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

United Airlines Polaris Business Class

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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 more impossible than ever to 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-branded 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 options earned as a Premier elite member, using miles to upgrade, qualifying for complimentary upgrades, or purchasing a full-fare economy ticket that upgrades instantly.

  • MileagePlus 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
  • PlusPoints Upgrades: Upgrades purchased with PlusPoints earned by Premier Platinum and Premier 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 Credit: United

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 help determine your chances for an upgrade.

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 Premier 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 Premier Platinum, Gold, or Silver members

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

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 and whether you’re using earned PlusPoints, paying for upgrades, or using miles to upgrade.

United has several tiers of elite airline status with the following ranking order when it comes to upgrade determination:

  • Global Services: Top status given to United’s best clients at United’s discretion
  • United Premier 1K: 1K members earn 280 PlusPoints on qualification and additional points when exceeding qualification that can be used for upgrades; 1K members also receive complimentary upgrades when available
  • United Premier Platinum: Platinum members earn 40 PlusPoints on qualification which can be used for upgrades and also receive 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 your upgrade cannot be confirmed 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/M-class fares that weren’t cleared before
  • Travelers using PlusPoints: 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-branded credit card, you’ll want to sign in to your MileagePlus account before searching for flights, as elite members and cardholders receive expanded search access.

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

The Value of a United-Branded Credit Card

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

Premier members who have a qualifying United-branded credit card from Chase qualify for complimentary upgrades on United award flights, but that’s not the only flight benefit of having one of these cards.

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 Club Infinite card and United 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 card.

Another great travel perk is free checked bags. Most United-branded 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. Note that the United Gateway card does not offer upgrades or free checked bag benefits.

To learn more about the best credit cards for United flyers and the benefits offered, be sure to review our article on this topic.

Bottom Line: Having a qualifying United 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 positive that all fares can be upgraded with miles or miles with 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 & Co-Pay When Purchasing a Ticket

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

Book flight United 1
To find upgrade availability, use the Advanced Search option. Image Credit: United

Once you have typed in your preferred departure, destination and dates, select the MileagePlus Upgrade Awards option from the drop-down box under Upgrades, certificates, and promotion codes.

United Upgrade
Image Credit: United

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:

United Upgrade Award
Image Credit: United

In this example, it would cost $1,217 to purchase an economy seat on the flight. If you wanted to upgrade your flights to business class, you could do so with 25,000 miles plus a $125 co-pay each way.

Fortunately, 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.

However, you’ll want to make sure it is a good value option versus purchasing any available discounted business class. Discounted business class can be priced lower, and therefore a better value, than purchasing economy with an upgrade.

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.

To process the upgrade yourself online, 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 PlusPoints if you have these available, or have the option to use miles and co-pay for the upgrade.

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. 

Upgrading on Partner Airlines

Air Canada business class seat
MileagePlus members can upgrade with miles on Star Alliance partner airlines. Image Credit: Air Canada

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 over 20 Star Alliance partners that 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.

10 Ways To Secure an Upgrade or Increase Your Chances of an Upgrade With United

With United Elite Status:

  • Earn PlusPoints by achieving Premier Platinum or United Premier 1K elite status and use these for upgrades.
  • 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 flyer 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 and 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 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 available, if doing so is a good value compared to discounted business class.

The information regarding the United Club℠ Business Card, United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Card, and United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Business Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

Frequently asked questions

How do I know if my upgraded ticket on United 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 United 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 or family member in economy.

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

As a rule, 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 a United 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 United 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 flyer 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 United 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 with earned PlusPoints 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 on United?

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 normally purchase economy plus seats only at check-in 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.


    • 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 [email protected].


  2. 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?


    • 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

    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…


    • 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?


    • 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.


    • 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.”


    • @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

    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

    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.


    • 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

        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?


        • 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.


  8. Chuck Coulson November 6, 2018

    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.


    • 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. 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.


  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!


    • 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

    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!


    • 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. 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.


    • 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!


      • 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!


        • 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


    • 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!


    • 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.


    • 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?


    • 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

    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.


    • 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?


    • 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. 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.


    • 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. Christine,
    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!


    • 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. 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!


    • 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…


    • 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. 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?


    • 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

    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

    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?


    • 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?


  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?



    • 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.


  29. I am Gold Premier status/1 million miler on United, and I will be flying home from Shanghai (PVG) via SFO to Portland (PDX) in about 10 days. On United’s site I just requested an upgrade to Business class for 30,000 miles / $600. Here is my concern: what if no upgrade is available from PVG to SFO, but there *is* an upgrade available for SFO-PDX. I don’t want to waste the money and miles on the short SFO-PDX leg, and I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to call or talk to agents, etc. after I’m in China. How can I tell United in advance “don’t bother with the miles/paid upgrade for SFO-PDX if I don’t get the upgrade from PVG-SFO”? Thanks.


    • Hello Kirk. You can contact United via Twitter @United and ask them to remove the upgrade request for SFO-PDX until your PVG to SFO clears. You do not mention where you are located currently but you can call from China via their reservation #400 883 4288 or from the U.S. 1-800-864-8331.


  30. Thanks for an interesting article. I will get 1K status with United in a couple of months. I travel quite often on Star Alliance between Europe and SFO. My question is how likely is it to use a Global Premier Upgrade on my transatlantic trip? Is there a specific leg where this is more likely? Is it better to/from big hubs like Frankfurt, Paris, London or Amsterdam or do I have more of a chance from smaller airports like Munich? Are there other factors I should consider when trying to snag that upgrade?


