United keeps raising those “W” fares!

I realize this isn’t a new phenomenon, but I don’t travel United a whole lot internationally on revenue fares. I do remember a few years back, however, when “W” fares, the minimum fare class required to upgrade internationally with a systemwide upgrade, were reasonable. Three or four years back, a “W” fare from San Francisco to London was under $500. Tampa to London or Frankfurt was under $600.

Now I’m looking at “W” fares to London totally off season, and they’re around $950. And let’s not even discuss Australia, which has seen an insane increase in the cost of “W” fares. I guess from a supply and demand standpoint, I can rationalize this. United has a new business class product which has resulted in substantially fewer premium cabin seats and theoretically higher demand. Someone’s gonna get those seats, so would you rather see a lot of people not clear their upgrades, or would you rather charge people more? And I think the answer is obvious, so it’s not that I’m trying to blame United for playing games here.

Don’t get me wrong, United is still much better than Delta, where an upgradable fare using their upgrade certificates is typically $2,000+, but at the same time there’s American. There’s a good chance I’ll need to be traveling to Germany more often than I already do starting next year, and if that’s the case, I’m not going to constantly be using award tickets. American has no restrictions on using their version of the systemwide upgrade, not to mention Executive Platinum members (their top tier) get eight of them just for qualifying, as opposed to the six that United 1Ks get. Unfortunately American’s coverage to Germany sucks, but it’s still better than nothing, and with $500 fares that can be confirmed in business class, it’s more tempting than ever to go for Executive Platinum status.

Filed Under: American, United
  1. I agree and disagree. For me out of LAX, I’m still getting some “decent” W-fares for off-peak travel to Europe. Yes, they were cheaper a couple of years ago, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fuel surcharges..

    There was/is a great off-peak W-fare to several European cities, where W is the lowest fare in the market. There are methods discussed on Flyertalk on how to possibly remove that pesky fuel surcharge.

    You’re right about Australia, and a lot of Asia, though, and as I frequent Australia, W has really gone beyond my budget most of the time.

    Your comments about the difference between 1K and Exec Platinum are spot-on. If United kills Economy Plus & American starts serving Australia with their metal (unlikely), then I could easily see myself switching to AA.

  2. I’ve been trying to book W for an SFO to Beijing flight in mid October for a few weeks now. The W fares are $3k. Cathy Pacific can get me there in (relative) style for $1100. I ended up with a compromise fare, I’m flying United (at least to Japan) for $1500, but not in W. Bummed that my SWUs will remain unburned.

  3. @ Darren — I don’t mind positioning to the west coast, so if you know of any, I’d really love to hear about ’em! Trying to burn two SWUs that expire at the end of the year, and would love to do a weekend in Europe. If they’re super secret, would appreciate an email about them — [email protected], if you can help out. Thanks!

  4. With word of Air Berlin soon to be joining oneworld, perhaps AA will start flying to Berlin, Dussledorf, or Munich soon.

  5. I’d say with all the slots AA is about to get at JFK, JFK-FRA would be a reality sooner rather then later. Plus connecting via LHR wouldn’t be a bad thing.

  6. Worth remembering that sometimes the cheapest fare + the co-pay is cheaper than the W fare if you want to use miles.

    Also, that the W fare just gets you on the Mileage Upgrade List – very few seats confirm at time of booking now across the atlantic, and often not even on the day anymore.

  7. Hi, Ben, since I became EXP, I only had 2 occasions where my upgrade cleared at gate, all other cases upgrade cleared before travel with 100% for all domestic and international

  8. I’m looking to leap to the dAArk side as well because of the W fare issue. I’m gonna miss SQ, TG, NH and OZ, the Stars of the Star Alliance if I do…

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