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United’s new CEO wants it to be more upgrade friendly?

by on Thu January 21, 2016 • 30 Comments


During today’s United Airlines earnings conference call, its new CEO Oscar Munoz, who recently went through heart transplant surgery, said something every United Premier member wanted to hear.

He said he knows the difficulty clearing upgrades is a “particular sore subject” with United’s most valuable fliers, and he wants to work on addressing that, noting the balance of selling more First Class seats versus upgrades is a “very important one that we have to strike.”

In fact, he even interrupted his head of revenue, Jim Compton, to weigh in on the subject.

Compton was explaining the internal debate going on about the lifetime value of United’s Premier members, who value complimentary upgrades, versus selling more first class seats for cash.

This was in response to a question from a Wall Street analyst who asked if United would start disclosing the percentage of First Class seats it actually sells, something Delta has been touting recently.

You can read the full transcript of the remarks here.

United could be thinking of offering discounted First Class upgrade prices to Premier members, or it could be thinking of making more space available for complimentary upgrades overall.


United’s new first class seats.

This is the first clear indication we’ve seen that United doesn’t necessarily plan to follow Delta’s path, which is toward a world where it will be nearly impossible for many of its most frequent fliers to score complimentary upgrades.

Delta is hoping to sell 70% of its First Class seats by 2018, reducing the number of seats left for upgrades by 24%.

It also comes as United this week has started giving its top level Premier 1K and Global Services fliers free food in Economy Class on flights within North America.

United also disclosed something else that should make frequent fliers happy.

It admitted that an unreliable operation has cost it real revenue over the years, and is working to fix that, and up its game.

Because all the upgrades in the world don’t help when your flight is 4 hours late and there’s nothing left to rebook you until the next day.

There’s fresh air over at United, and as its Houston hub struggles with the slump in the energy industry, it’s time for it to be more generous and win back from the competition.


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30 thoughts on United’s new CEO wants it to be more upgrade friendly?

  1. Brian Hopkins

    Checking in two years later and this is a complete fail. United makes every effort to sell all its first class seats by progressively lowering prices until 100% are gone. I have been unable to use my upgrade certs as a 1K / million miler this year, in every case losing out to revenue. This 2016 post gave me hope that is now dashed on the rocks of revenue reality. Problem is AA and Delta are no better hope one of them does the math more accurately an offers to win me back. Domestic upgrades are a huge part of the high tier FF experience.

  2. Tawney

    I’m very excited for all these new changes! The new CEO seems to really understand what the customers are looking for. I understand it will be a long process, but they can do it. Free upgrades should be for GS and 1K only, they’ve earned it. The rest can pay for the upgrade

  3. Bob

    I will give United another chance now that they have gotten rid of that good for nothing idiot Smisek, but ever since they totally screwed me over I have given myself my own upgrade and it’s called Southwest Airlines. This has cost United a thousands of dollars in lost revenues.

  4. Jim

    United rocks! I’ve had status with Delta, American, and United and United by far takes the best care of their top customers. Adding in the complimentary food and an alcoholic beverage when flying in coach is just another nice perk. The Red Carpet Clubs are serving good food and snacks, such as wholesome oatmeal in the mornings, and hummus and veggies in the afternoon. As far as upgrades go, I find that I am upgraded about 70% of the time. That is incredibly generous. In return, I give away my upgrade about 25% of the time. I *ALWAYS* give up my seat for a soldier in uniform. I will *ALWAYS* give up my seat for any wounded veteran. I will give up my seat for any elderly veterans wearing a hat or a jacket that indicates their service. And I will give up my seat sometimes when I already have a good seat in coach and get a last minute upgrade. I will offer the upgrade to someone else around me. United takes great care of me. I like to share the generosity.

    1. Frank

      That is totally false. When my flight from NY to Greece was canceled due to mechanical problems they refused to give me a seat on their next flight out because it was in business class and I was originally booked in economy. When I suggested that they bump one of their best customers (FF) to the open business class seat and place me in economy they laughed at me and said that would never happen because they could potentially sell that seat for $10,000. Worst customer service ever!!!

  5. Connie

    Became a United flyer after the merge. Was a very long time Continental Premier flyer. Always felt felt the merger resulted in taking the worst from each airline instead of the best. The merger could have created the best airline and instead resulted in a downgrade for both the prior United and Continental loyal customers. Bring back international complimentary upgrades. I can never get a comp upgrade within the US on the 30+ flights I take every year, so why not upgrade me on my four international flights a year where there are always available seats? You can even give me the economy meals, I just like the extra space, especially overnight flights.

  6. End comp upgrades

    Get rid of complimentary upgrades. As a almost a million miler, I pay for the premium cabin for the extra space. I personally hate sitting next to someone who paid 200 but got a free upgrade. It takes away from the product that I just purchased. Go back to pre merger days and bring back the regional upgrades that you can purchase. This way the person can choose when they want to upgrade when they book their trip.

