For flights on United this wouldn’t be an issue as their internal Mileage Plus data ‘should’ provide real time information to the carriers reservation system.
On Star Alliance partners this would come with the caveat that the data has synced with the alliance wide systems for some reason. Of course you can always show the website printout and live app with the digital card and hope it will be accepted.
I have written to United asking for clarification of this and requested them to please send me a proper membership card. I’d really prefer having one just in case and maybe there will be some status match opportunity around at some point which requires a copy of the actual membership card.