What United’s Unlimited Domestic Upgrades mean for you

Well, yesterday was the first day of United’s Unlimited Domestic Upgrades (although they’re really region one upgrades), and my email inbox has been filling up with questions from United fliers regarding what this means for them. The fact is, I don’t know. I really don’t. But I can speculate a bit, so here are some general thoughts.

Let’s break it down by status level:

Global Services:
I bow down to your superiority. Enjoy your upgrades basically all the time.

You have a great shot at upgrades on most flights. In general try to avoid A319s due to the lack of first class seats, although on flights up and down the coasts, you’ll probably still have pretty good luck clearing on these. You’ll probably have very good luck with A320s up and down coasts and even on flights from Chicago to the west coast (except for LAX and SFO). Do everything possible to get on 757s and domestic 767s, since they’ll give you the best shot at an upgrade, especially on hub-to-hub transcons. Otherwise stick to international 777s. As crazy as it might sound, avoid domestic 777s. Given how many seats they have, they have one of the lowest ratios of first class to coach seats.

So when should you use your confirmed regional upgrades? Certainly for Premium Service, since there aren’t “complimentary” upgrades on those flights. I’m betting upgrades will get much, much, much easier on Premium Service for everyone, by the way. Much easier, as in I’m betting almost everyone that requests an upgrade will clear consistently, with the exception of some peak flights. Also consider using your confirmed regional upgrades for A319 and A320 transcons, but only if there is confirmable upgrade space. Lastly, as crazy as it might sound, consider using them for international 767s. These aircraft don’t have that many seats, and on Chicago to San Francisco, at least, I have consistently had trouble clearing, even under the old system. And it’s such a nice ride that you don’t want to be tortured watching the people in business curled up while you sit uncomfortably.

Premier Executives:
This is where it really gets fun. You’re the middle child, so United just isn’t sure whether they love you or not, so I have a hard time predicting upgrade success. On transcons definitely stick to 757s and domestic 767s, because you have a fighting chance at an upgrade. You probably even have a great chance during non-peak times. Avoid A319s on midcons as much as possible, so given the choice between an A319 and A320, definitely go with the A320, since that last or second to last empty seat may very well go to you, at least on non-hub-to-hub flights. On the coasts stick to 757s as much as possible. And, as usual, you should have pretty good luck on international 777s. I’m also betting great success on Hawaii flights, especially with the new co-pays.

Here’s where it gets really tough. I’m trying to put stuff into perspective here. Based on my experience flying United, it seems they have more elites than any other airline. I always like to think of the fact that Economy Plus is filled mostly with elites, even after first class is full, so that represents a lot of elites. I hate to sound like a pessimist, but I would choose the aircraft with the most comfortable coach seats on hub-to-hub transcons. In other words, if row six is available on an Airbus, go with that over a 757, since your chance at an upgrade is slim-to-none and row six is almost as good as first class in terms of comfort. On midcons that aren’t hub-to-hub, go for the 757s, since you have a fighting chance. On flights up and down the coasts you still have a great shot at an upgrade on 757s, and it is even worth seeking out an A320 over an A319, since those last few seats will go to Premiers on many flights.

So those are my general thoughts, without any firsthand experience. I’m sure we’ll know a lot more soon. One other thing to consider is that fare class will become even more important now. I’d almost go so far as breaking up each elite level into those booked in the “Q” booking class and higher, and those with cheaper fares. For 1Ks this will likely be a tiebreaker for peak transcons, for Premier Executives it may be a tiebreaker for peak midcons, and for Premiers it might be a tiebreaker on some short-hauls. In the meantime, if anyone has any experiences, feel free to share them here!

Filed Under: Advice, United
  1. As a Premier Executive, I’d add that on hub to hub flights for instance IAD-SFO or SFO-ORD, if there’s a flight with an open exit row seat (B757 exit rows are amazing), take that flight, given the low likelihood of an upgrade…oh and Premiers try and travel on the same PNR as a higher elite..

  2. Lucky- I think you hit the nail on the head in regards to the fare class. Sounds like the weekend mileage run just got a little more painful since I have to count on not being upgraded. When you are flying for 1-2 cents a mile there has to be someone in a higher fare class!

  3. No one cares about your benefits! Quit your job and buy a real ticket. These are our benefits and birthright not yours.

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