An Introduction to United Airlines Upgrade Policies

I’ve had extraordinary good luck with upgrades in the last six months and have not missed a single upgrade so far in 2013. My goal today is to outline several ways that United Airlines processes upgrades and how to use these rules to your advantage. You may have to accept defeat in a few cases but hopefully with the knowledge that you could not have done any better.

I am purposefully leaving out so-called “tens of dollars” upgrades at check-in because the general consensus is that these are a horrible failure, awarding cheap upgrades to general members and expensive upgrades to elites. Until the mess gets sorted out, I can’t really tell you how to make them work for you. Similarly, I won’t discuss instant upgrade offers at booking. If you see a price you like, great. Book it. This post is meant to be about all the other upgrade offers and opportunities you get due to elite status.

Upgrade Inventory on United Flights

Upgrade space is classified with the letter R, much as first class and economy class fares each get different letters depending on the corresponding rules and price. If R = 0, then you won’t get an upgrade even if F = 9 (the number of first class seats available for sale). A few instant upgrades for full-fare tickets described below use different letters that have fewer capacity restrictions: Y upgrades into JN space and M and B upgrade into PN space.

Married segment logic sometimes affects the displayed availability for different fare classes. If you have two segments in the same reservation, and one has R = 9 but the other has R = 0, then searching for upgrade space might result in seeing R = 0 for both segments. Search for upgrade space individually for each segment to see the true availability using a tool like ExpertFlyer or United’s Expert Mode. (Update: ExpertFlyer no longer displays R inventory, so you will need to rely on United’s Expert Mode.) The actual processing of upgrades for each segment will still occur individually and is not affected by married segment logic.

United Upgrades screenshot

Complimentary Premier Upgrades

Complimentary Premier Upgrades, or CPUs, are the free domestic upgrades that United promises its elite members. The upgrades are processed according to the table below, up to 120 hours before departure. Unless you are a Platinum elite or higher, I don’t recommend you rely on this process for most flights.

chart of united upgrades by elite status

The first ones to clear are those who have an instrument- or miles-supported upgrade as described above. Those customers actually “paid” for an upgrade, just not with money. Remaining upgrades are then classified by elite status and within each elite tier according to the fare class purchased. The upgrade hierarchy, from first to last, is: Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G, N.

How can you increase your odds of a complimentary upgrade?

First, pick periods of low demand, or when demand is particular high among infrequent travelers. You don’t want to be on a popular route for business travelers on a Monday morning.

Second, don’t fly with a companion (learn more about United’s companion upgrades). When you travel alone, only one seat needs to be available for an upgrade. When you travel together, there need to be two seats at the same time.

Third, it often seems that upgrades only clear at regular intervals when the reservations system performs “sweeps,” but you could always call a reservations agent and try to sweet talk your way into getting it processed manually. This sometimes allows you to jump the queue.

Buy More Expensive Fares for Instant Upgrades

You can purchase a more expensive fare to increase your chances of an upgrade. Elite members who purchase a Y or B fare are eligible to confirm a complimentary upgrade at any time before departure. There are two conditions. First, upgrade space must be available. Second, you have to make the request manually. It is not an automatic upgrade. Premier 1K and Premier Platinum members are also eligible to get an instant upgrade on M fares.

Usually these are all still expensive fares relative to the cheapest discounted options in the G, L, or K buckets, but sometimes for expensive routes or close-in travel they are only slightly more. You can compare fares for different fare classes using ExpertFlyer or ITA and search for a specific fare class using

If you don’t or can’t confirm your upgrade in advance, then you will enter the queue for Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs) described above. Note that your fare class will improve your odds even if it doesn’t qualify for an instant upgrade. For example, a K fare will clear before a cheaper N fare. You may have the opportunity to buy up to a more expensive fare after ticketing, but you will likely have to pay a ticket change fee if required by the rules of your original fare.

Instrument-Supported Upgrades

You can use a Regional Premier Upgrade (RPU) or Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) to confirm an upgrade in advance or jump to the head of the line. Premier Platinum members receive 2 RPUs and Premier 1K members receive an additional 2 RPUs (4 total). Premier 1K members also receive 6 GPUs. Customers receive an additional 2 RPUs for every 25,000 premier qualifying miles over 100,000 and an additional 2 GPUs for every 50,000 premier qualifying miles over 100,000.

RPUs are largely restricted to the same domestic routes on which CPUs are allowed. However, there are a few routes like United’s p.s. service between JFK and SFO/LAX as well as flights to Hawaii from the East Coast that require an RPU but are ineligible for a CPU. You can also use both RPUs and CPUs on intra-Asia flights, flights to Mexico, and a few others international options as you’ll see from the chart below. RPUs are not restricted to specific fares.

