How to Upgrade to Business/First Class on United Airlines Flights

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The airline ticket upgrading process has become more complicated (and restrictive) on most airlines, but United’s upgrade process is often more convoluted than most others.

There are multiple types of upgrades, a confusing maze of fare classes, priority hierarchy, and assorted rules for different planes and routes to sort through. For those who don’t have elite status with the airline, it may seem impossible to ever secure a seat in the front of the plane.

While we can’t guarantee you an upgraded seat on United Airlines, we can help you understand the upgrade process and increase your chances of securing a premium seat.

Our guide explains United upgrade types, availability, how the upgrade waitlist works, and the role of elite status in the upgrade process.

We’ll also cover the benefits of having a United MileagePlus® credit card with some bottom line ways to make that upgrade happen.

Types of Upgrades

United Airlines has several options for securing an upgrade, including earning upgrade certificates as a Premier Elite member, using miles to upgrade, qualifying for complimentary upgrades, or purchasing a full-fare economy ticket that upgrades instantly.

  • MilagePlus® Upgrade Awards: Upgrades using miles on any United or Copa Airlines-operated flights.
  • Complimentary Upgrades: Upgrades for Premier Elite members on a space-available basis on select United-operated domestic flights.
  • Regional Premier Upgrades: Upgrades earned by Premier Elite Platinum and 1K members that can be used on select United and Copa flights operated within certain regions.
  • Global Premier Upgrades: Upgrades earned by Premier Elite 1K members that can be used on United and specific United global partner airlines.
  • Star Alliance Upgrade Awards: Upgrades using miles on select flights with Star Alliance® network partners.
  • Instant Upgrades: Upgrades granted at the time of ticketing on full fare Y economy and B fares for Premier members. Premier 1K members may receive instant upgrades when purchasing M fares. Subject to availability.

We’ll cover more on how priority order works for these upgrades shortly, but first, let’s find out how to determine if there is upgrade space available.

How to Find Out if Upgrade Space is Available

The best way to see if there are seats available for an upgrade is to search for tickets using United’s expert mode. To activate expert mode on your account, start at the home page and sign in to your MileagePlus account.

Select the option to go to your profile, then select search preferences. Under search preferences, you’ll find the expert mode option. Just click that you acknowledge the considerations, save, and it will be activated.

When searching for a flight in expert mode, you’ll be able to see the fare class you’re purchasing and the available fare classes for that flight by clicking on the details tab.

Discounted United business class fare example
In expert mode, you’ll be able to see the fare classes listed under the details tab. The fare class you purchase will determine the possible upgrade options. Image courtesy of

The fare classes available on this flight from highest to lowest are J, C, D, Z, P (business) and Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G (economy). In expert mode, you can see how many seats are available in each class to determine your chances for an upgrade.

United fare class availability example
Image courtesy of

The number next to the fare class represents the number of seats available for purchase, mileage awards, or upgrades in that fare class bucket. The number 9 is the highest and represents that 9 or more seats are available.

Although United doesn’t publish a list of what each fare code represents, the availability for upgrades is generally found in these classes:

  • ON: First-class upgrade from business class
  • PN: Business-class instant upgrade from Y/B/M fare purchase by 1K and Global Services members
  • R/PZ: Business-class or first-class domestic upgrade from economy
  • RN: Business-class instant upgrade for Y/B fare purchases by Platinum, Gold, or Silver Premier members

For a complete list of United Airline’s revenue, award, and upgrade fare codes, CWSI’s project does a great job of deciphering airline fare codes.

Hot Tip: Each flight will have different availability for upgrade potential, so check each flight individually. 

Upgrade Priority: Who Gets the Upgrade First?

The Importance of Elite Status

Getting upgraded from economy to a premium seat will depend on the level of elite status you have with the airline, whether you’re using upgrade certificates, paying for upgrades, or using miles to upgrade.

United has several tiers of elite airline status with the following ranking order:

  • Global Services: Status given to United’s best clients at United’s discretion.
  • United Premier 1K: Receive Global Premier Upgrades and Regional Premier Upgrade certificates that can be redeemed for upgrades on specific flights and fare classes.
  • United Premier Platinum: Receive Regional Premier Upgrades and complimentary upgrades when available.
  • United Premier Gold: Complimentary upgrades when available.
  • United Premier Silver: Complimentary upgrades when available.

Whether you have elite status or not, you’ll be placed on a waitlist with other travelers who have requested an upgrade if you can’t be confirmed for an upgrade immediately.

The computer system will automatically clear the person who is at the top of the list for their upgrade up until 3 hours before departure when the gate agents take over and manage the upgrade list. The priority list for upgrades is as follows:

  • Premier 1K travelers on Y-, B- and M-class fares that weren’t cleared before
  • Travelers using upgrade awards: Global or Regional Premier Upgrades and Mileage Plus Upgrade Awards prioritized first by status, then fare class, then the time of request.
  • Remaining Premier members: Prioritized first by status, then fare class, and then those traveling on award tickets.

MileagePlus® Premier members are eligible for complimentary Premier Upgrades when traveling on a United-operated flight. Primary cardholders of the following cards who are also Premier members qualify for this type of upgrade on award tickets:

If you have a United MileagePlus® credit card, you’ll want to sign into your MileagePlus account before searching for flights, as elite members and cardholders have expanded search access.

