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Mixed Cabin awards on United – Tactics to make sure you sit in Business or First Class

by on Mon February 16, 2015 • 40 Comments
Google+TwitterFacebookEmailLinkedIn is one of the easier places to search for award flights.

But if you’re on the hunt for the hardest to score awards, Business and First Class seats, you’ll probably run into this frustrating ‘Mixed Cabin’ message at some point:

It means that while you’re paying the full mileage price for a First or Business Class award ticket, part of your award is seated in Economy Class.

Most people who book these awards simply resign themselves to sitting in Economy Class for that part of the flight.

But that’s a missed opportunity, and you can move up to Business or First Class on a Mixed Cabin award without spending anything on change fees.

Here are two kinds of Mixed Cabin award situations and how to deal with them:

#1: The Economy Class portion is on a United flight.

If that’s the case, you can call United and ask to be put on the waitlist for First or Business Class. Unfortunately this isn’t an automatic process, and is by request only. But now that you’ve read this you’ll now to call and ask.

After your call, check your reservation on If you see the ‘class requested’ message below, you’re good to go.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 9.35.09 PM

Now you will have priority to get into First or Business Class when an award seat opens up. And if it doesn’t open up before the day of departure, your wait list will transfer over to the airport, with priority over upgrades.

So unless First or Business Class sells out entirely with paid cash tickets or the expensive ‘Standard’ awards, you’ll sit up front on your flight. There’s more detail on that in this post, including how to waitlist even of none of your trip is in First or Business Class.

#2. The Economy Class portion is on a non-United partner flight

This case is a little tougher.

United can’t waitlist you on partner flights, but it can move you from Economy to Business if an award seat opens up. They’ll do it free of charge since you’ve already paid the full business class price for your award.

So in this situation, keep checking the award availability on If the flight you’re on opens up, you can call in and ask to be moved to the cabin you paid for.

You can’t though switch to another airline and try to snag a seat there. That will land you with a change fee.

But knowing all of this, you can feel more confident choosing a ‘Mixed Cabin’ award in the future, with at least reasonable hope you could eventually end up in First or Business Class for the whole trip.



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40 thoughts on Mixed Cabin awards on United – Tactics to make sure you sit in Business or First Class

  1. Rimas

    Thanks so much for this information! Just wanted to give an update that this still works, but you may have to press the rep a bit for it:
    I booked a business saver rewards fare with one segment in the economy cabin. When I called United at first they said they do not waitlist upgrades for rewards tickets. I called back and got the same response from another rep. Then I explained that I was not asking to get onto the complimentary premier status upgrade list — instead, since I had paid for a business saver fare I should be eligible to upgrade to one if it becomes available for that segment. It took the agent a few minutes, but she said she “looked in a different place” and was able to add me to the waitlist. My reservation now indicates “(I class requested)” for that segment. Thanks again!

  2. Barbara

    If you book business class without points (cash) do you have to jump through these hoops?
    If the flight says mixed flight what does that mean? single cabin?
    Thank you.


      @Barbara – Probably means it’s a single cabin plane. Sometimes it’s a situation where first class is simply sold out, in which case you’d jump through the hoops to get waitlisted.

  3. Jeff

    Thanks for this info! I had booked 2 one way global first seats from Haneda to Denver with a layover in San Fran. The flight from SFO to DEN was economy, no saver space at the time of booking. Just read this and called United immediately. I was put on the waitlist and the rep made a point of saying he checked and there was no one else on the waitlist yet so we have a good shot of getting business seats if/when they become available, two cabin flight.

  4. Anna

    Do you know if this is still an option when booking a mixed cabin award? I just booked a mixed cabin award on United for a flight from Europe to the US West coast. The first flight from Europe to the East coast is in business first. The second flight from the East coast to the West coast is economy. When I called and asked to be put on the waitlist for first class, I was told that it wasn’t an option on that flight, only on the same flight that leaves much earlier in the day. Do I need to call and talk to someone else or have they changed their policy? Any help you can provide is much appreciated!


