I posted yesterday that United would start offering all elite members unlimited complimentary upgrades starting next year, as opposed to the current system of supporting upgrades with “instruments.” Well, I was right for the most part. You can find all the details here.
First let’s start with the good news. United will be offering “unlimited complimentary” upgrades on flights from the lower 48 to Hawaii. Take that, Continental and Delta. United will also be offering “unlimited complimentary” companion upgrades for all elite members. Take that, American.
And that’s about it. Now let’s go with the bad news. No “complimentary” upgrades on Premium Service (between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco), both from coach to business and business to first. You’d have to use systemwide upgrades in that case. Furthermore, no more confirmed regional upgrades and no more 500 mile upgrades, although they can be used until they expire.
The FAQ’s seem to indicate that upgrades will be processed by status, then fare paid, and then time of booking, although it doesn’t clarify if that’s the case before departure management kicks in on the day of the flight. If that will always be the case this is a change of policy, so expect upgrades to get harder for all elites on lower fares (which I can’t blame United for).
So overall I’m very disappointed in the changes. I’ve always loved United’s upgrade system, so this change is for all of you that were complaining.
That being said, I think it was a smart move. United’s system was far too complicated for the average traveler, and a lot of people were put off by the fact that they’d “only” earn a limited number of upgrade instruments and were lured in by other carriers when they’re promised “unlimited complimentary upgrades.”
The only truly surprising news is that Premium Service is excluded. I would start writing your complaint letters about that now, as I think it has the potential to change, or at least for there to be some compromise. United didn’t think that one through carefully, in my opinion. As it is, there are tons of operational upgrades from coach to business and business to first on Premium Service because the coach cabin is so small. A good number of travelers upgrade on Premium Service, and I’d say well over 75% of them won’t anymore, given that they’d have to use a systemwide upgrade or pay a co-pay and use miles. Instead the premium cabins will now have empty seats and they’ll have to op-up more people to business and first class since coach is always oversold. No one wins.