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Getting upgrades on United. Everything you need to know from GPUs to miles and co-pays.

by on Mon August 1, 2016 • 62 Comments

Upgrading your ticket with United MileagePlus can be a mind numbingly confusing process. No other U.S. airline offers a more complex combination of mileage, cash co-pays, and elite certificate options to upgrade your flight.

To help, we’ve compiled answers to questions that arise in these key parts of the upgrade process. Skip to what interests you, or read it all. And if that’s all still confusing, feel free to ask questions below. If you play it right, United can be quite rewarding for upgrades.

How to Check if Upgrade Space is Available

The fastest way to check whether upgrade space is available while shopping for flights is to use ‘Expert Mode’ on

‘Expert Mode’ lets you view the exact inventory for each United flight, which includes the number of seats currently available for upgrades.

To enable it, just follow this link. You’ll be asked to login to your account. Then, scroll down the page and you’ll see a check-box where you can enable Expert Mode and save it to your profile.

Once it’s enabled, you’ll be able to access the Expert feature whenever you search for flights while logged in. To see it, click on the ‘Fare Class’ label next to any flight search result.

Look for ‘R’ space to verify upgrade availability from Economy. Once you click ‘Fare Class’ a pop-up will appear with an alphabet soup of letters. For the purposes of upgrades from Economy Class, you want to look for the letter ‘R’.

Next to the letter ‘R’ will be a number, from 0 to 9. That number represents the number of seats available for an upgrade. If it’s ‘9’ it means 9 or more seats are available (it could be 12, 20, or more – any number higher than 9 is not displayed).

If it’s R0 you’re out of luck, there are no seats available for an upgrade. If it’s R1 or larger, then there are seats available for an upgrade right away if you decide to book your flight and use miles, a Regional upgrade, or a Global upgrade depending on the flight. You can process it while booking online, or call in and have an agent handle it for you.

If you’re looking for GlobalFirst class upgrades check for ‘O’ availability. If you’ve already paid for a Business Class ticket and want to upgrade to GlobalFirst class on an international flight, ‘O’ is the letter United uses for upgrade inventory.

The number of upgrade seats is NOT the same as the number of seats left on the flight. United wants to sell as many seats as it can for cash, so on most flights not all first or business class seats on the flight will be available for upgrades.

If you have connecting flights, check each flight individually. Let’s say you’re flying New York to Sydney via JFK – LAX – SYD, and want to upgrade.

If the shorter JFK – LAX segment has no upgrades available, but the LAX – SYD one does have them available, it’s possible Expert Mode will show ‘R0.’ Yet you can still lock in the upgrade for the long LAX – SYD flight and waitlist for the shorter upgrade.

So when searching for trips that have a connection, do a separate search for each individual leg. For example, look at the LAX – SYD flight alone to double check whether upgrades are open or not.

For complimentary ‘elite’ Premier upgrades this does not apply.  ‘Complimentary Premier Upgrades’  are done automatically by the computer system at certain intervals, and agents can’t process them manually. So you might sometimes see ‘R’ space available for your flight, but your upgrade hasn’t cleared.

The upgrade system will activate later, and if you are the very next person in line for an upgrade it will process it.

But there could also be people ahead of you with higher priority who will get the upgrade instead, or someone might buy a cash ticket, snapping up the seat. Unfortunately you’re out of luck in those situations and will have to wait your turn.

The exception is if you are a Premier on a full Y or B fare, or a Premier 1K on an ‘M’ fare which upgrades to a separate, broader inventory.

Maximizing Your Upgrade Chances

Of course, your best bet is to search long and hard for flights that have confirmable upgrade space already.

If you can’t find space, your best bet all else equal is to find flights that appear to have the most unsold Business or First Class seats.

Using Expert Mode, Business Class fare codes are J, C, D, Z, and P. The more of those that have ‘9s in front of them, especially close in to the flight, the more likely United hasn’t yet sold many seats.