Bottom Line: Although Premier members holding MileagePlus® credit cards qualify for complimentary upgrades on award tickets, these travelers will be prioritized after the lowest paid fare class.

United Business Class
Having a United MileagePlus credit card increases your chances of an upgrade. Image courtesy of United Airlines.

The Value of a United MileagePlus® Credit Card

Premier members who have a MileagePlus® credit card qualify for complimentary upgrades on United award flights but that’s not the only flight benefit of having a Chase United MileagePlus® credit card.

MileagePlus® Credit CardFlight benefits
UnitedSM Explorer Card
  • Priority boarding for cardholder and companions
  • Free checked bag for cardholder + 1 companion
  • 2 United Club lounge passes/year
  • Premier upgrades on award tickets for primary cardholder who is also a Premier member
United MileagePlus® Club Card
United MileagePlus® Club Business Card
  • United Club/Star Alliance lounge access worldwide for primary cardholder and travel companions.
  • 2 free checked bags for cardholder + 1 companion.
  • Priority check-in, security screening, boarding and baggage handling privileges for cardholder.
  • Premier upgrades on award tickets for primary cardholder who is also a Premier member

If securing an upgrade on your United flight is important to you, you may also enjoy the premium benefit of lounge access. Both the United MileagePlus® Club Card and MileagePlus® Club Business Card come with United Club and Star Alliance lounge access worldwide for you and your travel companions.

A 1 year United Club lounge membership alone starts at $550 per year, more than the annual fee on either MileagePlus® Club card.

Another great travel perk is free checked bags. The MileagePlus Explorer cards offer a free checked bag for you and your traveling companion, resulting in savings that can easily offset the $95 annual fee in the second year and beyond.

Bottom Line: Having a Chase United MileagePlus® credit card makes you eligible for a flight upgrade on United flights and provides additional flight perks that more than offset the annual fees on the cards. 

Upgrading With Miles

It is possible to upgrade your flight using United MileagePlus® frequent flyer miles either while you’re purchasing a ticket or on an existing reservation, but it is not always the best value. However, it is a positive that all fares can be upgraded with miles or miles and a co-pay.

Here’s how to find out how much an upgrade will cost using miles and whether using the miles and co-pay option is worth it. Be sure to sign in to your MileagePlus account before your search to receive better search results.

How to Upgrade With Miles and Co-pay When Purchasing a Ticket

For a new reservation, search for flights using all search options on the homepage. Doing so will allow you to find fares that can be upgraded with miles and co-pays.

Book United flight search options

Then select the MileagePlus Upgrade Awards option from the drop-down box under fare preferences.

Select United upgrade
Image courtesy of

You’ll find several options for upgrading your flight if seats are available. You may be able to upgrade with just miles, or there may be a co-pay if you do not have Premier Elite status. You can select to upgrade from economy to business or from business to first class. Here’s an example of the results when selecting an upgrade from economy:

Upgrade eligible United flights
Image courtesy of

In this example, it would cost $1,218 to purchase a business-class seat on the first listed flight, or 20,000 miles plus a $125 co-pay each way to upgrade from the lowest economy fare.

However, if you look closely at the second option on the list, you can purchase a discounted business-class ticket for $652, which is a far better deal.

The good news is, you don’t have to be a United Premier elite member to upgrade an economy ticket to business class using miles and a co-pay. You’ll want to make sure it is a good value option versus purchasing any available discounted business class.

Hot Tip: Purchasing discounted business-class fares can cost less than buying an economy fare and upgrading with miles, so be sure to check those fares first. 

How to Upgrade an Existing Reservation With Miles

If you’ve already purchased your ticket and want to upgrade that ticket to a premium cabin, you can process the upgrade yourself within your existing reservation, call United to request the upgrade, or request an upgrade at the airport.

  • Sign in to your MileagePlus account and access your existing reservation. Select redeem upgrade to view your options. You will see the option to buy up to a premium cabin, use a Regional or Global upgrade if you have these upgrades available, or have the option to use miles and co-pay for the upgrade.
  • Request a MileagePlus upgrade by calling United.
  • Request a MileagePlus upgrade at the airport.

Need more miles? You might be interested in our in-depth article on how to earn lots of United MileagePlus miles.

Bottom Line: Any traveler can use the “upgrade with miles” option when booking a flight or upgrading an existing reservation. However, Premier members do not incur a co-pay for flights on select routes, making it an option to consider if the discounted business-class fare is not attractive.  

Air Canada Boeing 787-9
MileagePlus members can upgrade with miles on Star Alliance partner airlines – Image courtesy of Air Canada

Upgrading on Partner Airlines

MileagePlus members can request upgrades on United partner Star Alliance airlines from economy to business or first class (on 2 class planes) and business class to first class depending on the partner airline’s seat availability.

United has 26 Star Alliance partners who participate in mileage upgrades, and upgrades for most partner airlines may be requested up to 331 days before departure for up to 4 travelers on the same reservation.

To request a Star Alliance upgrade with miles, you must first book your ticket, access the reservation on, then request the upgrade under redeem upgrade as you would with a normal United reservation.