GPUs can be used on any route. There are certain fare restrictions for most international routes (Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, or W fare to move from economy class to business class and J, C, or D fare to move from business class to first class). In general, a W fare is going to be your cheapest option to use a GPU on international routes. However, I recommend purchasing a V fare if the price is not too much more (sometimes just $10). This will put you ahead of everyone else who buys a W fare since upgrades on the waitlist are prioritized by fare class.

There is no fare restriction if you choose to use a GPU on the same routes eligible for an RPU. It can be like getting 6 extra RPUs as a Premier 1K; I used two recently on a G fare I booked to and from Miami.

You may apply a GPU or RPU at any time and will be prioritized ahead of CPUs. Remember the sweep issue mentioned above. If you see R upgrade space and your upgrade hasn’t cleared, you can call in to have it processed manually, perhaps even jumping ahead of someone waiting for the system to take care of it.

Learn more about the different routes eligible for instrument-supported and complimentary upgrades by examining the chart below or visiting United’s website.

chart of United upgrades

MileagePlus Upgrade Awards with Miles

These are ranked similar to instrument-supported upgrades except that the “instrument” is the miles you redeem for the upgrade. You are still placed ahead of complimentary upgrades.

United uses a zone-based pricing chart to determine the cost of upgrade awards in both miles and cash co-pays. It runs on the same system that prices out award flights, but if you click on the tab for “Upgrade Awards” you’ll get the cost to upgrade a normal paid ticket. Note that you cannot use a mileage upgrade to upgrade an award ticket.

Example prices are 20,000 to 15,000 miles + a $75 co-pay to upgrade most domestic economy class tickets to first class. The $75 co-pay is waived for Premier members of any status. However, the number of miles and co-pay can increase quickly and are highly dependent on where you want to go and which route you are taking.

Flights from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii cost 30,000 to 20,000 miles for most fares to upgrade from economy class to first class, and the co-pay ranges from $125 to $500. The co-pay is waived for Premier members on some routes, but not for flights departing EWR, IAD, or IAH or those that have been replaced with “premium” aircraft that have upgraded front cabins.

At some point it becomes much more sensible to just take an instant upgrade offer at the time of booking, buy a first-class ticket, or look for a first class award ticket. (Or, route through other airports to be eligible for a waived co-pay or complimentary upgrade.) International fares have much higher miles and co-pay requirements.

An example of some upgrade awards from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii.

An example of some upgrade awards from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii.

Upgrades on Award Tickets

Award tickets are eligible for a CPU (companion CPUs are not eligible) if you have one of eight different United- or Continental-branded credit cards. Basically, the old pre-merger United cards are excluded (so the Mileage Plus Select Visa is out). However, the new United versions of old Continental cards do qualify (so the OnePass Plus and the MileagePlus Explorer cards are both in). I qualify with my MileagePlus Club Card.

  • MileagePlus Explorer
  • MileagePlus Explorer for Business
  • OnePass Plus
  • World MasterCard for Business
  • Presidential Plus
  • Presidential Plus for Business
  • MileagePlus Club Card
  • MileagePlus Club Business Card

These upgrades on award tickets depend only on your elite status. If you are a Premier 1K, you will clear after all Premier 1K passengers on paid tickets, including their companions. However, you will still clear before any Premier Platinum passengers, regardless of their fare type.


The most powerful tools you have in your upgrade arsenal are (1) money and (2) elite status. If you are willing to pay cash or use other “currencies” like miles and upgrade instruments, you will have the first chance at an upgrade. But if you are put into an upgrade waitlist or rely on a complimentary upgrade, then your status becomes just as important. Often the cheapest ticket purchased by someone with top status will clear before more expensive tickets purchased by someone with low or no status. Therefore, I recommend that people with gold, silver, or no status should think carefully about which upgrade strategies they use or consider flights that are likely to be less competitive (i.e., more connections or inconvenient times).

I hope this post provided a good overview of your options. If you have more questions about companion upgrades on United Airlines or how to upgrade flights on other Star Alliance partners, please read those posts or send me an email.

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  • Shane

    Even as a platinum, I wouldn’t count on them. I had a 35% CPU rate last year and I buy tickets within 4 days of departure

  • CG

    Is there any literature on GS? Or are they pretty much guaranteed UGs?

    • Scottrick

      No complimentary upgrade is guaranteed, and GS members (in theory) are already paying for first class. As the chart above shows, GS members can clear for a CPU at 120 hours before departure. I’ve also heard that if a GS member calls in within that window, United will sometimes open upgrade space to confirm the upgrade immediately.

  • Travel Summary

    I’m 0/3 so far this year, but I’m “only” Gold status and I’m flying to/from San Francisco, so don’t expect to really get any. I’m learning first hand how many UA elites there really are.

  • MilesFromBlighty

    Since the new United I am afraid, as a 1K I never clear and so have to confirm or buy M fares. Which I suppose is what United wants.

    • Scottrick

      They are getting surprisingly good at outsmarting us. I think Delta took the easy way out by adding Medallion Qualifying Dollars. Hopefully United doesn’t do that, too, although by that point I’m sure I’ll have found another trick to get around it.

