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How to read United Expert Mode fare codes (illustrated)

by on Fri October 2, 2015 • 16 Comments

unitedplane’s Expert Mode gives you access to a detailed view of United fare class inventory that’s typically only seen by United reservation agents (you can skip ahead to see a list of United fare classes here).

The cryptic combinations of letters and numbers are incredibly useful for helping figure out which flights have space for upgrades, where award space is hiding, and whether you have a decent shot of standing by for a flight all in one quick glance.


Expert Mode visible on a search

We’ll explain how to set up Expert Mode below, but before that, read on for an illustrated rundown of what all the United fare classes mean.

> What are the United Economy, Business, and First Class fare classes?

> How to tell how many seats are left for sale (helpful for standby odds)

> Where to see how many Saver award seats are available

> Where to see how many Standard award seats are available

> How to see if upgrade space is available

> How to enable Expert Mode

> Complete fare class list

> Upgradable fare classes


United flights have up to 3 classes of service: First Class (which is either the first cabin you see on a domestic flight, or the ‘Global First Class’ you see on international flights, Business Class (for international flights, and sometimes used for domestic first class), and Economy Class.

Each letter represents a different fare or award level within each class of service, and when you see them on Expert Mode they’re arranged from left to right beginning with First Class, and ending with Economy Class as illustrated above.


One of the most useful things you can do with Expert Mode is get a sense of how full a flight is in case you want to gauge your chances of clearing standby.

  • The numbers next to each letter represent the number of tickets available for sale in a fare bucket.
  • The largest number you’ll ever see is 9, which means there are 9 (or more) tickets available. So if you see ‘Y9’ there are 9 or more coach tickets left for sale. And if you see ‘Y5’ there are exactly 5 seats left for sale.
  • If you’re trying to figure out how many seats are left in each cabin of the plane overall, focus on the letters F, J, and Y that are circled above (F for First Class, J for Business Class, and Y for Economy Class).

Tip: Airlines often sell more tickets than there are actual seats, so the numbers you see aren’t the number of seats left. They represent the number of seats they are willing to sell. If you see a flight with all ‘0’ it means there are no seats left for sale, and it’s possible the flight is oversold.

Tip: A flight that shows all ‘9’s is more likely to be less full than one that shows ‘9s’ for the first few buckets, and smaller numbers for the rest. That means that even the lowest fares haven’t yet sold out, which is often the case on less than full flights.


If you’re trying to figure out whether a flight you want has the lowest priced Saver award seats available, or how many award seats are left, Expert Mode can be a big help.

We’ve circled them above, but the letters that represent award seats are O (Global First Class), IN (Business Class / Domestic First Class for Premier Platinum or higher members), I (Business Class / Domestic First Class), XN (Economy Class extra availability for Premier members or if you have a Chase United credit card), and X (Economy Class).

If you’re looking for Saver Level Business Class, but it’s not available on the flight you want, there’s a special way to waitlist for it.


Sometimes you’re willing to pay up for more expensive awards, and in that case you’ll want to see how Standard award availability is shaking out.

  • If you are a Premier member or Chase United credit card holder, you’ll have access to the very last seat on the plane in Economy Class, and that’s represented by the YN code.
  • If not, Standard Economy Class award space is made available via the HN code.
  • Global First Class uses FN, and for Business Class / Domestic First Class it’s ZN (it’s JN if you’re a Premier Platinum or higher).


If you’re hoping to upgrade with miles, certificates, or via a complimentary upgrade option, Expert Mode can give you a sense of whether a flight has upgrades available before you decide to book. (We also have a guide on navigating all the ways to upgrade United flights)

  • The most common upgrade class is ‘R’, which is what most MileagePlus members will need to use miles or a certificate to upgrade from Economy Class.
  • If you’re a Global Services member, you have access to additional upgrade space via the ‘PN’ class. And that space is also available if you’re a regular Premier level flier on a ‘Y’ or ‘B’ fare as a complimentary upgrade, or a 1K member on an ‘M’ fare.
  • If you’re hoping for your Premier level complimentary upgrade (with no miles or certificates needed), you can keep an eye on ‘RN’ space, though it really won’t do you much good. Even if space is open and you haven’t cleared, United agents aren’t allowed to clear any upgrades into ‘RN’ space manually. The computer system has to take care of it.
  • Upgrades into ‘R’ using miles or certificates can be cleared manually, so if you see space there you can grab it.

Enabling Expert Mode

You can enable Expert Mode by following this link to set your search preferences.

It will ask you to login with your MileagePlus account number.

Then, scroll down the page to the ‘Expert Features’ section, and you’ll see a check box where you can acknowledge all the caveats of Expert Mode.