    1. cj

      That makes you snob, and typical of whats wrong with America today…
      I got mine so to hell with anyone else who might get a deal better than I did.


    2. John

      I could not agree with you more on this. The other day I paid 1k for a full fare FC ticket and my seat got bumped to a window last row seat in FC. Yes it still is first class but I paid for that seat a lot of money and they had 9 upgrades on the list and only 12 seats in FC. Almost everyone got upgraded and did not pay and took my seat. I had this convo with the flight attendants before and they used to be able to see who purchased a full fare ticket but can’t anymore. They should lower these upgrades if anything. Anyone that is global services has earned that by buying first class tickets not coach tickets, they have to spend minimum 50-75k a year with untied. I have sent many emails about bad experience with paid FC tickets vs comp upgrades, these people that are high fliers are getting the cheapest tickets! You always get what you pay for…

  7. Greg

    Things I would like to see.
    A monthly subscription for your in flight Internet service.
    A premier level above 1K. Maybe a 150,000 or something between 1K and the elusive Global Service.

  8. Tom Henderson

    United has totally botched customer goodwill. The FF program has become untenable. I don’t mind sitting in the back of the bus these days, having saved literally thousands and thousands and thousands. No one really cares there, anymore. There’s lots of lip service, lots of feel-good for analyst calls, but the reality is that the system is very, very sick. In a quest to goose profits and rough mergers, United’s clientele has felt the brunt of their missteps. I burned off the fat remainder of my FF miles, and now United has been relegated to the bin of a vast pool of eager competitors. Star Alliance once was powerful and meant something. United’s “value proposition” has gone. Gone, gone, gone. And they don’t care.

  9. Christopher

    I was trying to deal with United today on expired miles. I was told if I could show something for the time period they would reinstate the miles. Today they told me they couldn’t and the only way to get them back would be to purchase them back. I’m ready to never fly United Airlines again and just fly Delta. They have been better to deal with.

  10. Roopa

    Being a 2 million mile flyer seems to get you very little over a 1 million mile flyer. Why is being consistently loyal for longer not rewarded?

  11. Richard G

    I am a United 100K passenger and I do get a more than fair amount of upgrades. My complaint is in nearly ever other area. Telephone agents are very helpful but I find gate and counter agents could care less who the customer is. American is by far a much better carrier for frequent flyers. Every AA employee seems to appreciate the good customers.

    1. H. Harwood

      Premier Boarding is a sold service with holding certain United credit cards; it’s not a free rewards program… it’s paid for by the consumer. United isn’t going to change that; they’ll lose consumers of the card brand and the money they rake in with it.

    2. doc

      I agree! I’m “only” gold, but the lane 2 people are almost all credit card holders who rarely fly. They actually brag about it in the line. And Chase has super high standards for credit cards, so I can’t get one. One flight ( I do around 60 a year), there were 89 people in cattle car 2, but only 12 on the upgrade list, so most of the rest had to be credit card folks.

  12. John C

    I quit flying United at much as I could in 2015 and switched to Southwest where I quickly got Companion pass and A-list preferred. I am million miler on United and I may never go back. Southwest takes getting used to but I love it now

  13. Mike

    Why doesn’t United just go back to upgrade certificates? Premier members use to receive four free certificates per 10,000 miles flown on United and it leveled the playing field for all Premier members. Since revenue is the name of the game I’m shocked United did away with the upgrade certificates. I’m 1K and trust me it’s harder and harder to score any upgrade be that using miles, a global or regional certificate, and you can almost kiss a complimentary upgrade good-buy since United has lowered its First Class prices. I did much better as a Permier Executive back in the day buying upgrade certificates. Sadly I guess Unitrd values a one time revenue First Class passenger over a 28 year Premier customer. I miss the old days when Premier truly meant something to United, heck I miss the old United Airlines when things made sense…


      @Mike – Seems the lower first class prices is the bigger change since then – and that’s an issue at all the airlines. Though United appears to be more aggressive with the selling on the cheap the day of departure.

    1. Andrei Cobbs

      1K fliers and GS fliers get their drinks free if they are seating in coach. The flight Attendants can pull it up on their Link phones..


        @Andrei – Looks like it hasn’t been communicated very consistently, as that’s been in place for a few months now.

        1. Amanda

          Actually it was emailed out to all of 1k several months ago. And just today the emailed again about the drink as well as the new addition of a free snack.

      2. Night Owlette

        The United app on the Link does not work half the time in flight, and that is likely why the flight attendants do not know where the 1K’s and GS fliers are sitting. The Link has many bugs that need to be solved.

  14. Pamela Wright

    Hello you should start an 5 to 10 potluck pick first class and they will like it they would put the word out about your first class and then people would want to try it out ,..I know I would love to try it, look great,..keep up the good work, ..


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