Protecting Your Upgrade on United Airlines

Tomorrow is a big day and I could really use a flat bed tonight to fly across the country. The problem: United's international-config 757s have only 16 seats in BusinessFirst and 153 in economy class, a bad ratio for upgrading a hub-hub transcon route.

Nevertheless, I do stand a chance--


So why blog about this? Merely to point out that I will fly across the country tonight in business class--the question is just whether I will have a lie-flat bed or standard domestic first class seat.

When flying United Airlines, my advice is always to take the sure thing when applying a confirmed upgrade instrument. That means, if there is (R) class on a flight, try to make it work so you don't have to sweat out an upgrade waitlist. Ideally, you confirm an upgrade on your desired flight, but sometimes it just doesn't work that easily. Instead, you confirm on a less-desirable aircraft type or at a less-desirable time.

Then, with United's wonderful confirmed same-day flight change, you can quickly switch flights (without cost for United elites and Star Alliance Gold members) if your original fare class is available on the new flight(s) (and usually any remaining (F) space translates to identical (R) space at around the 23hr40min mark before the flight). You can even add a connection if you want, as long as you stick to a published routing. And if you were using miles/GPU/RPU to upgrade, if there is (R) class on your new flight, agents should immediately confirm the upgrade. 

But here's an extra piece of insurance you can attempt to secure: you can keep your confirmed upgrade and waitlist for your earlier desired flight. That's what I am doing tonight. You'll have to find an agent willing to assist, but I've personally had very good luck at most legacy UA hubs or on the phone.

And here's what else I've found--if you are in (R) class on a confirmed instrument (again miles/GPU/RPU), you can waitlist directly into (R) class on the desired flight. I suspect there will be some comments below about how this is against the rules or only an anomaly, but it has happened to me on several occasions--I consider it a quirk of SHARES.

The conventional wisdom is that you must waitlist for economy (for your original booking class), then go onto the upgrade list again if you clear the flight. Again, this may be the rule, but in my experience this is not the way it is done in practice (unlike with legacy United). On more than one instance, I have found myself simultaneously at the top of the flight upgrade waitlist and standby waitlist.

I do not believe this would be the case for complimentary upgrades, which also come out of the (R) fare bucket but are prioritized differently by the system, but this maye be a valuable option for getting the flight you want while not sacrificing your confirmed upgrade at a less ideal time.


UA-NYC December 3, 2012 at 12:23 am

Good luck - were you re-booked in full Y? Surprised you're ahead of so many others since (I'm pretty sure) you aren't a GS and you aren't buying the highest of fares.

AK December 3, 2012 at 01:26 am

SDCs are free even for partner Star Golds? Like A3/TK?

@UA-NYC: I was not rebooked into full Y. In fact, I was on a K-fare. But I am 1K and waitlisted using a systemwide upgrade, hence my high position on the wait list. And I got the upgrade and slept the entire flight! :)

@AK: It is not a published benefit, but readers in the past have indicated that the $75 change fee is waived when traveling under an A3 or TK Star Gold number.

arcticbull December 4, 2012 at 01:04 pm

@matthew Count me among the free SDCs. I've used both my ACG and A3G for free changes. In fact as soon as I enter the number the offer drops from $75 to $0 on the website.

AK December 4, 2012 at 06:01 pm

Thanks. I'm new to United ... I have a 5:54am departure in award F next week and want to switch to a slightly later flight, around 7am or 8am. Can I call at 6am the day before to request the change for no fee?

Hi AK, you can call after 7am or 8am the day before to make the change (less than 24 hrs before your new flight). You won't be looking for (R) class on an award ticket. Rather, you'll be looking for (I) class if you are on a domestic two-cabin saver first award and (O) class if you are on three-cabin first class award.

Carl December 10, 2012 at 08:02 am

If you want to SDC from a non-stop to a connection, can you do this on the website, or do you need to call an agent?

Do the original fare rules matter at that point? If they are supposed to matter, how is it enforced? Or does it depend on the agent?

Carl December 10, 2012 at 01:39 pm

Can you do an SDC from a nonstop to a connecting flight online, or can you only do it on the phone?

Is routing rules enforced by computer or agent discretion? How about co-terminal changes?

What's the magic wording to use with a phone agent to preserve your existing and get the SDC to be waitlisted for R?

It's hit or miss. Sometimes it is offered on the website, usually not. An agent will simply input your desired flight into the computer and if new routing works (same fare class, valid routing), the computer will reprice at the same price. It's all up to the computer and co-terminal changes are not permitted except during irr/ops. Multi-terminal changes (DCA/IAD, LGA/JFK ) are.

I can confirm that waitlisting into R works.. My Mom flew down to SJU for an MR this past weekend. Her return was SJU-IAH-PHX-DEN, but she needed to go straight back to DEN from IAH.. Had her ask an agent in the PC about doing SDC, and preserving her CR1 upgrade. The UAL (no ex-cons working that day!) agent called the help desk, and ten minutes later, she had a BP confirmed in F for the n/s to DEN.

Carl December 11, 2012 at 11:21 am

So what do you ask them to do when you want them to waitlist you into R? Just that?

Is there a listing of multi-terminals?

Exactly that.

The co-terminal list is long, but multi-terminals, if I am not mistaken are just LGA/JFK and IAD/DCA for purposes of UA (Houston Bush and Hobby and Chicago ORD and MDW are also multi-terminal, but N/A to UA).

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