J9 C9 D9 Z9 P9 is what you’re looking for, so the flight in the section above is a good example of one to consider (and it in fact already has an upgradeable seat open). Just beware it’s far from any guarantee you’ll be upgraded. People could buy up all the remaining seats before the flight departs and you could be out of luck. The only guarantee is once your upgrade has cleared.

The worst options are those that are nearly sold out already. For example the flight below that shows J2C2D0Z0P0 is a bad bet for upgrade chances. It means only 2 seats are left for sale in Business Class, and the discounted Business Class fares (Z, P) are not available as United is hoping for some big last minute fares. Miracles can happen, but don’t bet on them when so few seats are left.

Another datapoint. If all your choices are showing ‘9s’ (which is good), a final tie-breaker to consider is pulling up the seat map and counting the number of empty seats in the cabin you want to upgrade to.

This is not a reliable method, as lots of people don’t bother to assign a seat when they buy a ticket, but it’s another piece of information in your quest to find flights with the highest chance of scoring you an upgrade from the waitlist.

Also consider a higher fare. United prioritizes upgrades by the fare class you book. So if you want a better shot, consider booking a slightly higher fare than the lowest currently available. It may secure you a slot higher on the upgrade waitlist. The order of fare priority for upgrades from Economy is Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G, N. will let you specify one or more of those fare code letters to get an exact price and see whether the higher fare is a price you’re willing to pay. Just use the ‘Advanced Search’ link and you can enter the fare codes.

What we’ve talked about so far applies to upgrades to international Business Class (BusinessFirst). But the principles apply to other upgrades, just with different letter codes to watch. Here are the fare code letters to consider for other kinds of upgrades:

Domestic First Class: ‘F’ is the bucket that shows how many First Class seats are left – pay attention to that one. A, J, C, D, and P are the remaining fare buckets for domestic First Class, with P the cheapest.

GlobalFirst Class: For flights that have 3 cabins (GlobalFirst, BusinessFirst, and Economy) F and A are the fare buckets for GlobalFirst class, while ON represents GlobalFirst award space, and O represents space upgradable from BusinessFirst.

Types of Upgrades

Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs). These are the most valuable upgrades available, and they’re given to Premier 1K and Global Services members. You’ll earn 6 for reaching Premier 1K status in a calendar year, and another 2 for each 50,000 Premier Qualifying Miles or 60 segments you fly. You can use these upgrades anywhere United flies.

The catch is for flights to Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia you must buy a ‘W’ or higher Economy Class fare to be eligible to use the upgrade. If you’re looking to upgrade from Business Class to First Class, you must buy a ‘J,’ C’, or ‘D’ fare. Discount ‘Z’ and ‘P’ fares aren’t upgradable on long haul international flights. Award tickets are also not upgradable and you can apply these upgrades at any time.

Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs). Premier Platinum and higher members earn these, which upgrade you throughout North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. You get 2 for reaching Premier Platinum, another 2 for reaching Premier 1K, and another 2 for each additional 25,000 miles or 30 segments you fly.  You can apply these upgrades at any time and they work on special flights like P.S. service from JFK to LAX/SFO and Hawaii flights from Newark, Washington Dulles, and Houston to Honolulu.

MileagePlus Upgrades. Any member can use miles to upgrade flights anywhere in the world, though often with a cash co-pay requirement.

Instant Premier Upgrades. If you are a Premier level flier and buy a full fare Y or B Economy ticket you can get an instant upgrade provided space is available. These are valid on flights that offer Complimentary Premier Upgrades (below). Premier 1K and Global Services members can also get Instant Upgrades on ‘M’ class fares.

Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs). These are ‘free’ upgrades available to all Premier members if space is available. They are available on routes within North America, Central America, and the Caribbean that don’t fly exclusively with a BusinessFirst lie flat front cabin. That means P.S. flights from JFK – LAX / SFO and Honolulu flights to Newark, Houston, and Washington Dulles that have a BusinessFirst cabin aren’t eligible for these upgrades.

A ‘buy up’ to the lowest First Class fare. United will let you pay the difference between your coach fare and the lowest First Class fare on your flight. Sometimes this can be quite reasonable, and lets you take advantage of First Class fares that are normally only offered with significant advance purchase restrictions. You will be credited with full mileage for the First Class fare. Check your reservation on to see if this option is available.