  • BoneFishJoe

    A+ summary. Great job!

  • Alynch

    Hi Scott, any advise on getting a better rate at starwood St. Regis in Beijing, or Sheraton in Hong Kong. I am Gold member but the prices are very high. They add so much on for breakfast and a rollaway for my 19 year old daughter and adding her on as third person. Love your blog but your last upgrade one gave me a headache . Thanks, A Lynch

    • Scottrick

      Well, you could lie and say you only have two people. Rooms there are small enough that they are intentionally designed for only two people. But they’re not going to give you a rollaway if you lied about not having a third person. My suggestion is to weigh the cost of a rollaway vs. the cost of a second room.

      You could also try using a corporate rate, but some hotels, particularly in Asian countries, are more likely to ask for some form of ID or other confirmation you’re entitled to use it.

      At the end of the day, the best way to save money at an expensive hotel is to redeem points. Elite status by itself does not promise any discount off published rates.

  • JenJ

    I thought eligibility for CPU on Award tickets are only for the United Credit card holder, and the companion is NOT eligible for the CPU?

    • Scottrick

      You may be right. The exact wording is: “This benefit does not apply to companions traveling on award tickets.” However, I think that phrase could have several meanings.

      What I do know is that the benefit is linked to the MileagePlus number of the primary cardholder. If you book an award for someone else, the reservation autopopulates with your MileagePlus number, and in the past these people have gotten upgraded. Maybe it was a glitch that has since been fixed, but it happened. However, if you and a companion both travel on an award, then I’m sure the computer will notice that there are two people with the same MileagePlus number and give the upgrade only to the primary cardholder (or even not at all).

  • Reid

    Do you know if it is possible to purchase an upgrade at the online check in for a standard MilagePlus member?

    • Scottrick

      Yes, and reports are that it is actually cheaper for non-elites than for elites (so-called “tens of dollars upgrades”). However, this discount is only if you’re offered an upgrade, which isn’t guaranteed. You can always pay the fare difference on the day of departure, which may be much higher.

  • phil

    What happens to the milage accrual when you receive a complimentary upgrade? R class doese not accrue any miles, or? thus, if you get upgrades on every flight, what happens to the status in the long run?

    • Scottrick

      United tracks your original fare class and awards miles based on that. There are cases where during IRROPs you might get rebooked in Y or F and some people used to get a full-fare bonus, but that has been fixed. To the best of my knowledge, the system does a good job of remember what you actually bought even if it’s later rebooked or upgraded.

      Whether you get an upgrade or not does not affect your status. Only the other way around.

  • Chris

    Scott, great site! I have travelled for years but rarely do upgrades so even after reading everything I am confused. A few questions. I have about 200k in miles from travel and Mileage plus Explorer. I am trying to plan a trip for the family (4) to Hawaii in December from 7-21st. I just found my flights and tix are about 1200 a pop but when I select award travel no flights qualify. They provide no explanation and all of 1st is wide open. Do you know why? I am not premier and I am next to IAD but could do DCA or BWI. Any tips are appreciated. Thanks -Chris

    • Scottrick

      Award space isn’t linked to how many seats remain available for sale but rather how many they think will go unsold. They apparently think they will be able to sell tickets for cash between now and December and would rather wait than let someone redeem miles.

      If you’re interested in an award booking service, there’s a link at the top navigation bar.

  • Debbie

    Hi. I understand about F9 and R9 – what if the flight has business class and 1st class (eg SFO-LHR)? ie I’m looking to upgrade from coach to business using systemwides. If the flight shows F9 and R0, then I would consider getting on a wait list. Does that make any sense if I’m really trying to get into business class?

    • Scottrick

      R space only specifies upgrade space for one cabin up from economy class. In other words, you cannot rely on R space to upgrade to first class on a three-cabin aircraft.

      If upgrading to business class, you would probably want to look at available space in J/C/D fare classes to determine how many seats actually remain.

  • Yan88

    Hey, how big is the chance to get an upgrade? Im *silver from LX and fly on a saturday (october 26th 2013) from Zurich via Newark to Las Vegas, i have booking class Y on United both flights… Thanks for your answer… I know I need a littlebit luck and your answer cant be 100% guaranteed…:-)))

    • Scottrick

      If you have Star Alliance Silver status with another carrier, then you probably won’t get upgraded. United will show preference to its own elites. However, you can use miles from any Star Alliance partner to upgrade a Y fare assuming the flight is both operated by United and has a United flight number. There should be no co-pay.

  • Venice

    I am currently flying from ORD to DEL with layover in EWR on a V Class and I am premier 1k. Should I use my available says your regional premier upgrade is restricted….any suggestions. I figured i hvae 6 GPU left..doesn;t hurt in trying.