    • Thank you Monica! United is changing their upgrade process effective December 4th, 2019 (we’ll be updating this article). One of the changes is that there should be greater availability due to additional fare classes qualifying for upgrades. With that said, I can’t tell you how that will affect your chances for your GPU to clear. Some of the better destinations to try, however, are AMS, BRU, LHR, and DUB. You might use expert mode on to try to find flights that have availability. You can also sign up for Expert Flyer and search for space there. Good luck.


  31. Are authorized users on the United Credit card considered to be cardholders for Elite Award Ticket Upgrades?


  32. I am Premier Platinum and a United Explorer Cardholder. I have booked award tickets for my wife and I within the US. I know that as an elite and a cardholder I am still CPU eligible on those flights. The question I have is, whether or not my wife is eligible for the upgrade as well, because she is on an award ticket on the same PNR as myself?


    • Hello Anfernee. According to United, the upgrade eligibility unfortunately doesn’t apply to a companion on an award ticket. Their website states: “One companion traveling on the same reservation as a Premier member is eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades on select flights, and can be confirmed with the same priority as the Premier member, even on the day of departure. This benefit does not apply to companions traveling on award tickets.”


  33. I am a United 1K Member. I have never received a complimentary upgrade on a long haul flight. Most of my tickets are either Class Q or U. Is this common?


  34. Thanks for the article! I’m normally fine with E+ going to Europe from the East Coast, but in this case I have a very long layover between the IAD-ZRH leg and ZRH-CMB leg, so I’m considering upgrading the first leg with points and miles. For those of you do this more frequently, is 20k miles +$500 a decent deal for a 10 hour flight? This will take place once the “true Polaris” is in place IAD-ZRH, and IAD Polaris Lounge is slated to be open by then. If it helps, I am United Gold.


    • Hi Holly. If an upgrade is available at that rate and you are cool paying it, you should go for it. Especially with a long layover and the fact that it is a 10-hour flight.


  35. I upgraded my main cabin award ticket (7000 points, sfo-las) to economy plus with cash. Then I upgraded to first class a day before the flight for more cash. Apparently you CAN upgrade an award ticket to first class with cash. (It WAS showing as not upgradeable before I purchased an economy plus seat.)
    My question and what I’m watching my account for is “what kind of points or earnings toward status might there be from this?” I am not seeing anything yet after 2 days.


  36. Hello! I’ve got a question regarding a 40 point upgrade request on an United Airlines flight from Singapore to SFO on 02/06. I had been waitlisted for a few weeks and on the day of departure was told by the UA gate agent that my upgrade request would not be honored.

    Since I had been upgraded on the flight out, same class of service and same 40 point upgrade, I just assumed that I had heard the gate agent incorrectly and accepted that I would be in coach class for the next 15 hours due to it being a full flight.

    However, I overheard a conversation regarding 3 open seats in business class. Upon landing, I spoke to the gate agent and was told that there were actually 5 open seats in Business Class. I was also told that I had been removed from the standby list by the gate agent in Singapore w/no documentation as to why.

    The gate agent had recommended that I contact United via the feedback section of their website. Unfortunately, the only response from UA has been a generic form email advising that the aircraft can only fit so many people, etc.

    How can I get a legit answer as to why I was removed from the standby list? I was dressed appropriately, freshly showered, and did not question anything until arriving into SFO in coach class.

    Help? Please?


    • Hi Chris. How frustrating! I empathize with your experience as we had a similar one in Hong Kong where we were removed “mysteriously” from the upgrade list. Subsequently we found ourselves constantly checking with each gate agent to make sure we were still on the waitlist. As far as finding out why the gate agent removed you, unfortunately I can’t offer you any solution other than writing one more complaint to United asking for an explanation. Given the circumstances, I would at least try, once more, to get an answer.


  37. Hello, I have a quick question.

    Can I purchase an upgrade (like economy plus seats and priority boarding) after booking an economy award through a partner like ANA?


  38. Hi,
    Which Class of travel in economy class should be Upgradable to business class using United Airlines miles?
    Y B M E U H Q V W S T L K G N Please Help.


    • Hi Kamal. Most United flights can be upgraded with miles with the exception of award tickets, discounted promotional tickets, and Basic Economy fares. Some routes, fare classes, and seat types will require a co-pay, depending on your elite status with United.


  39. Found this article through a Google search, so when I use the advance search option to look for upgrade options, I see and am able to select a cash plus miles option for the flight I want. If I choose this, is it a guaranteed upgrade instantly or a waitlist? I have no status with United, just a Mileage Plus member with the United credit card, planning to use the 70,000 bonus miles I received for the upgrade, but want to make sure it happens right away so I can select a seat and be assured of the upgrade to first class, and don’t want to be on the upgrade list until departure day.


    • Hi Steve. When you select the cash plus miles option for an upgrade and continue to purchase, you will receive a pop-up notice if upgrades are not able to be immediately confirmed. The pop-up notice will tell you that upgrades are not available immediately and that you will be added to the waitlist, giving you the opportunity to abort the purchase. Otherwise, the upgrades will be confirmed immediately.


  40. Malone Guthrie August 11, 2021

    I have a trip to London coming up. I upgraded to Polaris from economy plus just for the longest flights there and back (Paying cash). I had already paid for my bags in advance. I noticed that I have free baggage and entrance to lounges with Polaris. Does this apply to all legs of my trip? Will I get a refund for the baggage fees I paid in advance? I just cannot get hold of United at all at the moment. Thanks.


    • Hi Malone,

      You should only receive access to a lounge prior to your leg where your will be flying in Polaris. You should be able to get a refund of the baggage fees that you’ve already paid, but you likely will have to get ahold of the United customer support team in order to get the refund processed. Safe travels!


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