A discounted cash upgrade. These usually appear within 24 hours of the flight, and are often the cheapest way to get into First Class. Many Premier members complain about them because they give non-Premier members an opportunity to buy their way into First Class on the cheap, reducing their free or instrument based upgrade chances. Use online check-in or an airport kiosk to check availability and pricing for your flight.

Waitlisting & Upgrade Priority

If an upgrade isn’t available on your flight, United will waitlist you and the computer system will put you in line with other passengers waiting for an upgrade.  When you’re next at the top of the list, it will attempt to clear you if upgrade space becomes available.

Flights that offer no ‘free’ upgrades

This includes all international flights with a lie-flat seat BusinessFirst cabin, as well as domestic routes that guarantee planes with a lie-flat BusinessFirst cabin like JFK-LAX/SFO and EWR-HNL.

The type of upgrade you use (miles, Global, or Regional) has no impact on where you fall on the list. It’s entirely based on your status level, the class of fare you paid (with more expensive getting priority), and finally the time you requested the upgrade. The order of fare priority for upgrades from Economy is Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G, N.

Here is the overall priority by Premier level:

1. Global Services

  • Cleared in order of fare class, then by time of request

2. Premier 1K

  • Cleared in order of fare class, then by time of request

3. Premier Platinum

  • Cleared in order of fare class, then by time of request

4. Premier Gold

  • Cleared in order of fare class, then by time of request

5. Premier Silver

  • Cleared in order of fare class, then by time of request

6. General Members

  • Cleared in order of fare class, then by time of request

If you have a connecting flight in your trip to a long international flight with a BusinessFirst cabin (for example, you are flying from Houston to Newark to Paris) and the upgrade for Houston to Newark clears, but the Newark to Paris doesn’t, your miles or upgrade instrument will be refunded in full.

Flights that offer ‘free’ Complimentary Premier Upgrades

These are the domestic routes and some international routes that don’t guarantee a lie-flat seat BusinessFirst cabin.

If you are a Premier member you are eligible to receive a free upgrade automatically if space is available, starting at upgrade windows up to 5 days before departure, depending on your Premier level.

Here is how the priority stacks up:

1. All Global Services Members

  • Cleared by fare class and time of request

2. ‘Instant Upgrade’ Y, B fares for Premier Members

  • Premier members who buy a full fare ‘Y’ or ‘B’ class ticket can get an ‘instant upgrade’ confirmed as soon as they buy a ticket, provided space is available. If it isn’t, they are waitlisted with near top priority.

3. M-fares for Premier 1K

  • Premier 1K members also get an instant upgrade on ‘M’ class Economy fares.

3. Any Mileage, Global Premier, or Regional Premier upgrades

  • Cleared in order of Premier level, fare class, then by time of request

4. Premier 1K complimentary upgrades

  • Cleared in order of fare class, time of request, then companions

5. Premier Platinum complimentary upgrades

  • Cleared in order of fare class, time of request, then companions

6. Premier Gold complimentary upgrades

  • Cleared in order of fare class, time of request, then companions

7. Premier Silver complimentary upgrades

  • Cleared in order of fare class, time of request, then companions

Changing a Flight With an Upgrade

If you decide to change your flight, the upgrade ‘R’ class must be available for you to reconfirm your upgrade if you use miles, a Regional, or Global upgrade.

For Complimentary upgrades you must wait for the computer system to re-process you, even if upgrade inventory is available.

For upgrades confirmed with miles, a Regional, or Global upgrade, if you encounter a delayed or cancelled flight you may have luck getting rebooked in First / Business Class even if upgrade space is not available as a courtesy.

Companion Upgrades

As a Premier if a companion is traveling on the same reservation as you, your companion will be eligible to be upgraded with the same priority as you, though the two of you will be below all other Premier members within your level.

So if you are Premier Platinum you will have priority below all solo Premier Platinums, but ahead of Premier Golds. You can choose to split up your reservation if you don’t want to be weighed down in the priority by your companion. This feature is available automatically when you check-in, or you can request it on the phone. Your companion will lose upgrade privileges if you do this.