For complete rules, terms, and conditions for upgrades on Star Alliance partner airlines, visit the United Airlines website.

11 Ways to Secure an Upgrade or Increase Your Chances of an Upgrade With United

With United Elite Status:

  • Earn Global Premier Upgrades by achieving United Premier 1K Elite status and purchasing a ticket with a fare class of W or higher to use your GPU.
  • Earn Regional Premier Upgrades by qualifying for United Premier Platinum and using them to upgrade your eligible flight.
  • Purchase a Y fare class ticket or a discounted full-fare economy B fare and receive an instant upgrade on select flights. Premier 1K members can purchase an M fare and receive an immediate upgrade. Upgrades are subject to availability.
  • Check for discounted business-class fares before applying upgrades or using miles to upgrade an economy ticket.
  • Select an upgrade-eligible flight at booking using the advanced search tool and selecting the MUA option to find flights that can be upgraded using miles.
  • Purchasing a higher fare ticket will not guarantee you an upgrade, but it will increase your chances of securing the upgrade over other Premier members with the same status when you’re redeeming upgrades. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the extra dollars.
  • Use United MileagePlus miles to secure a business or first-class ticket.
  • Request the upgrade early. One of the last tie-breakers for upgrade priority is the time of the upgrade request, so be sure to request the upgrade as early as possible.

Without United Elite Status

  • Check the price for all classes of service and compare. It may seem obvious, but occasionally, business- and first-class fares can be a deal. Consider the example earlier in this article where discounted business- and first-class fares are less expensive than economy.
  • Purchase an upgrade-eligible ticket. If you have United MileagePlus frequent flier miles, you can purchase an upgrade-eligible ticket and use miles and co-pay to secure a business- or first-class ticket instantly if seats are available. You can find this type of ticket by selecting the MileagePlus upgrade award option (MUA) from the drop-down menu on the advanced search page.
  • Use United MileagePlus miles to secure a business or first-class ticket.

Final Thoughts

Scoring an upgrade is complicated, and not just because there are so many factors involved in the process.

It’s also because the system doesn’t always work as planned. You can be dropped off the upgrade waitlist for no apparent reason, or experience other anomalies that can complicate the process further. Understanding that anomalies happen regardless of the airline, knowing how the process works can provide you with the leverage to secure the upgrades you deserve.

The bottom line to securing any complimentary upgrades with United is that Premier Elite status. Otherwise, if it’s essential to fly in business or first class, you should consider purchasing tickets in these classes or upgrading with miles if it’s available and a good value compared to discounted business class.


How do I know if my upgraded ticket allows a free checked bag?

You can find out if the ticket you purchased, an upgraded ticket, or an award ticket will result in checked baggage fees by utilizing United’s checked baggage service fee calculator.

The calculator allows you to enter a flight, your status level (if applicable), whether you’re military, and other criteria that determine whether you’ll pay to check a bag.

Why does the upgrade standby list keep changing?

There are several reasons the upgrade list can change, including the addition of travelers who have just checked in for their flight.

Once checked in, travelers may end up high on the standby list based on their elite status above those travelers with lower status.

The upgrade standby list can also change when a traveler has missed a connection, decided to take an earlier flight, or declined an upgrade, perhaps to sit with a colleague/family member in economy.

How can I get upgraded on an international ticket if I don't have status with United?

There are no complimentary upgrades when traveling on an international ticket. However, you may be able to upgrade using the miles and co-pay option if there is space available.

Follow the instructions for upgrading an existing reservation in this article, or you can call United reservations for an immediate answer regarding your specific international itinerary.

Can I upgrade an award ticket I purchased with miles?

No, you can’t upgrade an award ticket. However, if you’re traveling on an award ticket and are a MileagePlus Premier member or hold a United Airlines-branded credit card, you may receive a complimentary upgrade when flying on a domestic award ticket.

Complimentary upgrades are based on availability and are cleared based on status first then United credit card holders next in line.

You may also have an opportunity to purchase an upgrade at the gate on the day of departure.

When will the miles be deducted and the co-pay charged for an upgrade request?

When you request the upgrade, the miles will be deducted from your United MileagePlus frequent flier account and your credit card will be charged the co-pay amount.

If the upgrade you requested does not clear, the miles will be redeposited and the co-pay will be refunded to your credit card.

Which fare class should I buy to make sure I get an upgrade?

The only way to guarantee you’ll be sitting up front is to purchase a business- or first-class fare or redeem miles for a business or first class award ticket.

Other fare classes can be upgraded with miles, miles and co-pays, or qualify for instant upgrades if you have Premier status, purchase an applicable fare, and if seats are available.

You may also upgrade a flight if you’ve earned Global Premier or Regional Upgrades if the flight qualifies and seats are available.

All other tickets will be prioritized for upgrades based on the criteria stated in the article which include Premier status, fare class, and time of upgrade request.

What is the difference between economy and economy plus seats?

The biggest difference between an Economy seat and an Economy Plus seat is the extra legroom. You’ll also be sitting closer to the front of the plane because the Economy Plus section is located in front of the main Economy section of the plane.

You can purchase Economy Plus seating anytime you’re selecting seats for your flight. You can’t purchase Economy Plus seats if you have a Basic Economy fare.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.


