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How to Get Upgraded on United Airlines (2020)

How to Get Upgraded on United Airlines (2020)

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

How to Get a United Upgrade

There's no better feeling than being upgraded to first or business class as you board an airplane. Being upgraded usually means you won't have to battle for overhead space, and the airline's attendants will pay close attention to your needs, whether that be another drink or a warm towel.

Unfortunately, the process of receiving an upgrade is not as simple as it used to be, specifically with United Airlines. There are multiple ways travelers can become eligible for upgrades, and the airline has rules in place to prioritize who receives upgrades first. What this means for travelers is that simply hoping for an upgrade won't be enough.

Our comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about how to get upgraded on United Airlines. Understanding United's process will help you better position yourself for a potential upgrade.

United Airlines: Types of Upgrades

There are several ways you can get an upgrade through United Airlines. Below is a full list of upgrade types and how to get them.

How to Check if United Has Upgrades Available

Before taking a deep dive into how to get upgraded on United, it makes sense to check whether upgrades are available on your flight. The easiest way to do this is by enabling United's Expert Mode, which allows experienced travelers to check fare class availability.

United's Expert Mode

Here are the steps you'll want to follow to enable United's Expert Mode:

  • Log in to your United MileagePlus account on United's website.
  • Click "view account" located near your name.
  • Click "profile & preferences" located under "My Account."
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and click "View all flight search preferences."
  • Read about the Expert Mode and enable the feature.

Once Expert Mode has been enabled, enter your reservation details. You'll notice that now when you click "details" on the booking page, you'll be able to see the available fare classes.

Dummy Booking for United

Note that each fare class above has a number next to it. These numbers represent the number of available seats for purchase in that fare class, although they don't represent the number of upgrades available and don't show how many of these seats have been purchased. In our example booking above, for example, there is one seat left in the K class.

United divides upgrades into four separate groups (or fare classes):

  • ON: Upgrades from business class to first class.
  • PN: Upgrades from full fare Y, B or M fare class tickets to first or business class, plus all Global Services upgrades.
  • R/PZ: Upgrades from economy to business class or first class on domestic flights.
  • RN: Upgrades from Y or B fare class tickets to business class by Platinum, Gold or Silver Premier members.

In the image above, you'll see numbers next to fare classes ON, PN, R/PZ and RN. These indicate the number of upgrades that are available. For example, R7 would mean there are seven available upgrades from economy to business or first class on domestic flights. If there's a zero or no number next to the fare class, that means no upgrades are available.

A word of caution: Although upgrades may be available, you might not get one because there is a priority order to how upgrades are allocated.

Furthermore, it's in United's best interest to sell tickets. So while it's possible for you to be upgraded, a purchased ticket will take precedence if you haven't been confirmed for an upgrade.

One other issue worth noting: Users have reported not being able to see fare classes despite activating Expert Mode. You may have success by simply switching your internet browser. We've had success using Google Chrome.

Complimentary United Airlines Upgrades

MileagePlus Premier® members have access to upgrades on select United flights, depending on availability. It's worth noting that complimentary upgrades are granted on a space-available basis. While these type of upgrades do occur, you shouldn't rely on them due to their limited availability.

How Do You Become a MileagePlus Premier Member?

In order to become a MileagePlus Premier member and become eligible for complimentary upgrades, you must reach the required number of Premier-qualifying miles (PQM) or Premier-qualifying segments (PQS). If you reside in the United States, you'll also have to reach a minimum annual spend with United, which is tracked with Premier-qualifying dollars (PQD). A much simpler explanation is that you have to fly a certain number of times (or miles) with United and spend a certain amount of money with the airline.

United Airline's Premier status program has four separate levels, which are all based on your activity in the prior calendar year (from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31). Once you reach Premier status, you'll hold on to that status from the date you earned it until the end of the following program year. We lay out current program requirements below:

Premier LevelPQM and PQS requirementsPQD requirements
Premier Silver25,000 PQM or 30 PQS$3,000
Premier Gold50,000 PQM or 60 PQS$6,000
Premier Platinum75,000 PQM or 90 PQS$9,000
Premier 1K®100,000 PQM or 120 PQS$15,000

You can read our comprehensive guide on United Airlines status here, which goes into detail on each Premier level and their respective requirements.

Who Gets Upgraded First on United Airlines?

While anyone with United Premier status is eligible for an upgrade, the reality is that a higher status will give you a better chance at getting a complimentary upgrade—or any upgrade, for that matter. The windows to confirm a complimentary upgrade are listed below by Premier status.

Premier statusUpgrade confirmation
Premier SilverDay of departure
Premier Gold2 days
Premier Platinum3 days
Premier 1K4 days

That said, United can't just upgrade people based on status. Even travelers with a high status level can be skipped over for an upgrade depending on who has requested one. That's because there are many ways to upgrade, which complicates the entire process.