Once you do that, you’ll see the fare code details whenever you click the ‘Details’ arrow while searching for flights on


Full fare code list

If you’re a true geek, here’s a list of what each of the fare codes typically maps to via Flyertalk.

  • F – First Class (full fare)
  • FN – First Class (standard level award)
  • A- First Class (discount fare)
  • ON – First Class (First Class upgrade from Business Class)
  • O – First Class (saver award)
  • J – Business Class (full fare)
  • JN – Business Class (standard level award)
  • C – Business Class (full fare)
  • D – Business Class (full fare)
  • Z – Business Class (discount fare)
  • ZN – Business Class (standard level award)
  • P – Business Class (discount fare)
  • PN – Business Class (Global Services upgrade – both paid and award tickets, Y/B/M fare upgrade)
  • R – Business Class (upgrade from Economy – miles / instrument – note Global Services members can also book a saver business class award if ‘R’ class is available by calling the Global Services desk)
  • RN – Business Class (upgrade from Economy – Complimentary Premier)
  • IN – Business Class (saver award – Platinum Premier or higher)
  • I – Business Class (saver award)
  • Y – Economy Class (full fare)
  • YN – Economy Class (standard award – Premier and Chase credit card holders)
  • B – Economy Class (full fare)
  • M – Economy Class (full fare)
  • HN – Economy Class (standard award)
  • E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G, N – Economy Class (discount fare)
  • XN – Economy Class (saver award – Premier and Chase credit card holders)
  • X – Economy Class (saver award – note Global Services members can also book a saver economy award if ‘T’ class is available by calling the Global Services desk)

What fare classes are upgradable?

All fares are upgradable with miles plus a cash copay, or a Regional Premier Upgrade.

If you’re using a Global Premier Upgrade for a long haul international flight, these fare classes are available for upgrades:

  • Economy to Business: Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W
  • Business to First: J, C, D



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16 thoughts on How to read United Expert Mode fare codes (illustrated)

  1. Steve

    I just made Global Services due to work travel and began to explore the potential benefits. This got me to expert search mode and fare codes, which got me to this fine article. Thanks very much for the time you took to pull it together!

    I am trying to work through a practical example to better understand how the fare codes work in practice. I have the fortune to have a reservation I need to make that is still several months out and just a local, US trip. Nothing fancy. My goal would be to book sooner rather than later in such a way that would maximize my chance to be upgraded to first for the cheapest ticket or award vehicle possible. I’ve never booked a “Saver” fare or anything, so the entire process is unfamiliar to me.

    For my flight, from IAD to MCI, I am seeing these fare codes:

    Available fare classes: F6, A5, JN6, C6, D5, Z4, ZN4, P3, PN0, R0, RN0, IN0, I0, Y9, YN9, B9, M9, E9, U9, H9, HN9, Q9, V9, W9, S0, T0, L0, K0, G0, N9, XN0, X0

    So I am seeing ZN and JN which I think means:

    a) they are actually the same seats, Business Class (standard level award), and
    b) I could book using awards miles for a seat in this cabin.

    Likewise, YN and HN which also are the same seats (in Economy) and means I could use awards for an Economy seat, right?

    So with this seat availability information, what would I do to book a seat at a certain fare class and either minimize my cost (in miles or $), maximize my upgrade possibility (ideally, complimentary), or both?


      @Steve – Would just buy the cheapest coach fare and rely on the fact that you’ll be near the top of the upgrade priority and clear into ‘PN’ space when the complimentary upgrade window opens.If ‘R’ opens up you can book a saver business award for 25k miles one way, but it’s more likely ‘PN’ will be available for a free upgrade from a coach ticket as you get within a week of the flight. 25k miles for a business class seat just isn’t worth it on such a short flight.

      As a Global Services awards come from this inventory:

      Economy – XN/X, or if T is available you can call to force into X
      Business – IN/I, or if R is available you can call to force into I

  2. Tim

    Wonderful article! My question is whether the number can be duplicated–as an example, I see F1, A1, JN1, C1 and D1. Could they all be referring to the same seat?


      @Tim – Yes – it means there is one seat left, and they are willing to sell it for as cheap as the ‘D’ class.

  3. Tom

    2 questions:
    First, the expert mode seems to stop working as soon as I try to do anything else on the page (like sort, or even get flight details for a flight), and I have to go back and re-do my search. Is this expected?

    Second, I was checking for some possible award flights the other day using the regular award seat search, and noticed that there were business saver award seats available on a flight where the only award-related code available was JN. According to the list above, that is for standard awards, not saver. Do they make exceptions, or was this a glitch?