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  1. When searching in expert mode, available fare classes doesn’t show up when I click on details.

    • Christine Krzyszton · June 27, 2018 · Reply

      Sorry you are having trouble. First, be sure you are signed in to your United MileagePlus account before searching. If you are not signed in, expert mode will not be available. Second, try a different browser and third, if this doesn’t work, call United at 1-800-864-8331 and asked to be transferred to their web support or email their web tech support at

  2. Cheryl · August 5, 2018 · Reply

    We have a trip to Rome scheduled in 2 months and I am searching for an upgrade to business from economy on at least arrival or departure. My husband has mobility handicaps but most important is so he can experience the upgrade as a senior citizen who may not have another option. I know the points that says I need to buy but am hopeful using a Star Alliance member might allow the experience at a lower cost for 42,000 miles than the United personal miles quote. Can’t do credit card because bonus miles will not post in time. Can anyone help?

    • Christine Krzyszton · August 15, 2018 · Reply

      If I understand your situation, you are saying that you have an economy ticket with United and United is quoting you 42,000 United miles to upgrade the ticket. If so, this is not an unreasonable amount of miles to upgrade from economy to business. Another Star Alliance carrier is not going to be able to facilitate an upgrade on a United economy ticket.

  3. Bruce Bradburn · August 14, 2018 · Reply

    Just wanted to clarify statements in this article, regarding United Premier Elite Members, that Upon Upgrade with Miles, as a United Premier Platinum Level with a United Mileage Plus Explorer Credit Card, that This Fare Class Upgrade with Miles is with NO-COPAY…? Could we clarify, “Co-Pay”, as with EVERY time I have Used United Miles for an Upgrade, I am gouged. In example, my often flown LAX>SYD Economy Plus to United Polaris Business $650+30K Miles/segment, That is 30K..!

    Now is THIS the Co-Pay that should be waived, or am I missing something..? As I have NEVER been WAIVED on any FEE that United Mileage Plus or United applies towards ANY upgrade, and have been 1K and Platinum levels for a decade plus. It seems this language is sprinkled throughout this review and United’s Own Global Premier Upgrade Statement for 2018 as well and prior years.

    As well, I find it now, in regards in My Situation, that upon Using United Miles to Upgrade Fare Class from Economy to Polaris Business, in every instance, spare a few in the last few years. That upon Redeeming Miles for Upgrade of Fare Class, they only honor ONE SEGMENT, and Return Segment is Waitlisted, in the greater majority of flights. THEN, United wait lists but does not honor the Round Trip, or Return Leg, and Keeps the Miles and Fees, unless I demand them by Request Online Fare Class Upgrade Refund Process, THEN either return the FEES OR the Miles, not both for the Un-Upgraded Segment…This ONLY if I request, which used to be an Automated Refund Process. This seems fishy, and United has no comment upon inquiry. It feels, this a Corrupt, Underhanded and Dishonest Practice that continues to this day.. Although it clearly states that upon a non-fulfillment of a Requested Fare Class Upgrade, that they cannot honor the A Particular Segment OF the Upgrade Request, applied to an United International Round-Trip Flight, the Un-Rewarded Segment, Miles and Fees applied will be refunded. But I experience in 90% of this Not Being Provided or met.

    On most every case of the Availability of Seats for Upgrade is shown to be Available, plenty of seats, but United seems to be abusing their Customers in Mileage Award Upgrades in this manner. Playing silent unless one is alert enough to realize or understand they have been DUPED…!

    Have been a Longtime United Patron, as of course the stinking United Miles Accrued, but they are really becoming a sad business to work with, especially when one is Million Miles Faithful and 40 years + Dedicated means nothing, and they take more and more, and Premier Qualifications become impossible to meet unless one is a Commuter Business Person on an Expense Account. Thank You for Listening…

    • Christine Krzyszton · August 15, 2018 · Reply

      Sorry for your frustration, Bruce. The problem with the Co-pay exemptions is that they apply to very few routes. Even domestic transcontinental routes do not qualify for the Premier Co-pay exemption. It’s also frustrating, as you mention, that one needs to be so diligent to make sure that when upgrades or services aren’t fulfilled that the applicable miles/money are refunded. I’ve experienced this with other airlines as well so not specific to just United. Congrats on your Million Miler status and I hope your experiences with United improve.

  4. When I go to the “upgrade my flight” on, there is (sometimes) the option to “Buy” F Class for $200.00, i.e.
    If I pay to upgrade, then need to cancel my flight, what happens to the “paid” $200.00 for the upgraded flight?

    • Christine Krzyszton · August 22, 2018 · Reply

      From the United Airline’s website: “Cabin upgrade fees are generally nonrefundable, but if a flight for which an upgrade fee has been paid is affected by a schedule change, cancellation or oversale, and you cannot be accommodated in a premium cabin on a later flight, you may request a refund of the fees paid for the upgrade using the Cabin Upgrade refund form.”

  5. Ok so on United there is no option to simply pay for an upgrade? I purchased a Lufthansa package to Munich from LAX via American Express. Lufthansa was simple to get upgraded to business class, its showed seats available so I picked and paid.