You can also use your miles, Global Upgrades, or Regional upgrades to upgrade anyone you’d like. If they are traveling in your reservation they will have the same waitlist priority as you. If they are not, they will have waitlist priority according to their own status in the United Premier program. Though until April 15, 2015 they will get the benefit of your priority.

Upgrades with Miles

We rarely advocate using miles to upgrade, as it’s often a bad deal on United thanks to hefty cash co-pays on top of the miles required. You’re often better off booking a Saver level Business or First Class award ticket outright.

And even when Business or First Class award space isn’t available, United offers a little known, but clearly documented way to get top waitlist priority (ahead of all upgrades) that we talk about here. So upgrading with miles is even less attractive with that alternative.

That said, below are the prices for upgrading Economy Class tickets with miles one-way of travel. You can check the latest prices and region definitions on the United website.

Domestic flights

Premier members can upgrade most domestic flights with miles, and no dollar co-pay. Non-Premier members need to pay a cash co-pay on top of the miles required. Here are the prices for a one-way upgrade – these exclude P.S. Premium Service flights between JFK and LAX / SFO:

  • Y: 7,500 miles + $0
  • B: 10,000 miles + $0
  • M, E, U, H, Q: 15,000 miles + $75
  • V, W: 17,500 miles + $75
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 20,000 miles + $75

Given United charges 25,000 miles one-way for a Saver First Class award outright, using 20,000 miles + $75 isn’t a great deal unless you really want to earn miles for the flight to qualify for Premier status.

P.S. flights

United’s P.S. flights form New York JFK to SFO and LAX operate with BusinessFirst lie-flat seats, and upgrades have an extra-high co-pay if you want to use miles. Premier members must pay the co-pay starting February 1, 2015. Here are one-way prices:

  • Y: 7,500 miles + $0
  • B: 10,000 miles + $0
  • M, E, U: 15,000 miles + $75
  • H, Q: 15,000 miles + $125
  • V: 17,500 miles + $175
  • W: 17,500 miles + $225
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 20,000 miles + $250

Again, United’s Saver Business Class 25,000 mile award is a much better deal than using miles to upgrade these flights unless you are on one of the more expensive Economy Class fares.


Trips involving flights between Honolulu and Newark, Washington Dulles, and Houston.

These are priced higher because they offer a BusinessFirst cabin with lie-flat seats and Premier members must also pay the co-pay.

  • Y: 20,000 miles + $0
  • B: 30,000 miles + $0
  • M, E, U: 30,000 miles + $300
  • H, Q: 30,000 miles + $375
  • V: 30,000 miles + $425
  • W: 30,000 miles + $475
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 30,000 miles + $500

Other Hawaii flights

Premier members do NOT have to pick up the co-pay for these flights.

  • Y: 10,000 miles + $0
  • B: 17,500 miles + $125
  • M, E, U: 17,500 miles + $125
  • H, Q: 20,000 miles + $125
  • V: 22,500 miles + $125
  • W: 25,000 miles + $125
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 27,500 miles + $125


Most upgrades from Economy Class require a co-pay in cash that is not waived for Premier members.

  • Y: 15,000 miles + $0
  • B: 20,000 miles
  • M, E, U: 20,000 miles + $300
  • H, Q: 20,000 miles + $425
  • V: 20,000 miles + $475
  • W, S, T, K, L, G, N: 20,000 miles + $550

For comparison, a one-way Saver Business Class award outright costs 57,500 miles in case you want to avoid paying $550 on the lowest fares. You can waitlist for Saver Business and First Class awards, even if they are not available, by using this method documented by United.

Central America, Caribbean, Northern South America

For Northern South America the co-pay is not waived for Premier members

  • Y: 10,000 miles + $0
  • B: 15,000 miles + $0
  • M, E, U: 15,000 miles + $125
  • H, Q: 17,500 miles + $125
  • V: 20,000 miles + $125
  • W: 22,500 miles + $125
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 25,000 miles + $125

Southern South America 

Premier members must pay the co-pay.