    • Scottrick

      Regional upgrades cannot be used on EWR-DEL, only ORD-EWR. I would use the GPU. If ORD-EWR clears but EWR-DEL does not, you can request a refund of the GPU (this applies for all cases where the domestic leg clears but the overwater segment does not).

      • Venice

        so thats exactly what I did. Thanks. But when do I know I got the GPU upgrade..on the day off as Premier 1k?

        • Scottrick

          You should receive an email that says your upgrade was processed, or you can check your reservation online.

  • nids_del

    I am a premier Platinum member and I going SFO- HYD on Award ticket. I am not finding any Business class availability on my favourable routing.
    I am plannig to go ahead and book in economy and upgrade my itinerary to Business class closer to my departure date.
    I want to confirm, does more award seats open up closer to the departure date?

  • FlyerCryer

    I am a 120,00 mile per year traveler. All domestic. I have been 1K since it was invented.

    2012 was a spectacular year. I don’t remember sitting in coach but once or twice and it was usually by choice. 2013 has been the exact opposite experience. I have only been upgraded at 96hrs once or twice for the year. I pretty much have to wait to be field upgraded but even that is a 20% proposition this year. I’m getting very frustrated at the upgrade process to the point of switching to an airline that has no first class, therefore no expectations.

    I understand that fare cost has a lot to do with the upgrade process but I’m not clear on how I’m not #1 or #2 at 96 hours ahead of the flight. Oh…RPU and GPUs are a joke. I have 12 of them collected because they have yet to work for me.

    My question: What has changed so radically that I would go from hero to zero in a year?

    • Scottrick

      United processes upgrades in waves and offers a chance to pay for an upgrade at check-in. My own impression of the situation, true or not:

      (1) No meaningful upgrade space available until 24 hours before departure, even 90% of the first class cabin is unsold (I go by inventory for sale, not unreliable seat maps).
      (2) At T-24, United releases upgrade inventory, but it hasn’t processed those upgrades. This is because it usually does it at 24-hour increments, so the inventory hasn’t opened until after the last wave. Any remaining inventory that isn’t sold for a paid upgrade will be processed manually at departure.
      (3) My solution is that if I am #1 or #2 on the upgrade list and I see upgrade space available, I will call the 1K line and ask them to process it manually. This is easiest to accomplish if you have an RPU/GPU and you are #1, but I have gotten them to do it with an instrument even if I am #10. The agents don’t seem to realize that the computer is failing to process upgrades instantly, perhaps by design, so they say “huh, that’s odd you weren’t upgraded automatically” and are happy to do it for you.

      • D&T

        I had a situation happen where I tried to use a GPU on an M-class ticket. I’m 1K so I expect the upgrade to process ahead of time. As of 24 hours before the flight, there were 5 open B-Class seats available. I had a colleague (no status and on a base fare) inform me that he was offered to pay for an upgrade at check in. I decided I was willing to do that so I called the 1K line and asked if they could just go ahead and allow me to pay for an upgrade. They said this can only be done at check in. I checked in and it did not offer it. Subsequently, all the B-Class seats filled within the next 5 hours so I assume they offered the pay for upgrade to people with no status and lower fare tickets. Makes no sense to me. Can you help me understand this?

        • Scottrick

          B class fares are still booked in economy class. In order to process a GPU, there needs to be availability in the R class used for upgrade awards. Even paying the up-charge to be rebooked as a B fare would not be sufficient. You would still need R class space to upgrade and a B fare would only put you higher in the queue.

          Sometimes the upgrades will not process automatically (it seems to work on a regular schedule, rather than processing as soon as a space opens up), so if you see R upgrade space you should request that the upgrade be processed manually.

          The upgrade process changes at the 24-hour mark and new rules come into play. Since an elite passenger qualifies for a complimentary upgrade, they aren’t usually aren’t offered a buy-up at check-in. And, in my experience, most upgrades within the 24-hour window don’t happen until you reach the gate. This creates an opportunity for non-elite passengers to jump in front. It’s possible enough people took advantage of this opportunity that no seats remained for you.

    • KP

      Hi FlyerCryer, or anyone else who might still hold expiring United GPU’s.
      I hope you don’t mind me asking but I would be very interested in being sponsored or trading to 2 or 4 GPU’s to be used on upcoming international travel in January.
      Please email me on in case this is possible, and we can talk it over.

      Many thanks and happy holidays

  • leinez

    United clearly doesn’t follow its published upgrade logic. As a 1K on a G or K class ticket, even on 737-800/900, I find myself often way down on the upgrade list (sometimes not clearing). It appears that anyone (with lower premier status, but higher economy fare class) moves ahead of 1Ks on a G or K class ticket. This would have never happened in the old UA days, where my success as a 1k was in the high 90 percent range (certainly on 737, 757). Revenue trumps status.
    Are there others out there with similar experiences?

    • Scottrick

      How do you know these other people getting upgraded have lower status? I’ve seen flights where 75% or more of the front cabin are Premier 1Ks (the manifest is usually posted in the galley).