The following is the order of priority as reported by United Airlines for upgrades within four days of departure on flights that are eligible for complimentary premier upgrades:

  • Premier 1K members on eligible Y-, B- and M-class fares: Premier 1K instant upgrades that weren't confirmed in advance are placed in order according to fare class.
  • Travelers on wait-listed Global Premier upgrades, Regional Premier upgrades and MileagePlus upgrade awards: Placed in order of status, fare class and time of request.
  • All remaining Premier members: Placed in order of status, fare class and those traveling with award tickets.

Does Having a United Airlines Credit Card Matter?

United Airlines currently offers three consumer credit cards and two business cards. If you're interested in a United Airlines credit card, we recommend you check out our roundup, which goes over which card is best for certain types of users. Otherwise, you can learn about what we believe to be the best United credit card offers, below:

Cardholders who are also MileagePlus Premier members are eligible to receive a complimentary upgrade on award tickets. In terms of upgrade priority, cardholders of the two credit cards listed above will be placed after the lowest paid fare class. You'll want to keep in mind that United Airlines gives expanded flight search options to cardholders, meaning you'll want to log in to your MileagePlus account when you're looking to book a trip.

What this means is that simply having a United Airlines credit card is unlikely to get you an upgrade on a flight. Regardless, the credit cards offer competitive welcome bonuses for meeting certain spending thresholds, which can then be utilized to purchase upgrades with United miles. So, in a roundabout way, the credit cards above do matter if you're someone who wants to be upgraded on United Airlines.

Terms apply to Chase credit card offers. See chase.com for more information.

Regional Premier and Global Premier Upgrades

What are Regional Premier upgrades? These are one-way upgrades earned by Premier Elite Platinum and 1K members who can be confirmed at the time of ticketing. Currently, these upgrades are available on select United- and Copa-operated flights within certain regions.

What are Global Premier upgrades? These are one-way upgrades earned by Premier Elite 1K members who can be confirmed at the time of ticketing and are available on flights operated by United and Copa, along with select flights operated by ANA and Lufthansa. Generally, these are less restrictive than Regional Premier upgrades.

How Do You Earn Regional and Global Premier Upgrades?

Regional Premier upgrades: Premier members earn two Regional Premier upgrades when they reach Premier Platinum status and two more when they meet Premier 1K status. In addition to this, Premier members get two more Regional Premier upgrades for each 25,000 Premier-qualifying miles or for 30 Premier-qualifying segments earned during the same year that Premier 1K was reached.

Global Premier upgrades: Premier members earn six Global Premier upgrades once they reach Premier 1K status. Additionally, two Global Premier upgrades are awarded for each 50,000 Premier-qualifying miles or 60 Premier-qualifying segments earned during the same year that Premier 1K was reached.

How Do You Use Regional or Global Premier Upgrades?

You can use your regional and global premier upgrades as soon as you book your travel. Simply view your reservation on United.com and select the Upgrade Reservation link. Alternatively, users can call United's customer service line at 1-800-864-8331.

Upgrade Using United Miles

If you've decided you want to upgrade using miles, you have two options: Upgrade at the time of booking or add an upgrade to an existing reservation. Regardless of which route you take, you'll have the option to book using just miles or a combination of miles and cash. We cover how to upgrade at the point of sale along with upgrading existing reservations below.

How to Upgrade on United Airlines When Booking

Upgrading on United Airlines When Booking

If you're interested in using miles when booking your trip, use United's advanced search feature from the home page. It's located on the bottom left corner of the search feature. After clicking "Advanced Search," users should navigate to fare preferences.

United Airlines Fare Preferences

Once the upgrade type is selected, users can execute the search and should now see upgrade options in their search results. Depending on the route you're flying, you should see an option to upgrade with miles or an option to upgrade with a mix of miles and cash.

How to Upgrade an Existing Booking With United Airlines

If you have already purchased an airline ticket, you have three options to upgrade your existing booking:

  • Upgrade online via United's site
  • Upgrade by calling United Airlines
  • Upgrade at the gate

To upgrade online, simply sign in to your MileagePlus account and navigate to your existing reservation. Once you're signed in, you should see an option to redeem an upgrade. You'll be presented with various options, like buying an upgrade, using a Regional or Global upgrade, or using miles to get an upgrade. If you'd rather call United, you can dial 1-800-864-8331.

While you also have the option to upgrade at the gate when you arrive at the airport, we don't recommend doing so. By the time the date of the flight arrives, other customers will likely have upgraded their own seats, leaving little to no availability.

How to Upgrade With United's Partner Airlines

United is part of the Star Alliance network, a 27-partner airline network. We outline the current airlines that are part of the network, below:

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • Eva Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines

If you're a MileagePlus member, you can request an upgrade on any partner airline from economy to business class or first class. You can also request an upgrade from business class to first class. Of course, whether you receive the upgrade will all depend on the partner airline's upgrade availability. Users request an upgrade the same way they would for a United Airlines-operated flight.

The information related to United℠ Explorer Business Card has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Joe Resendiz

Joe Resendiz is a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, where he covered public sector and infrastructure financing. During his time on Wall Street, Joe worked closely with the debt capital markets team, which allowed him to gain unique insights into the credit market. Joe is currently a research analyst who covers credit cards and the payments industry. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in finance.

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).

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