  • Y: 15,000 miles + $0
  • B: 25,000 miles + $0
  • M, E, U: 25,000 miles + $300
  • H, Q: 25,000 miles + $375
  • V: 25,000 miles + $425
  • W: 25,000 miles + $475
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 25,000 miles + $500

North Asia, South Asia, Australia

Premier members must pay the co-pay.

  • Y: 25,000 miles + $0
  • B: 30,000 miles + $0
  • M, E, U: 30,000 miles + $350
  • H, Q: 30,000 miles + $450
  • V: 30,000 miles + $500
  • W: 30,000 miles + $550
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 30,000 miles + $600

Central Asia, Middle East, Africa

Premier members must pay the co-pay.

  • Y: 25,000 miles + $0
  • B: 35,000 miles + $0
  • M, E, U: 35,000 miles + $350
  • H, Q: 35,000 miles + $450
  • V: 35,000 miles + $500
  • W: 35,000 miles + $550
  • S, T, K, L, G, N: 35,000 miles + $600




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62 thoughts on Getting upgrades on United. Everything you need to know from GPUs to miles and co-pays.

  1. luv2fly

    I cannot for the life of me find the “Fare Details” label when I am doing my search. I’m a 1K MM, and I have confirmed expert mode is on in my profile. But when I go to United’s website and search and look everywhere including the details button – nothing shows the Fare Details to click. I am doing fixed dates and clicking GPU upgrade and upgrade from econ to business. What am I missing??


      @luv2fly – It’s changed slightly with the new website. Click on ‘Details’ next to the flight duration and you’ll see it. Also make sure you’re searching for a cash, not award ticket. The expert mode fare details don’t display anymore for award searches. They only display for cash fare searches.

  2. Bikram

    Hello thanks for the helpful post – I am a 1K member and i signed in for expert mode using the link you provided. I am trying to go to Tel Aviv from LAX Sept 24th – Oct 3rd or 4th. I book economy and use the upgrade with GPU option and when the flights show I clicked details however I do not see the fare classes no matter what i do… not sure what I am doing wrong.




      @Bikram – Are you doing a search for a cash ticket or an award ticket? Searches for award tickets are buggy and don’t always show the fare classes. Try doing a search for a cash ticket on those dates to see the fare codes.

      1. Bikram

        Hi – thanks for the reply… I DID do the search for a cash ticket that’s why i found it weird that it was not showing up for me….I can try doing that again…Wait – i just figured out why and this MAY be helpful to others – I said my dates were “flexible” originally so it did not show up. When I used fixed dates it does! thank you so much!


  3. Philip Odle

    I’m flying from HNL to FLL (via ORD) on a Y class ticket. I requested an upgrade using miles after I purchased my ticket. I am confirmed in first class for the ORD to FLL portion and R class requested for the HNL to ORD portion. I’m a mileage plus member but have not achieved premier status level yet for this year . I’m unclear where I fit in on the priority ladder. Would complimentary upgrades be awarded to premier status members before I am cleared? Thanks.


      @Philip – Officially, because you are using an ‘instrument’ (miles) and your upgrade isn’t free, it should be prioritized above complimentary upgrades.

  4. Donna Anderson

    I received a complimentary upgrade and my mileage earning was reduced from 1,465 to 395 and the fare code was listed as ZL. I can’t find that fare code listed anywhere as a combination. Nor can I find anything that references a mileage reduction when you are upgraded. Does this make sense?


      @Donna Anderson – ZL refers to ‘L’ class that’s been upgraded.

      The 395 miles is probably the premier qualifying miles you earned. The 1,465 you saw was probably the regular award miles you earn. There’s no change in miles earned when you get upgraded.

  5. Roxy

    What fare class do I search for to use my GPUs? I am Premiere 1k…I have been told to search using “M” or “W” – however the fares seem ridiculously high or unavailable.


      @Roxy – It’s W or higher, so (from cheapest to most expensive) W, V, Q, H, U, E, M, B, or Y.

      Usually you’ll find a W, V, or Q fare on a flight.

