How I Messed Up My Chance of an A380 LH Upgrade (And How You Can Avoid It)

Grrr… This is annoying… and it's 100% my fault. Well, one could say that it's the fault of complicated fare class requirements along with obscure rules for upgrades with a partner airline, but in reality, the rules were there, and I didn't check close enough.

We're off to Europe for a couple weeks, and we're flying on an open-jaw economy revenue ticket, purchased through United Airlines, to get there.

We're starting our trip in Stockholm, and we're flying SFO-LHR-ARN to get there, SFO-LHR on United and LHR-ARN on SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System International). As a 1K, I'm using United Systemide Upgrades (SWUs) to upgrade our flight to London. United has a minimum fare code requirement for using SWUs. You need to book a W fare or better. Here is United's language below:

Upgradeable Booking Classes fares: This upgrade may be used on United Business booking classes (C,D,J) and United Economy booking classes (Y, B, E, M, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, K, L, G) for travel in Region 1. This upgrade may be used on United Business booking classes (C,D,J) and United Economy booking classes fares (Y, B, E, M, U, H, Q, V, W) for travel in Region 2.

I made sure that when we booked our tickets, they were on W fares or better.

We're ending our trip in Prague, and we're flying PRG-FRA-SFO. This leg is also a W fare code, and it is operated by Lufthansa. The FRA-SFO segment happens to be on an Airbus A380, which I am SUPER excited to fly. It will be my first time on this plane. I was even more excited because United allows 1Ks to convert their SWUs to "paper SWUs" that can be used for standby upgrades on Lufthansa flights. Here's the language for that below:

Lufthansa Standby: This upgrade may be used on a standby basis, subject to availability, on the day of travel on any eligible Lufthansa flight in accordance with the terms and conditions of this certificate, except when booked in LH booking classes X, I, R, N, W, S and E. In addition L and T fares are also excluded for Intra-Europe flights. Please note: This upgrade requires a 14-day advanced notification to Mileage Plus in order to print and mail the certificate for presentation to Lufthansa on the day of departure. Please contact the MPI Service Center to have certificates printed.

In preparation for the trip, I converted two of my SWUs to Luftansa SWUs, and they arrived in the mail shortly thereafter.

This all happened months ago. Everything was set, and I went about my merry ways. Now as the trip approaches and i get my things in order, I have stumbled across fine print that I SHOULD have known about, but didn't. It turns out that even though United pegs the minimum upgradable fare at W, Lufthansa actually has slightly different fare code requirements. In fact, if you read the fine print above, you'll see it. W fares are no good for SWUs.

Crap! I'm sitting on a W fare, and I assumed that Lufthansa had the same rules as United. You would think that after four or five years of being a 1K, I would have been familiar with the fine print, but clearly I was not.

There is something you can do called "upfaring" a ticket, where you call an airline and try to pay the difference in fare code, in order to get a different fare. Unfortunately, because it's last minute for me, the lowest available fare on this flight is a B fare - that is nearly a full-fare economy ticket. That would cost me thousands.

I'm still excited for the trip back home from Frankfurt on the A380. In fact, it's not an overnight flight, and I've heard that the current business class product on the A380 isn't that impressive in the first place. I'd still much rather fly that than economy! I've got these darn LH paper SWUs in my bag now so we're going to try and use the SWUs at the airport to see what happens, but i'm not expecting much… Maybe the agent will forget the fare code restrictions.

What's the lesson to be learned from all this? Well, read the fine print! That's the first lesson. And the second lesson is to just remember this nugget of information: United and Lufthansa, despite offering reciprocal upgrades, do not have the same fare code requirements for using these upgrades. Sigh…  this is one of those few times I'm jealous of American's SWU system, with no fare requirements.


Euan August 30, 2011 at 06:26 am

The A380 business class seats on LH are slopey seats and not horizontal like the majority of their competitors.

I feel your pain, Kevin.

The funny thing is that LH has introduced a new L booking class on longhaul flights which is a real low-ball fare class, but since it is not excluded on the United cert (yet), you can upgrade. Next time, go L and save yourself some $.

Jamie August 31, 2011 at 12:23 am

That really stinks! This was a great article to read before I start doing more int'l travel.

ThunderStorm March 17, 2012 at 06:19 pm

Hey Kevin,

Can you please update us on what ended up happening with your Upgrade and whether or not Lufthansa let it be an oversight and upgraded you??

I have searched high and low on Google for a follow-up post from you but have not found any further news.

Much thanks!

Kevin March 18, 2012 at 03:29 pm

@Thunderstorm, full info here!

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