      @Anna – You might automatically be on the wait list – but worth calling and trying another agent. You paid for a first/business class flight, so if award space opens up it should be yours.

  5. Robert

    Purchasing a one way from DSM to SJU, and the Economy is 5K more miles than Mixed Cabin. Should I jump on this for an opportunity to fly one leg in First, or is there some kind of catch?


      @Robert – It probably means there is Saver First on one flight, but no Saver Economy on that flight. So an all Economy award can price higher than one with Saver First.


          @Robert – Make sure to call and waitlist for first class on the 2nd leg. No additional miles for that.

  6. Christianne

    Regarding mixed cabin Saver Awards ticket — flight from Paris (CDG) to San Francisco (SFO), I have Business confirmed for the CDG to EWR but Economy EWR to SFO. The ticket (miles deducted) is for Business Saver Awards all the way.

    I just called United and they said they can’t wait list me for Business (EWR-SFO). The agent told me to call back to check on availability. The agent confirmed if available I don’t need more miles. Do you know whether United really doesn’t do the kind of wait-list for mixed cabin anymore or the agent doesn’t know how to do it? If the latter, how can I teach them?


      @Christianne – No change there. Call back and try again. If you have a Saver Economy seat on that flight, you can waitlist for the Saver Business seat.

  7. Michelle

    i don’t have rewards to buy mixed class ticket with, it appears I can just purchase out right. Is this correct?


      @Michelle – A little confused – do you mean you don’t have enough miles? Where are you traveling to and from?

  8. sonja

    with a business saver award TPA to BRU, first part united is in economy, other 2 flights are business, what is the luggage allowance ? how can I make sure I can take 2 suitcases 70lb each home ?

  9. mulji

    I am travelling from Boston, Logan to Mumbai, Business class.
    From Boston to Newark, sector they shall put me on Economy class. Why ?
    Is there no business class for this local flight ?
    What shall be done?


      @muji – Sometimes there isn’t award space, or the flight is operated with a single cabin plane (no business class). If there isn’t award space, you can call and ask them to waitlist you so if the Business Class award space opens up you can be sweeped into it. Fortunately it’s a very short flight.

  10. robert

    looking to fly one way SYD – SFO Nov 2016. What are your thoughts the upgrade philosophy will work on a united non-stop flight (even if they might not ever release any biz saver seats)? The booking date has not even opened up yet but as I look through flights that are, there are no biz saver seats available only standard biz class and economy saver. Would this be considered risky or ??


      @robert – A long haul flight that far out where you don’t have any sense of how full it is will be risky. But if you have no other options with seats available (like via a connection) then better to waitlist than nothing. Remember that out of Australia all airlines have stopped imposing fuel surcharges, so if you have other miles or points give those consideration as well.

  11. robert becker

    used your advice last month and booked mixed cabine with a wait listed united segment (IN class requested). Went back to check on reservation tonight and now there are two flight segments for that same flight. One segment with economy (no longer stating (IN class requested )) and one segment first class stating “this flight segment is wait listed”. Is this what happens or did something change in my booking?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  12. Don

    I booked a 1st class (mixed cabin) award reservation from Denver to Maui. The 1st segment from Denver to San Francisco came up economy. Called United reservations and asked them to put me on the 1st class wait-list for that segment. First time I called early evening and got an agent in the Philippines. After she talked to her supervisor she said it was not possible to do that for award reservations… only paid reservations. Tried again the next morning and the agent said she had to talk to a supervisor because she thought they couldn’t do that anymore. Came back 5 minutes later and said she had put me on the wait-list. I immediately confirmed my reservation for that segment was now Economy (XN) – (I class requested). Pays to HUACA. Any way to know where I am on the wait-list?

  13. Mike

    Regarding mixed cabin award travel on United. I used miles to book a SAVER award travel from RDM to PVD with stops in SFO and IAD. The RDM to SFO and IAD to PVD legs have me booked in first class with the SFO to IAD leg in Economy (first class sold out). I have two questions:

    1. Should I be placed in Economy Plus instead of Economy seating for the SFO to IAD leg?
    2. Should my baggage be free since I’m eligible for a first class upgrade should a seat open up?