    United shows seats. I think I have K class and I was only able to upgrade to Econonmy Plus. The Business or First Class always takes me to Miles +$$.

    If that is the case I certainly will never fly United again.

    • Christine Krzyszton · September 4, 2018 · Reply

      United offers the option to purchase premium cabin upgrades when seats are available. As you mentioned, you were able to purchase an upgrade to Economy Plus but Business/First class tickets were not available for purchase.
      According to United: “Premium cabin seating offers are not available on all flights because they are based on the number of seats available in the premium cabin and the demand for premium cabin seating. The best way to confirm your seat in a premium cabin is to purchase the appropriate fare when you book your travel.”

    • Toby Plumb · September 4, 2018 · Reply

      @Danny – you might be offered a buy-up at check-in, though for international flights there often is the cash + miles requirement to the offer.

  6. Peter Troost · October 2, 2018 · Reply

    In order to qualify for free checked bags using the United credit card, do you have to pay for the tickets using the card, or just possess a card at the time you fly? I’m going to Switzerland from the U.S. and it will be much cheaper to get the card than to pay to check bags.

  7. Dylan Stapleton · October 16, 2018 · Reply

    I’ve enabled expert mode, am signed in on my United MileagePlus member account, but when doing advanced search, the option to display Mileage Upgrade Awards is not present. I’m looking at International flights which are serviced by Star Alliance members. Am I missing something? I just signed up so I don’t have a balance, if that makes a difference in whether the Upgrade Awards option is present or not.

    • Christine Krzyszton · October 16, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Dylan and thanks for your question. It sounds like you are looking for award travel in business/first and don’t have an existing reservation you’re trying to upgrade. I just logged in and tried to duplicate what you just described using Chicago to Frankfurt to include Lufthansa operated flights and all of the premium cabin award options showed up. First, make sure you have checked the “award travel” box at the top of the flight display page and not “price”. If price is selected, no award ticket options will be displayed. Once you have this box checked, you should see all the options (Economy, Business Saver Award, Business Everyday Award, First Saver Award, and First Everyday Award). Under each of these it will give you the miles price or say “not available”. And no, you do not need to have a mileage balance to see these options. Hope this helps.

      • Dylan Stapleton · October 16, 2018 · Reply

        I’m following your examples/screenshots but I don’t see that MUA option on the advanced search menu. I see how many points it takes to get a full award points based ticket, but I’m wanting to know the points and co-pay amount to choose a coach to business on international flight upgrade of a purchased coach ticket like you show in your screenshots. You state one doesn’t need an existing reservation to see the options available. Or is your example based on an existing reservation and that’s how you get the MUA option to appear and the “points + $” results I get is the “upgrade” cost from a purchased ticket?

        • Christine Krzyszton · October 17, 2018 · Reply

          Hi Dylan and thanks for the clarification. The screen shots in the article under upgrading with miles were generated by 1) going to advanced search for a new flight, 2) under fare preferences, select MileagePlus Upgrade Award (MUA) from the “upgrade type” drop down menu. You also have the option right below that to “buy economy and upgrade” or “buy business and upgrade”. You will then see the mileage/co-pay amounts in the results.

          • Dylan Stapleton · October 17, 2018

            I tried repeating steps on desktop website and was able to get that MUA drop down menu. It’s just not showing up on mobile site when I search that way.

          • Christine Krzyszton · October 18, 2018

            Great! Thanks for the follow up.

  8. Chuck Coulson · November 6, 2018 · Reply

    Great write up! When purchasing United tickets and after paying for the initial booking, I am occasionally offered an on-the-spot upgrade for a fee. How can I determine whether that offer might be made (and for how much)? Reason being, when I initially book in economy, I will receive a receipt with that booking amount which I can use for expensing my trip.

    • Christine Krzyszton · November 6, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Chuck! Thanks for the kind words and for visiting our site. Since upgrade offers are based on availability there is no way to predict if you’ll be offered the upgrade or what the exact pricing will be. Wish these offers were more predictable as I surely understand the need for a receipt!

  9. Sean Lee · November 6, 2018 · Reply

    Hello, I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for the good info as always.

    I have two questions.
    I can’t seem to see any “R” on expert mode on United website. I’m trying to see which flight I can apply RPU for and I know looking at how many “R” fares are available is the indicator for instant upgrade. I searched for a multiple different routes with no “R”. Am I doing something wrong or do I have to look for another fare class?

    Also, I used miles & co-pay option for one of my flights, but waitlisted. When do they clear? Also, do I clear before status people since I paid cash partially?

    Thanks for helping.

    • Christine Krzyszton · November 7, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Sean, sounds like you have a lot of travel planned. Thank you for your question as United recently added PZ as a fare class upgrade code and we need to update this article to reflect this new information. Look for availability in PZ when searching flights. Regarding your miles/co-pay upgrade, it will clear when space is available and yes, status will be considered but you will be ahead of complimentary upgrades. For more information on upgrades:

  10. Good morning. I used miles and dollars to upgrade an Economy ticket (purchased with United Explorer Visa) to Business for a flight from Germany to a Chicago in May of ‘19, and am waitlisted. I’ve never done this before, how long should I expect to be on the waitlist before I know one way or the other?
    Much appreciated!