  6. Tony

    If I use one of my Regional upgrades on a flight that right now has no first class availability (but this may change near the time of the trip) , will I lose it if I don’t get upgraded?


      @Tony – If none of your flights are upgraded, you’ll get the upgrade redeposited back in your account.

  7. fredro

    I found a First Saver Award (international) ticket with one stop- both on United. The international leg is in Global First, but the domestic is Economy. I was wondering if it was possible to upgrade the domestic leg, which is in Economy, to First (two cabin plane)? Can the 1K (yes I have the status) desk & ask to be waitlisted for an upgrade? Does United offer to sell upgrades on award tickets? Thanks


      @fredo – Yes they can waitlist you for that Economy segment. It’s technically not an upgrade since you’ve paid for a First Class award.

  8. SL

    Hello, thanks for this helpful article, my friend who is a 1K member sponsored my parents’ upgrades to business class using her GPU’s for flights from SFO to TPE. The departure leg from SFO has cleared but their return leg from TPE to SFO are waitlisted and the fare class codes look like this: F7FN7A6ON6O0J9JN9C9D9Z9ZN9P7PN0R0RN0 What do you think are their chances of getting upgraded? Thanks!


      @SL – Congrats on the upgrades on the way out for such a long flight. Impossible to say at this point, but J9/C9/Z9 indicates a not very full Business Class cabin, so wait and see, since things can change quickly right up until departure.

  9. James

    I have an upcoming award trip leaving OKC-SFO-NRT-stay-HND-FUK-BKK and return BKK-NRT-IAH-OKC. We’re staying in both Japan and Thailand. I have Silver Premier status and a United MileagePlus Explorer card. I’m a bit confused because I see some replies where it sounds like some Asia tickets are able to get upgrades but United’s chart shows none avail for Asia. Do I have any opportunities for an upgrade on the US to Asia or inter-Asia segments?


      @James – Is your award an Economy award or a Business award? There are no complimentary upgrades for Premier members on the inter-Asia or US to Asia flights. You’d need to book or waitlist a Business award to sit up front on those flights.

  10. Mrs. Clark

    I am currently a United Platinum Premier. As of January, I’ll drop down to Silver. If I book a flight today for myself and five companions to travel in 2016, upgrade everyone to economy plus, will we lose our seat assignments?

  11. Simon

    Trying to determine my upgrade eligibility/chances: I’m premier silver and already booked two (2) R/T economy award saver tix from IAD-AMS (with other stop overs in Europe) using 120,000 points total. Fare code is XN and award code in YC53. Available Fare Classes are all “9” including R9, J9, XN9

    (BTW I didn’t have enough points to reserve the Saver Economy space, but ticket it at the Saver First or Business Class price)

    Are there ways I can still upgrade or maximize my upgrade chances? Ideally before 24 hours prior? Thanks


      @Simon – Your only chance of upgrading would be to pay the Saver Business level of miles, plus a $50 change fee if it’s less than 21 days before departure.

  12. Chris

    Hi. I booked a roundtrip itinerary in economy:

    Depart: Dec 24 IAD-LAX-KOA (economy-Q)
    Return: Jan 2 KOA-SFO-IAD (economy-M) +1 day

    Passengers: 4

    So they changed the aircrafts and some times, and the first three flights are on 737’s and the last one got switched to a 3 class 772.

    I want to upgrade the return trip, Kona-SFO- Dulles because the last segment (SFO-IAD UA408) has flatbed in business. There are 9 seats available (no wait list). I tried to upgrade but it says I don’t have enough miles. It’s only 17,500 miles for each person, a total of 70,000 miles. I have 230,000 miles (non-premier status) . So why can’t I upgrade?

  13. vinka

    I have award tickets in economy and I have Chase United Explorer card. How to request to be added to upgrade waiting list?


      @vinka – Unfortunately you need to request Business Class award waitlist from the beginning if you’re holding an Economy seat. If it’s been more than 24 hours since you booked you’ll end up paying a change fee to adjust your ticket to be on the waitlist.

