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Is upgrading to United Global First Class worth it?

by on Fri August 7, 2015 • 4 Comments


If you book a lot of United awards you’ll often find flights that have seats available in ‘Global First’ instead of just ‘Business First,’ which is United’s Business Class.

They cost more…

  • To Europe you’ll pay an extra 22,500 miles one way over the 57,500 mile Saver Business Class price.
  • And to Japan for example you’ll pay an extra 15,000 miles one way over the 65,000 mile Saver Business Class price.

United offers Global First on its legacy United Airlines 777-200 and 747-400 aircraft, with 8 and 12 seats respectively, as well as some 767-300 aircraft, though those are being retrofitted to remove Global First seating.

Both BusinessFirst and Global First offer full flat bed seats, which begs the question: what do you get for the extra miles in Global First?

Here’s a rundown…

Private check-in

When traveling on a Global First ticket you can use United’s Global Services check-in facilities, which offer a private lobby for checking in and access to a special security lane that puts you ahead of the standard priority lane. Global Services check-in facilities are available at Newark, Chicago, and San Francisco airports.

UA_NewarkAmenities-524x210 (1)

Better lounge access

When flying Global First you’ll get to use United’s Global First lounges, which are available at Washington Dulles, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong airports.

You’ll find better champagne and wine (often $20-$40 a bottle wine, and Ruinart or similar quality champagne), a selection of appetizers like sushi, hot soup, and premium self service liquor. Some lounges like Chicago’s offer priority boarding onto the adjacent gate.

The lounges are nice, but they’re not nearly as nice as the Centurion Lounges offered by American Express to Platinum Card holders, so in San Francisco for example you’re probably better off visiting there.

The big benefit though is the lounges are less crowded making it easier to find a seat.

A more private seat

This is the most important reason to consider Global First over Business Class. There are no middle seats, and every seat has direct access to the aisle.

United’s Global First suite dates back to 2007, but is nicely appointed, and while it doesn’t have the privacy dividers of airlines like Emirates or Etihad, you’ll have plenty of room to stretch out and store your personal items without feeling cramped.

You’ll also be offered a mattress pad when you’re ready for bed, making your seat extra soft for sleeping.

Seats offer 78 inches of legroom, which is officially only 2 inches more than Business class, but you have more width and storage, keeping you further away from your neighbor, especially if you get a solo window seat.

You’ll also enjoy a larger amenity kit than what’s offered in BusinessFirst.


If you’re on a 777 aircraft with 2 – 4 – 2 seating in BusinessFirst, the comparison to Global First is striking, which significantly less width in BusinessFirst, making Global First well worth it on long hauls to the Middle East and Asia.

Barely upgraded food and wine

Here’s where the differences erode.

You’ll be offered the same salad, main course, and dessert as in BusinessFirst class, even with the same sized portions.


The difference is you’ll be offered a hot (often fried) appetizer instead of a chilled one, and you’ll be given a small cup of soup.



The wine is also disappointingly similar to BusinessFirst, with many selections identical and slightly better champagne.

So if you’re on the fence, upgrade to Global First if it’s an extra long flight, you want some rest, and don’t expect a better meal. That way you won’t come away disappointed.

And enjoy it while it lasts, as United is starting to phase it out of its 767s and will eventually lose it on its 777s and 747s in the years ahead.

You can use the trick to waitlist for Saver level seats for Global First just as you can for BusinessFirst, so it’s not hard to score a seat even when it’s not showing immediately available.

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4 thoughts on Is upgrading to United Global First Class worth it?

  1. Marianne Knudsen

    Dear ” Helpers” I just wonder if anyone would pay an extra 400$ pr.pers to fly 1.class United Airlines 737-900 from SFO to ACH ?

    Marianne Knudsen


      @Marianne – Probably not, as that is not the overwater segment. The 737-900 would just be the segment within the U.S. Perhaps consider buying extra legroom in Economy Class, preferably away from the lavatory.

  2. Adam

    Happy to share my experience flying UA SFO-LHR in Global First:

    – Lounge was nice, IMHO, actually more enjoyable than the Centurion Lounge; better spread of food (including several reasonably decent though not great sushi choices) and a much more relaxed, quiet atmosphere.

    – The seat on the plane is MUCH nicer for sleeping than on UA Business First. Both seats are laughably narrow compared to many international airlines’ offerings (as in, at least 30% narrower than Singapore’s *business class* seats!), but given the more open 1-1-1 layout, one can sleep on one’s side much more comfortably in Global First vs. Biz First!

    – Didn’t really notice any other significant differences, frankly. And unless I really 1) have to fly UA AND 2) absolutely have to get more sleep, I’ll be flying something else. When you consider that LAX-NRT in an SQ *suite* is just 74K miles vs. 80K for UA Global First, well… dang, that’s a no-brainer! 😮


      @Adam – Thanks for the experiences. Yes…if you’ve got transferable points it’s a whole different equation with Singapore in the mix as an option.


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