    • Christine Krzyszton · November 9, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Philip and thanks for the question. Seats for your flight could open up at any time. Customers that are on the wait list are confirmed automatically in order based on status first, then fare class, then Chase United MileagePlus Club cardholders, corporate preferred travelers, then date/time requested. You will remain on the waitlist until 3 hours before departure, then the gate agents take over to clear any requested upgrades if seats become available. My friend and I have actually had upgrades clear just prior to boarding. You may want to call closer to your departure date if your upgrade has not cleared and make sure your request is in order. You’ll also want to check with the gate agents on your departure day to make sure you transferred over to their waitlist.

  11. Belcore Deborah · December 3, 2018 · Reply

    Wow, great article (grew up in central Michigan:-). I just ‘upgraded’ an inter-Europe 15,000 mile economy ticket to business class (+10,000 mi). Was looking over the paperwork, and it really doesn’t say ‘business class’ on there. Does ‘I’ sound like it would be for a mileage biz class? Looks like the economy ticket was ‘x’? Thank you!
    LOL- just when you think you are starting to understand a bit about the mileage hobby, you get these little reminders that the ‘fun’ has only just begun!

    • Christine Krzyszton · December 4, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Deborah, fellow Michigander! Yes, “I” is discounted business and should be a total of 25,000 inter-Europe. When you select your seat, you should be able to see the seat map and confirm you are in business class. Enjoy the trip.

  12. giovanni · December 27, 2018 · Reply

    Hello, and thank you for the great article. So if there is no PZ inventory, does that just mean a gpu will not clear instantly? I called united for my upcoming EWR-LHR flight and was told they can only waitlist me, but first I have to pay to upgrade to w class fare so I can even quality to use gpu (the outgoing leg is s fare and the incoming leg is t fare, so neither qualify without upgrading the fare). To upgrade the fare and waitlist, its about $225 for the outgoing leg. I am only silver status and was going to gamble and see if I could possibly get cleared for the upgrade after adding the gpu. Is this basically the process and am I just gambling on the gpu getting cleared, and my only real loss is potentially $225 to upgrade to w class fare? Thanks.

    • Christine Krzyszton · December 28, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Giovanni. Yes, you have an accurate grasp of the situation. I would also look at the seat map for each flight to see which one might be more empty or call and ask which flight might have a better chance of the GPU clearing. For example, there may be a longer wait list on one flight over the other. Good luck with the upgrade!

      • Giovanni · February 20, 2019 · Reply

        Christine, thanks for the help, and I just came back from my first trip where I successfully applied a GPU to upgrade to business class from LHR-EWR. I was interested in upgrading on that leg back only, so I watched the PZ inventory for a while and about 3 weeks before the flight PZ inventory went from 0 to 7. I think this is in part to many seats not selling fast in business class.

        In any case, the process was to pay to upgrade my ticket from K to to W class, which was about $150, but the problem I ran into was that the ticket change itself costs $300, which really sucked. I spoke to a few agents and got different info at first, but sure enough to upgrade your ticket class costs the $300 change fee, plus the cost to upgrade the fare, so I was looking at $450 even before I got to apply a GPU to my ticket. I got very very lucky however, and one of the agents I spoke with waived the $300 change fee. So for $150, gpu was added and cleared immediately when the party sharing their gpu added it to my ticket. Since I was flying out of LHR, there was also some additional taxes imposed (~$100). I was very happy that I didnt have to wait for it to clear as others were on the upgrade list, and the entire business cabin ended up being full (39 seats) by day of departure. Was a nice upgrade for the way home. Hope this helps others out as well, thanks!

        • Christine Krzyszton · February 20, 2019 · Reply

          What a great story, Giovanni. Thank you for taking the time to share your strategy and the outcome. It’s also great to hear that your persistence paid off. I think our readers will absolutely find your experience and the additional information helpful.

  13. Hi,

    I purchased a K class flight on Swiss airlines (MIA-ZRH) then I upgraded to Business class. Should I have earned business class miles to my UA mileage plus account?

    Thank you

    • James Larounis · February 13, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Marcu! I’d love to help you out. Can you let me know a bit more about your upgrade? Was it done at the gate? Was it a buy up offer? Did your ticket reissue? If you’re able to let me know a bit more about the upgrade, I can best help you decipher if the miles should have posted for a higher fare class. Thank you!

  14. Hi and thank you for all the great information. My question is does the number of seats in a fare class change between now and flight departure? I am a Premier 1K and have purchased a W class economy ticket and applied the GPU’s to get moved to Polaris. However, right now it does not look like there are any of those fare codes available. I would assume they do open then get filled based on the qualifications you describe above but I am not certain. Follow up question is there any sense of when that happens? i.e. any point? a month before? 4 days before, etc…-Thanks in advance!

    • Christine Krzyszton · February 14, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Robert! I think you have a fine understanding of the situation. The number of seats available in any fare class can change at any time. And yes, seats could open up and your GPU could clear. Also,travelers change their schedules, cancel their flights, and closer to departure there are missed connections, etc. As a 1K, you are probably already aware that seats can become available right up until departure and upgrades can clear at the gate. Thanks for reading and I hope your GPU clears.