      Even if these members have lower status, those on Y- or B-fares still have upgrade priority, as do those who use an upgrade instrument or miles. The rules are not as generous as in the days before the merger, but in my experience United is generally following the new rules.

      • Brian

        I just confirmed that for day of departure upgrades fare class does indeed trump status. Sucks for 1ks.

        • Scottrick

          Confirmed where? Nothing has changed and the rule you mention is not the process described on the United website:


          The following is the order of priority, within five days, on flights that are eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades:
          (1) Premier members on eligilble Y- and B-class fares, as well as Premier 1K members on M-class fares.
          (2) All travelers on waitlisted Global Premier Upgrades, Regional Premier Upgrades, and MileagePlus Upgrade Awards.
          (3) All remaining Premier members using Complimentary Premier Upgrades, sorted by Premier status, then fare class, and then award travel.

          Priority within 24 Hours:
          …At 24 hours from departure, waitlist will expire and automatic processing of upgrades, per the priority listed above, will continue.

          • Justin

            Agree with Scottrick on this one. It’s my experience that UA’s upgrade logic works perfectly. And, it’s structured to recognize high revenue passengers first (Premier Y, B and 1K M) and then high-frequency travelers (sorted by Premier status, then fare class, date of booking, and then, I believe check-in time (hh:mm:ss) is ultimate tie breaker if all else is the same (could be wrong on this last one)). As much as I’d like to be upgraded more often, I’m on-board with their approach to clearing upgrades.

            As a 1K, I rarely clear prior to day of departure because I’m not traveling on the high-end economy fares (Y, B, M, E, U, H). I travel on Q and V on the AUS-ORD route weekly. Like Scott said, on peak travel days, it’s possible for a very high percentage of the passenger manifest to be Premier 1K travelers. Me being #10 on the upgrade list isn’t unusual…and I know there are other 1Ks much further down on the list. That said, as a 1K, I’ve taken 69 flights this year on which I was CPU eligible (other flights I purchased F or there was no F cabin.). Of the 69, I was upgraded 50.72% of the time. Last year as a 1K traveling on lower fares like W, S, T, L, K G, I was upgraded less than 15% of the time on this route.

            Caveat: equipment is normally CR7/EMB170 w/ only 6 F seats (slightly better odds of CPU upgrade when traveling on mainline). Assumes M/Th travel which is a high volume day for for business travelers such as myself. Hope this helps!

  • adam


    does united waive the change fee on awards if you’re upgrading the class of service for redemption? i believe american does this but not sure about united.


  • Justin

    Hi Scott, as you know, Expertflyer is no longer displaying R inventory for UA (or any UA award inventory at the moment, for that matter). I know it’s possible to see fare class inventory on a segment by segment basis on by enabling expert mode, but this is a tedious exercise–and the married logic of multi-segment itineraries make it even more difficult to dissect. I’ve seen some scripts out there that help make viewing this inventory easier (auto expanding fare class pop-up windows, highlighting certain fare classes, etc.), but nothing like what Expertflyer was capable of displaying. I personally loved the R inventory alerts. Killer. Any thoughts on whether R inventory will return to Expertflyer, or whether UA’s re-vamped website will address usability issues around 1Ks trying to plan/use GPUs/RPUs? Thanks!

  • ChiliPalmer

    I’m considering doing a cash+points upgrade on a trip to the Middle East.

    If I do that, will I get extra PQM since I’ll be in a higher class? Or will business class not qualify me for anything since I will have used miles (in part) to get there?

    • Scottrick

      You receive miles for the fare class you book at the time of ticketing. So, no, you don’t get more miles for flying in business class unless you originally booked in business class.

  • Victor


    I hope you can answer my question regarding UA’s policy on upgrade elite travelers. First a little background. I am a 3 million miler, 1K and have been a 1K for 15+ years. I do about 250K miles yearly on UA. My question is when I use Regional Upgrades at the time of booking, I am often times losing my upgrade to others (likelyelite flyers) who are using complementary upgrades. This to me doesn’t make sense but I have confirmed it several times in recent flights. I have asked UA and they do not offer a good explanation other than that is not suppose to happen, but unfortunately is continues to happen at least
    with me.

    Your Thoughts,


    • Scottrick

      The upgrade hierarchy is supposed to prioritize any instrument- or miles-supported upgrade ahead of complimentary upgrades. What evidence do you have that complimentary upgrades are taking your place, so I can try to explore this further? There might be some other reason your upgrades don’t clear.

  • DeeJay

    Hi Scott – I was wondering on my chances for an upgrade if I get sponsored for a Regional Upgrade but put on waitlist, from economy to first class (fare class w and q). The sponsor is a Premier 1k member, trip is from EWR to HON. If I get on the waitlist first, does it help my chances? I am have no status or level.


    • Scottrick

      I don’t know if you will clear, but you should be near the top of the waitlist priority.

  • vachek

    Hi Scott – this information is amazing! Thank you so much. A quick question.