      @Tom – Interesting that only JN was available. Was it a connecting flight? Maybe it was showing space for the connecting flight instead.

      As for the expert mode information disappearing, it works best when you’re using a search for cash flights, rather than award flights. Expert mode is buggy when you’re in award flight mode.

  4. Jack

    This is a really good explanation of this topic – thanks!!
    However, I can’t seem to see the fare classes after enabling “expert mode”:
    I’m logged in to my MP account, searched for a flight, clicked [details], but nothing appears below the “WiFi” icon besides a comment about a long layover etc.
    I’ve tried several flights (MIA-SEA, BOS-SFO, RDU-SFO) and none had the fare classes listed.

    What am I missing here?

    1. Jack

      So I went ahead and checked again through a Firefox rather than Chrome, and I do see the fare classes listed!

      (BTW – I thought it was ad-blockers but neutralizing them didn’t change this behavior of Chrome)


      @Jack – Are you doing an award flight search or a regular cash ticket search? Right now Expert Mode doesn’t display for award searches, but it will if you do a regular cash ticket search.

  5. Ashley

    Hello, I’ve been trying to find business saver rewards on the United DEN to NRT route in October/November (dates are flexible). So far no luck, only seeing I0 (we don’t have status) in the expert mode. Does this mean that they’ve all been used up and there won’t be more in the future, or does United tend to keep releasing some as time goes by? Thank you!

  6. Neerav

    I have turned on expert mode, but it seems that instead of seeing the codes which you have so thoroughly described, I am only able to see the actual seats available, not the fare classes. Is there something I might have missed? Or has United changed what they display since the writing of this article 6 months ago?


      @Neerav – Right now there’s a glitch with expert mode. It seems to only display for some connecting flights. Let’s see how long it takes to get fixed.

  7. glly

    None…!!! I still can’t figure it out because like I say I don’t have status on United…as I mentioned, I only have status on Lufthansa).

    In theory, if they were going to take miles, it should have happened when I was put on the waitlist, right? I have read on your blog about how people then have to call to ask for the miles to be put back if they don’t clear the list. Well, it didn’t happen immediately (the CSR seemed surprised when it went through for free, but we just called it a win and let it go), I was in “R class requested” status for 2 weeks or so and nothing changed, and like I said the upgrade went through today…and still no miles charged. No idea how or why, but Merry Christmas!

    The only guess I have is that because it’s a complex ticket with multiple segments (these being the last) and I have all the miles going to Lufthansa and I’m STAR ALLIANCE silver…somehow that plus B fare equaled the equivalent of a complimentary premier upgrade…? Or system glitch in my favor!

  8. glly

    I had something very odd happen in terms of upgrade/fare classes and thought maybe you could shed some light (or you might find it interesting). Flying GYD-FRA-IAD. For background, I have the Chase United card and a bunch of United miles (from the card), but silver status on Lufthansa (only…as my UA miles go to Miles and More when I fly). Anyway, online it was showing a possible waitlist for miles upgrade for the FRA-IAD segment, but my ticket (B class) should only cost 20k miles, right? Online it was pricing it at 35k even though GYD-FRA upgrade wasn’t available (for cash or miles). This clearly a glitch as it was pricing from ME. So I call United and ask to be charged the correct 20k miles for the upgrade (to be clear: to be put on the waitlist which was all that was available). The rep goes to manually make the change and instead it just goes through for free without charging any miles. It said “R class requested.” She couldn’t explain why. (I can only assume it is some complimentary combination of silver status on LH, United Chase card, and B fare…I could have inquired further, but decided not to rock the boat).

    Reading through your blog, I decided to try to track…I’m flying during the holiday season and wondered if I would get lucky or not. I changed to expert mode (thanks for that) and have been checking the fare classes over the last couple of weeks (since I requested to be put on the waitlist). Today it changed from R0 to this

    Available fare classes:F2 FN2 A2 ON0 O0J9 JN9 C9 D9 Z8 ZN8 P8 PN5 R5 RN5 IN5 I4 Y9 YN9 B9 M9 E9 U9 H9 HN9 Q9 V9 W9 S9 T9 L9 K9 G0 N0 XN9 X9

    And I mean changed within two searches I did! So I caught it within minutes of R opening up. I called immediately and after being on hold for 25 minutes, got through to reservations, and they put my upgrade through (why it did not go through automatically was a cause of mystery to the CSR, but she just put it through and let it go). Yay! Now the expert mode search shows R4…It’s all true!! Anyway, not sure if you have any idea what happened or why, but thought I would share.


      @glly – Really cool, congrats on that. Sounds like a lucky time more than anything. How many miles did they end up taking out?


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