  15. PN is only for Global Services not GS + 1K.

    • Christine Krzyszton · February 15, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Chris, and thanks for the information. The two sources I accessed for this information were Flyertalk Wiki and CWSI. Flyertalk states: “Instant Upgrades are space available for all elites on Y & B fares for CPU-eligible flights at booking. For 1Ks and GS, this can be done on Y, B & M fares and requires PN space.” CWSI states “PN for Y/B/M 1K Instant Upgrades” and “All GS upgrades Y->C (CPU, RPU, GPU, miles)”.

  16. Hi, I have a K class United ticket bought through a travel agency.
    Can I upgrade it to business class?

    • Christine Krzyszton · March 20, 2019 · Reply

      Hello Aaron. We would need more information to determine your options. For example, is it a domestic or international ticket, do you have elite status with United, do you want to purchase an upgrade, or do you want to upgrade with miles? We also don’t know if your ticket is a special or group fare which may have upgrade restrictions. The fastest way to answer your question would be for you to call United. Have your record locator and/or your ticket number handy for the United rep. They can look at your reservation and let you know if it can be upgraded. You can also search for your reservation on the United web site homepage under “My Trips” and you may find the upgrade options there within your reservation. If you have put your United frequent flyer number on the reservation, your ticket will show up on If you have not, you can do so after you search with your record locator or ticket number on I hope this helps.

  17. Jose Somen · March 24, 2019 · Reply

    Great info thanks! Looking to book a return flight from SYD to IAH in November for a honeymoon and the only option to upgrade with miles is 30K plus $600 and to get on a waitlist. I checked on Expertflyer and using the expert search with United I don’t see any seats available now. Don’t currently have any status with United. Basically trying to figure out my odds. As the flight is not until November, not sure how United typically handles their seats.

    • Christine Krzyszton · March 24, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Jose, and congrats on your wedding and upcoming honeymoon trip. Upgrades out of Sydney can be difficult to obtain, especially two. Since it is such an important event, you may not want to gamble on an upgrade clearing. And what if just one seat opens up? Without status you will also be much lower on the priority list, behind all elite members and those who have purchased a higher fare class. I am not an expert at using miles for premium flights but I have used United miles for flights from SYD to HKG and also to NRT. For 50K miles you can secure a business saver award from SYD. You could then purchase a one way premium economy flight back to the U.S. Not sure if this fits anything close to what you are looking for but it would ensure you both will be reasonably comfortable for the return trip.

  18. Can I use my United Chase or Chase Sapphire card to buy miles from United and earn points on the cost of the miles?

    • Christine Krzyszton · June 3, 2019 · Reply

      Hello John. Yes, it is possible to buy miles from United and use a Chase credit card. However, the transaction will be processed by so you would only earn 1 mile or point per dollar spent. 10,000 miles would cost $376.25 so it would not be a good value to do so.

  19. Joe S · June 3, 2019 · Reply

    Thank you for all the information! I previously purchased a “bundle” for Economy Plus and checked bag. Now, I have an offer to upgrade my cabin to business (which would include a checked bag). Do you happen to know if I would get a refund for my previously purchased bundle, or at least a partial refund for the seat upgrade and now I can check 2 bags, if I went ahead and upgraded my cabin? TIA.

    • Christine Krzyszton · June 3, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Joe! Normally purchased bundles are non-refundable. However, I would call United and explain what you want to do because there are provisions for bundle refunds when you change a flight, use upgrade certificates that clear, etc. and this might fall into one of the acceptable categories where it’s possible.

  20. Kiernan · June 4, 2019 · Reply

    If I am booking a Y,M or B fare, looks like I’m getting auto added to the upgrade list for 1st class. Am I guaranteed a seat if they don’t sell out or is it just better odds as a Premier Silver member to get the upgrade? Also, in what cases does a W fare benefit from the higher cost? Thanks!

    • Christine Krzyszton · June 4, 2019 · Reply

      Hello Kiernan. As a Premier member, if you purchase a Y or B fare, you may receive an immediate upgrade on certain flights. If you do not receive the immediate upgrade, you will go on a wait list and be cleared according to the upgrade hierarchy priority. This is when Premier status and fare class determine who gets the upgrade first. United 1K members can purchase a Y, B, or M fare for an immediate upgrade. A W fare is the lowest possible fare class that can be purchased for using a Global Upgrade Certificate. The only way to really guarantee you’ll get an upgrade is to purchase a Y or B fare that upgrades immediately or purchase first class. Check out different flights on your preferred dates to find flights with the greatest availability therefore increasing your chances for an upgrade.

  21. You are eligible for a CPU for mileage tickets if you’re Global Services.

  22. Shang F · July 1, 2019 · Reply

    Hi Christine, thank you for your insightful article. I’m currently booked on a flight from EDI-EWR on B class, and was thinking of upgrading using United miles. It states that it costs 20,000 miles and I will be placed on waitlist. I’m a new member to United Mileage Plus, hence I have zero miles available. I was thinking of purchasing 20,000 miles (applying a 75% bonus) to perform this upgrade (which will cost approximately $500). However, I don’t want to pay for the miles and not get the upgrade…

    I’m a *G member with Turkish, not sure if that is of any help on this hierarchy. I am flying this Sunday so any help would be very very much appreciated!