    I am a United 1K and booked several flights on UA in W and used my Global Premier Upgrades. I’m currently on a wait list.

    I called United and they said I am 1st in line for the upgrades with about 40-50% capacity in Business Class on all my flights (SYD-SFO-IAD-DXB-IAD-SFO-LAX-SYD). With 3 weeks to go before departure what do you think my chances are of the upgrades actually going through?

    Many thanks for your input.

  • CJ Powers

    Very helpful, thank you!

  • steven

    im not a member of united clubs have a trip from Newark to Edmonton would like to travel business any suggestions or a way to buy someones points

    • Scottrick

      Purchasing points is against the MileagePlus terms and conditions. You may be able to upgrade by redeeming miles, purchasing an upgrade when reviewing your itinerary on, or by calling United to re-book the itinerary as a first-class ticket.

  • Sam

    I am a silver and have mileage plus credit card.
    I am planning a domestic trip on a saturday.
    1. If I book an award ticket for myself from my minor son’s account with no status but 25k miles, use my mp credit card to pay taxes, and add my frequent flyer number in passenger details, will I still be eligible for complementary upgrade?
    2. Would it improve chances if I book from my own united account? I really like to burn the 25k orphan miles from my kid’s account.

    • Scottrick

      The upgrade eligibility is determined by the MileagePlus account number, assuming the account number belongs to the primary cardholder.

      You should be eligible for an upgrade regardless of which account you use to book the award as long as you are the passenger and use your MileagePlus account number.

      There is a glitch that allows other passengers to receive an upgrade assuming that your account number is on their ticket, but this glitch requires using miles from your account and leaving the FF# field empty. That’s the only reason the source of the miles matter, because it results in your eligible number being put on the ticket by default.

      • jho

        I don’t think this glitch exists any longer. At least it’s not working for me on a FF ticket I purchased for my wife. I also don’t have the United credit card, which could be the limiting factor here.

  • Wade Tandy

    Hey Scott,

    I am flying an economy award ticket booked with united miles but operated by air canada from Sydney -> Vancouver -> LA in a couple weeks. I don’t have any status with united but do have the MileagePlus explorer card. Does this still apply to non-united flights? What are my (either paid or free) upgrade options?

    • Scottrick

      It only applies to United flights assuming you have United elite status and generally excludes international itineraries. Your only option for an upgrade is to pay for one at the gate, but this is unlikely since you have an award ticket and priority is given to customers with revenue tickets. You would be better off rebooking it as a first- or business-class award.

  • Sean

    I am flying economy award tickets with my 3 year old son to HNL from IAD. My wife is flying first class award ticket on the same flight. She is now 7 months pregnant. Do you think we have a chance for an upgrade if I try to convince them that my son does not want to get separated from his mom?

    • Scottrick

      No, the normal upgrade rules apply. I expect the likely answer if you try that is they will offer to move your wife back to economy class.

    • Mike

      Small children do NOT belong in first class. I do not understand how premium cabins and loud crying children are compatible.

      • Scottrick

        Everyone needs to sit somewhere. I’m partial to letting the harried mother have a comfortable seat.

        • briandear

          Thank you. When we fly, I hold my toddlers to a very high standard, however when they DO decide to make noise and we’re trying desperately to calm them (in my case, even spending almost 30 min in the coach class bathroom when my daughter’s ears were hurting her,) my wife and I appreciate the majority of folks who cut us a bit of slack. We apologize for the disruption, but we won’t apologize for being on the plane!

      • MikeDaDousch

        Hi Mike. Not all children cry in airplanes. You obviously do not have kids.

      • William

        People like you do not belong in first class. If you think first class is that special you do not belong in first class, you obviously do not make that great of a salary. I make 7 figures a year and would not want entitled people like you by me. You have no right to act like you are some god and children can’t even be in the same class as you. I bet my kids and the other kids of people who can afford first act better and more sophisticated than you.
        Thanks Mike

      • BestPartBoutKidsIsMakinThem

        I agree. A lot of people purchase expensive first class seats to not be around children. And while all children do not cry on planes, the majority of them do.

        • briandear

          Really? Someone pays $9000 to fly in an international first seat simply to avoid a potentially crying child? That’s nonsense. There are many reasons to fly first, however “avoiding a child” is about the most ridiculous. If you’re patience is so flimsy that you’d pay thousands of dollars to avoid being near one, then you have no business even out in public, let alone on an airplane. Fly private if kids are so offensive.

          • Daris Darrison

            no, we pay thousands to be in an uncrowded, unsmelly, free liquor and perks, nice stewardess oh AND child free environment.