  14. Maru

    What’s the difference between R class requested, and Upgrade Requested? Which is better? I have 3 pax all travelling from HKG – SFO in K class, and have already paid the 30,000 miles + $600 upgrade fee for all of them. 2 of them show R class requested, and the other one shows Upgrade Requested.

      1. Maru

        Hi. These are two separate reservations. One has 1 Silver Premier, and 1 Gold Star Alliance (Platinum on ConnectMiles) this is the one showing R-upgrade requested, and the other reservation has a Silver Premier, which shows Upgrade Requested. Which should clear first, the R requested, or the Upgrade requested?


          @Maru – The United Premier Silver will have priority to clear before the others, which are not United Premier members. Additionally, that reservation has just one person, so it’s more likely to clear anyway as it’s possible they may only release one seat at a time.

  15. Jon Smith

    Hello There. I am booked on a V class ticket from ORD to FRA in september. I have requested upgrade to business using my miles (20,000 + $475). I see there are no “R” tickets available in expert mode, but plenty of J, C, D, Z, and P fare tickets. Since there are no “r” tickets am I out of luck, or is there a chance I move to business class? Also, when would I find out?


      @Jon – There is a chance they will open up ‘R’ and move you into Business. As long as your reservation shows both the ‘R’ and ‘V’ segments you are waitlisted, and if it opens up the computer will clear into Business Class. If you’re OCD, you can keep checking the flight as sometimes there is a lag between when ‘R’ opens up and the computer sweeps people off the wait list, so you could then call to request moving into ‘R’.

      1. Jon Smith

        Thanks for the response. On my reservation it shows two ORD-FRA flights. One of the flights shows my seat in 23D and the other shows Business class but no seat. It says upgrade requested on the flight info page. I only see a ‘V’ but do not see an “r” anywhere. Should I do anything while waiting? And, when will I find out if I was upgraded? I don’t know if I should check in online because if there is a chance I can buy an upgrade to business at the airport I might. However, I presume if someone can buy an upgrade they will upgrade me using my miles and $$? Thanks in advance

  16. Sandra Stark

    I’m trying to book an economy flight from O’Hare to Heathrow and upgrade to business class. I have plenty of miles and am willing to pay the $550 fees. Ideal dates would be Nov.10-16 but returning on the 17th is fine. Two days ago the second option had 9 upgrades available both ways. Now there are no upgrades available at all. What’s happening? do you have any advice? The company will reimburse me for whatever the economy fare is on the dates that I fly. Very helpful article, thanks.


      @Sandra – Would book that second option. The upgrade seats come and go, even if no one takes them, so if you see a lot of empty seats on the seat map may as well book that and get on the waitlist. Then if they happen to open up again you’ll be swept into business class.

      Also for you, book the most expensive economy fare you can, so the upgrade fee has a chance of being lower. You also get higher priority if you’re flying on a higher fare.

      1. MM


        I am taking a flight from O’hare to HEA as well,

        I am considering paying he upgrade fee, but I am curious as to weather this flight will be eligible for a CPU? Is there a place to go to find whether your flight is eligible? I am Premier Platinum, and both my flights there and back are very empty with lots of available space in business class.

  17. Cat P

    Great article, thanks! I’m a booking noob so I have a silly question. I’m looking to book SFO-KIX and was looking to see if I could upgrade using miles+copay, but of course that’s 30k miles and $600! It’s 12 hours of flying though so I’m feeling it might be worth it? Any thoughts? Either that or I can book economy saver but i don’t have enough miles for 2 people but enough for 2 upgrades on SFO->KIX. No upgrades available for KIX->SFO…and now I can use what i learned here to see other choices I might have!

  18. Jon

    I have purchased an economy plus ticket on an international flight (Asia -> US) and am thinking of trying an upgrade to business class (with miles + co-pays). Will my economy plus add-on ($200 or so) be refunded ? It seems so from United’s FAQ, but you can never be certain .,,


      @Jon – Yes it would refund be after your travel as long as it wasn’t a ‘complimentary’ upgrade – and using miles plus copay is not complimentary so you’re in good shape. Keep an eye on your card statement in the weeks after your trip.