    • Shang F · July 1, 2019 · Reply

      Additionally, I’m flying from EWR-HKG in August, with no ticket booked yet. I’m happy to purchase a full-fare economy ticket Y or B and perform an upgrade (either full mileage upgrade or mileage + co-pay). Should I also be purchasing the required miles at $35 per 1,000 miles until I accumulate sufficient miles to perform the upgrade? I’d imagine I would be put on waitlist for an upgrade too…

    • Christine Krzyszton · July 2, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Shang and thanks for reading. Without Premier status and with no upgrade available, you will (as you mentioned) be on the upgrade wait list for the EDI-EWR flight. You will also be quite low in priority as all Premier members will have their upgrades cleared before you, even with the higher fare. So yes, it is possible that you could purchase the miles and not get the upgrade. However, you would then have the miles in your account for the EWR-HKG flight which you may be able to upgrade at the time of booking if the upgrade is available. You’ll also be earning miles on your EDI-EWR flight.

  23. James K · July 22, 2019 · Reply

    Hi! I realize this is an older article, but I’d appreciate any advice. I worked for DL years ago, but I’ve been living in UA country and have been racking up the miles out of EWR through flights, promos, and my Chase card.
    I’m planning a trip from EWR-TLV in the spring, and UA’s upgradeable economy fares are relatively affordable right now. For a flight this long, we’d LOVE to have Polaris Business, and I’ve got more than enough miles for the upgrade (but not a business award ticket) thanks to my Chase Explorer Card, and even with the co-pay it’s reasonable.
    Here’s my question. You mention that time of request is one of the criteria for clearing mileage upgrades, but so is Premier status. I will hit Silver status after a trip I’m taking in November to SAN.
    Is it worth waiting until *after* I hit Silver status to buy the tickets, or should I buy the tickets *now* and get on the waitlist? In other words, would my Silver status affect my place on the list if I weren’t yet Silver when I got on the list?

    • Stephen Au · July 22, 2019 · Reply

      Hi James,

      It would be worth it to first check if there’s confirmable availability now. If there isn’t availability you can pay for with miles, then you’ll want to keep close track of it. Your Silver status will honestly not go very far in helping you with an international flight with such high demand.

  24. Jessie Beck · July 22, 2019 · Reply

    Wondering if you know. If I use miles to upgrade on a flight with no upgrade availability and I am put on the waitlist, will they refund me my miles / co-pay if I don’t end up getting the upgrade?

  25. I have a quick Star alliance upgrade question. If I’m on an Aeroplan (Air Canada mileage flight) economy X fare, can I upgrade to business/first class with my Aeroplan miles, or would i have to have some United Miles in order to be able to complete the upgrade? Thanks! Awesome article btw!

  26. Tina Khera · July 31, 2019 · Reply

    Thank you for an informative article, but I’m wondering if I can reverse-engineer things a little bit. I found an economy class award flight on the United website for a Star Alliance Partner airline flight that I wanted, but I’m wondering if I can redeem my miles for the economy award, and then pay to upgrade to premium economy or business class?

    • Christine Krzyszton · August 1, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Tina. Unfortunately you cannot upgrade an award ticket. However, there may be occasions when paid upgrades are offered at check in or at the gate. Generally if you book an economy flight with miles, that is the class you’ll be flying.

  27. Nice article for clearing up a lot of questions I have.

    To upgrade a purchased ticket for a partner airline, does the original ticket need to be purchased through UAL or can one purchase this ticket directly on the partner airline?

    • Christine Krzyszton · August 23, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Robert, glad you found the article useful. While you can purchase a ticket with a partner airline and upgrade using United miles (based on availability), you may have to purchase a higher fare class that subsequently makes the transaction a poor value. For example, you must purchase a J, E, or G class with Lufthansa in order to use miles to upgrade. The cost of doing so may be prohibitive. Also, codeshare flights are not eligible. You can read more on upgrading Star Alliance flights with United miles here:

  28. I purchased one premium economy ticket for $1650. However, soon thereafter the price shot up between $3500 and $4600. This was more than two months ago and has it has not really gone down. Trying to figure out how to proceed.

    I can purchase a United flexible economy ticket for $1700, class H, and use 65,000 miles to put myself on the wait list to upgrade. However this is not guaranteed and I believe the people with status go ahead so I don’t know the odds of me actually getting this upgrade. As it is refundable, I can always purchase a lower price ticket and then downgrade my wife’s (other) ticket, adding the cost of $165 and a credit for the difference.

    I can consider costs up to this ~2300, but not that enthusiastic about going higher.

    Anyone with any ideas for me? Anyone understand this upgrade process through United and the odds of me actually getting this by proceeding with a higher price ticket?


    • Christine Krzyszton · September 1, 2019 · Reply

      Hello Neil. You are correct in that a higher fare class ticket will increase your chances for an upgrade but there is no guarantee it will happen. Also, you are correct in that, once you are on the upgrade list, you are competing with those having priority with higher status. Not sure where you are traveling to/from but you might try pricing one way tickets, using miles for a PE ticket one way and coach for the other. Perhaps others may have a suggestion as well.

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