      • briandear

        If I buy a ticket for my small child to be in First they have just as much right to be there as anyone else. When I travel with my family of four and I’ve paid for 4 biz or first tickets, we certainly have as much “right” to be there as someone who was upgraded. You’re also assuming that all children are loud and crying. A “Premium” cabin isn’t just for old men business travelers — they are for anyone willing to pay for the privilege. When all is said and done, an airplane is still public transportation. Of course, I do understand frustration when parents are unwilling to adequately control their kids — that’s a different issue. Passengers (in any cabin) have a responsibility to adhere to civil behavior norms– so the parent who refuses to address bad behavior has no place on an airplane. However excluding kids from the premium cabin just on the basis of them being kids — that could be up there with excluding passengers from India that smell like curry. Or course, I’d take the kid any day — on a long international, kids sleep but pungent passengers, they stay with you the entire way!

        • 1Lionel

          I just got back from India (I am Indian) on Lufthansa’s business cabin. Not only were there two young ladies with babies that either cried or chattered incessantly one of them exuded curry flavors! Needless to say, I did not sleep a wink. As you say, they had a right to be in the cabin as much as I did.

  • Phil A Mignon

    Thank you sir. I appreciate the information. I usually fly South West and have never been upgraded.

  • Dre Atkins

    Quick question it says that 2 days out a Premier Gold member has access to Complimentary upgrades. How do you go about claiming those upgrades (given that there are upgrades available)?

    • Scottrick

      The upgrades should clear automatically assuming upgrade inventory is available and those in front of you have already been upgraded. If you still aren’t upgraded before check in, your upgrade will be processed at the gate by the agent.

  • Jason

    So I do not have Premiere status on United, but purchased a refundable B fare ticket. Am I even eligible for upgrade to First assuming all of the other upgrade possibilities you listed here clear first?

    • Scottrick

      Some economy class fares include an upgrade if one is available. These are defined in the fare rules and don’t apply to a particular booking class (you’ll often see them on Y fares, but not always). These are called “Y-UP” fares. The instant upgrade promised for Y, B, and M fares is only for elite members.

  • richard

    Scott I am on several mailings from different folks who provide frequent flyer information. All are good in their own way but this information is like gold…never knew this existed and no one else explained it as you have. Thanks again.

    • Scottrick

      You’re welcome!

  • Paul

    Scott, thanks, this is exactly the kind of information I was looking for after a recent flight. I am still wondering if United did right by me. It was a 757 with 24 business seats (DEN-PHX), out of which 17 people got upgraded according to the UA app, and for which 3 more people were before me on the upgrade standby list. Since I am Platinum, that means that 20 people were either 1K or platinum with a higher-ranking class ticket. I assume that paid upgrades are not on a waiting list? It seems like a huge coincidence that so many people got it. In your experience, is there a ticket class or something else that makes the system skip you for upgrades in favor of other?

    • John

      Paul. I am a Platinum as well. Recently flew from LAX to IAD, I am assuming a very popular route. 48 hours out I used my regional premier upgrade and still didn’t get a seat even though I saw 4-5 empty seats prior to me requesting the upgrades. I would assert your assumption is correct so some degree but I also recall I also had the option to purchase instead of using the RPU. I am assuming that some people with lower premier status than you purchase the upgrades and some of the people are 1K or had a higher paying fare class than you.

  • Chris

    I am flying to the middle east on United. I am a premier silver member. Am I eligible for a complimentary premier upgrade if available? It did not come up automatically like it does for other flights. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Boomer

      No. International route are not eligible. I can tell you that nowadays having Premier Silver or Premier Gold will most likely not get you any CPU domestically. I am a Platinum and fly about 10 times a year and have only received 2-3 CPUs so far. Whenever I bought Y tickets I have received instant upgrades on many routes.

  • Merlion

    My colleague is flying from Singapore to Virginia. I want to sell my Global Upgrade to him. How much should I charge him? Thanks!

    • Scottrick

      Paying for upgrades is against the T&Cs. So you should probably make an arrangement that you both feel comfortable with.

  • hani


    I am flying from Belgium to LA and don’t have enough miles yet but I wanted to know if it was possible to upgrade to business/first whenever I get in the 20 000 miles range when I am on an international route: ex. paris-LA, Brussels-LA?

    • Scottrick

      An upgrade between the continental U.S. and Europe is between 15,000 and 20,000 miles depending on the fare class of your ticket. There is also a cash co-pay that ranges from $0 to $550. The exact destination within Europe doesn’t matter.

      Yes, you can request an upgrade whenever you have the miles and cash to pay for it. But the upgrade will not clear (and the miles and cash will not be charged) until upgrade space becomes available. United generally won’t upgrade people unless they have some confidence that they won’t be able to sell the ticket for full price. However, there is generally more upgrade space (paid ticket, plus miles) than award space (miles only).

      • hani

        Thanks a lot and that means I wouldn’t have to be a premier member or anything right? just a mileage plus member? It would only depend on the fare class of my ticket…

        • Scottrick

          Correct, you do not need to have elite status. However, elite status will help your ticket clear before others’.