  19. Laura

    Doing IAH to HND and found routing of IAH-SFO, SFO-HND where SFO-HND is R9. IAH-SFO is R0. Do I book this as a multi-segment trip or as a regular, with a connection? If I do multi-segment and apply the GPU, will it apply for the full IAH-SFO, SFO-HND way or just the SFO-HND? Understand that IAH-SFO would be a waitlist and SFO-HND should clear at booking. Want to do a similar thing coming back from PVG and want to be sure I do it correctly. Read a ton and still not sure.


      @Laura – Shouldn’t be a problem to book it as a regular with a connection as long as the IAH-SFO and SFO-HND are separate flight numbers. Just call in to apply the GPU if it doesn’t let you online.

  20. Jeff O'Harrow

    I have an award ticket from SFO – HND (Tokyo). 1) if there are business class seats available, would i be able to do a discounted cash upgrade at the gate? 2) what are the chances? i here they are taking them away


      @Jeff – Nowadays they tend to do those on the mobile app during the check in window, as well as at the airport kiosk and sometimes during web check in. No guarantees though. And they’re usually reserved for revenue tickets.

  21. Mags

    Dumb question. I have an opportunity to buy 15k miles for 2,500 which will put me in 1k with associated 6 GPU’s. I travel internationally a few times annually, but have zero interest in playing upgrade roulette. For such long flights at 6′ tall, I really prefer knowing I’m in business at the time of booking. Given that UA rarely shows any R inventory until the last minute – well after I’ve probably booked, is it really worth the price to reach 1k?


      @Mags – Tough to say. For that price you could probably find one ticket in business class outright, so that is 2 GPUs worth right there. Are you also willing to put off booking until closer to departure? Fares at the ‘W’ level are often available pretty close to departure.

  22. Matt

    I am a global premier member and have a p fare business class seat from iAd to Tokyo. Will I be available for an upgrade to first within the 5 day window?


      @Matt – Unfortunately no, ‘P’ fares aren’t eligible for Global Premier Upgrades. Though if you’re Global Services it can’t hurt to ask if you can apply one of your Global Premier upgrades.

  23. Lexi

    I am premier Gold status on United and I am flying EWR to HNL on an economy purchased ticket. I have a connection at LAX. Right now the EWR-LAX flight has a waitlist to upgrade but there are seats available to upgrade on the 2nd leg (LAX-HNL). If the upgrade list for EWR-LAX never clears will I have just wasted 27,500 miles on only one leg? Or will I get credited half the miles back?


      @Lexi – Unfortunately you wouldn’t get miles back in that case.

      Where it can work in your favor is if you have a trip with an international BusinessFirst segment, like LAX-EWR-London. If the EWR-London doesn’t clear, but the shorter LAX-EWR does, you’re only charged the coach price for the whole trip.

      But that’s only applicable for international itineraries with the ‘BusinessFirst’ cabin.

  24. L.J Tan

    Great information! Do you know when and how frequently United updates their R and RN numbers? I’m looking at international flights about 6 months out and every flight is R0 which I find hard to believe? Thanks!


      @LJ – They are constantly adjusting it, but unfortunately no way to tell if or when it will open up for the flights you want so far out. If you’re playing the W fare game with a Global Premier Upgrade, you’ll find waiting until much closer to departure often doesn’t hurt you on fare. And you’ll have a better sense of what flights have more seats available.

  25. SB

    There is J9 C9 D9 Z9 P9 for my international flight (6 weeks away) but also R0.
    Is there a chance that upgrade space will open up? I requested a GPU and am on the waitlist.


      @SB – Really still hard to tell, it’s a long ways out in the world of business class tickets, which can get bought up last minute by cash buyers.

      But certainly better to see 9s than lower numbers, so you have a shot.

  26. cafedante

    The link “we talk about here” under the Upgrades with Miles section above is incorrect. Does someone have the correct URL? Thanks.

  27. bernie stritzke

    As a 1K, If I book a N or G domestic fare ticket online and R is greater than 0, and I use a RPU, will I get immediately upgraded?


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