    Thanks in advance.


      @Mike – You won’t get free Economy Plus, but as for your baggage – if you’re in first class for the first segment of that direction then you’ll get the first class allowance all the way through that direction.

  14. Daniel Maxwell

    in the event of over booked flight, is there a difference between Award Saver first class ticket and standard First Class ticket, as to who gets bumped?

    I believe bump rules are based on purchase price of tickets, he who pays the least is bumped first.

  15. Michael

    I have no status with United and just two months ago I was able to upgrade a feeder flight from econ to business. Today I tried again on another leg of the same flight and was told I need to pay a $75 fee. Was I lucky the first time or do I need to call again until I find an agent that will do the change?


      @Michael – Try another agent if the award had the business class number of miles deducted already.

  16. Meg

    Looking at booking 2 tickets on UA, via Krisflyer points, to fly from the mainland to HI. As expected, I’m seeing a good bit of availability but only in the form of mixed cabin saver awards. Does the waitlist process described above change at all since I’m using another carrier’s points to book on UA metal? Thanks in advance; this is my first attempt at doing anything remotely like this, so want to make sure I get it right!


      @Meg – You would be under Krisflyer, rather than UA’s rules. With them you wouldn’t be able to waitlist. But if the space opens up later and you notice it, you could call Krisflyer and ask to change. If they end up charging a change fee it will be quite small, around $20.

  17. Jung

    I had a long haul flight , entire trip was like from iah to bali with lay over in Toronto and stop over in Taipei, then openjaw from Shanghai back to Iah with layover in Chicago. The entire segment except Chicago to Houston was in business. The chicago to Houston had me on PR-1 status, but the flight was overbooked and never gotten upgraded so we had to sit in coach class. I called back United customer and mileageplus line, both deny me for the mileage refund saying if there’s no seat I won’t be eligble for refund since its longhaul flight and last segment considers as layover.

    Is this valid ?


      @Jung – Yes, as you got the Shanghai to Chicago in Business no refund was due. If the ‘BusinessFirst’ segment clears, you pay the full amount.

      But it benefits the other way around. If you only clear into First on the domestic portion, but are stuck in Coach on the BusinessFirst overwater portion, you only pay the Economy class mileage.

  18. Keith

    Hi Milescard – Mobes here again! We are getting closer to booking our trip from CMH to KOA and we face the dreaded mixed itinerary. Here is my plan. Please let me know if I’m missing anything.

    I am going to book online first knowing that possibly only one part of our trip may be in 1st Class. One thing I don’t recall is if we can book Economy Plus online for the other segments in case we don’t clear to 1st?? If so, I will do that as well in hopes of still clearing. I will still do this via phone if needed. I’m sure I’ll need to call United for my refund for Economy Plus if we are moved to 1st Class.

    Once I book online, I will call and request the 1st Class priority waitlist for the economy portion of our trip. As I understand it, I should not have to pay a fee for doing this either. Does this sound right? Am I missing anything? Thanks for your help! I enjoy reading your blogs and the great information you share.


      @Keith – Your plan is sound. No fee to call and get added to the wait list, and yes you can add Economy Plus online while you book. Just click on the seats you want. When you call for the waitlist make sure you ask them if they way they set it up is in a manner that will transfer to the airport list if it doesn’t clear by 24 hours out.

  19. Dave

    When using United saver business award prices to book econ saver awards with a spot on the waitlist for business, how do we get our miles refund if no business spots open up?


      @Dave – If it’s an international trip with a BusinessFirst cabin (so to Europe, Asia, Middle East, Australia, deep South America), they will refund the extra miles after the flight if you are not upgraded on the long segment, even if the connecting shorter segment is upgraded. For all other types of trips, like domestic or to Hawaii, you will be charged the full price if any one segment is upgraded.


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