  • Patrick Shanley

    hi scott
    i want to try and get upgraded right away as i have in the past. i am a premire 1k with 4 global upgrades. when i call i get no satisfaction. i have in the past but could not for europe in july and out of hong kong/bkk/manila in sept no luck. any suggestions? any place in europe july would be fine out of boston. to boston in sept from hong kong/bkk/manila.
    thanks for the tips.

    • Scott Mackenzie

      There’s no way to automate a search for upgrade award space without a screen scraping tool, which United actively discourages by sending cease and desist orders to people who create and share them.

      I can’t say which routes are likely to have more success, but you’re luck with the waitlist will be better if you purchase a higher fare class. I usually recommend people buy a V fare instead of a cheaper W fare. Sometimes the price difference is not great, and the V fare will take priority over all the people who buy the cheapest eligible W fare.

  • Eric M

    It’s worth mentioning that if you upgrade your paid ticket to a premium cabin, you will not earn Premier Qualifying Miles on your trip.

    I had a goal of obtaining elite status in 2015, so I booked out 6 international trips and confirmed upgrades using miles for all of them. The fare class changed to “R”.

    Afterwards, I asked United how many PQMs I could earn on that fare type, they told me 0.

    The website says Award tickets don’t earn PQMs (obviously, because you’re not paying anything) but it doesn’t anything about upgrades for which you have paid for an economy ticket.


    • Scottrick

      Yikes. Thanks for the warning, Eric. I was under the impression you would at least earn PQMs for the original fare paid (though I wouldn’t necessarily expect them for an upgrade co-pay).

      • Yves

        I have booked a trip PVG-LAX through SFO for July 2015 and used a GPU to upgrade the outbound flight, but am waitlisted (with a GPU) on the return flight. When seeing the note above I was afraid that I’d get in trouble for my 2015/2016 status because I mainly use other Star Alliance carriers and this would be my trip to get 4 united flights. Upon checking United T&C (for using GPU), I found the following:
        “The number of MileagePlus award miles, Premier qualifying miles and Premier qualifying segments earned is based on the fare class of the ticket originally purchased, not the upgraded class.” So this clearly indicates that GPU or RPU would allow to accrue PQM. However, in the T&C for award upgrade, it only shows “Mileage accrual for MileagePlus and other participating loyalty programs will be based on the original fare class purchased.” So no reference to PQM…

    • Jayson

      That wasn’t my experience when booked into the R bucket this past January. SAN to IAH, netted me one PQM just as it should.

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  • Sandy

    We are a family of three (husband, wife and our 1.5 yr old daughter) flying from SFO>SYD. My husband and I got upgraded since both of us have premier status and our reservation was together. We bought our daughter’s seat separately and requested upgrade with miles and copay. Her upgrade has still not cleared. 5 days until the flight and she is the only one on the waitlist so far. When I look at the seatmap online there are 7 business seats available. The customer rep says as of now they have closed upgrades. What are her chances?

    • Scott Mackenzie

      It’s really difficult to say. Those 7 seats could all be taken by last-minute business travelers. And your daughter’s upgrade will be prioritized according to her status, not yours, even though you used your miles.

  • Scott

    I notice when looking at the flight status for my upcoming flights, that many people are already on the upgrade list prior to check in. Are these only premiere members on Y and B fares? If it were just premiere members booked on the flight, I would expect to be on the list, but I don’t show up until I check in.

    • Scott Mackenzie

      Some of these people may be on itineraries that include additional flights with an earlier check-in time. Others may have requested an upgrade using miles or a Regional/Global Premier Upgrade and were on the waitlist days or weeks before the flight. But even though the waitlist exists, you may not see your name or others until you check in.

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  • biglio

    I am flying from YYC (Calgary, Canada) to Hong Kong, i am a 1K and have all my 6 GPUs, I realized I cannot upgrade, unless I use miles or money, my trans pacific flights (fare is K).
    It has always been this way or it came into being after the infamous new revamp of the program in 2015? Just curious since I am really on the verge of switching to some different airline (American is matching my status), it’s simply not worth it anymore for me after i earn milion miler status (45K miles more)……I realized the GPUs are basically unusable internationally unless you pay full fare, is that correct?
    Excellent work btw.

    • Scott Mackenzie

      It has been a requirement for as long as I’ve been doing this that customers must book a W fare or higher in order to use a GPU for most international flights. (Some shorter flights, especially within North America, can be upgraded with a GPU regardless of fare class.)

      This isn’t the same as full-fare, but W fares do tend to be more expensive. I looked at some example prices in September for YYC-HKG (base fare only, not including fuel surcharges or taxes):
      L — $648
      W — $1,051
      P — $4,217
      Y — $4,727

      Note that the W fare is more expensive than the cheapest L fare but still much less expensive than a full-fare Y ticket. In fact, you can book a discounted business class P fare and still save money compared to a full fare Y ticket in coach.

      I’m not exactly clear on when the change took place — I’m relatively young. I just know it’s been around for at least few years.