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Old Jan 16, 01, 12:13 pm   #1
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Edinburgh, UK
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Better off buying Business using miles or buy cheap economy and use miles to upgrade

Hi,

Probably been posted before but......

My girlfriend and I are both UAL Premier members. We do a couple of transatlantic trips a year (buying tix ourselves so cheap economy - 300-500GBP) and I do a reasonable number of UK domestic and Europe Star flights over the year (as well as quite a lot of BA flights) - should be Prem Exec by end of 2001.

I supplement my girlfriend's miles by using her mileage plus visa for business trips.

We should end up with somewhere in the region 60,000 mp a year each (most of my miles are non UAL so no mileage bonuses :-()

Question is........

Given reasonable regular transatantic travel, should we use our miles to buy Biz class outright (80,000 mile saver awards) or should we buy a cheap economy ticket and upgrade at 20,000 miles each way?

DOes one still get miles for upgraded travel - I am aware that if we buy the mileage plus tickets outright we don't get any miles.

Also (quite important) - is there any diffenrece in availability between the two options or is it the same pool of seats - am I likely to have more success one way or the other.

Anyone got any idea on how successful upgrading is? We usually book travel 4 months or more before.......

Finally - is it all worth it? Never flown biz transatlantic so not sure how good it is?

Thanks!!
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Old Jan 16, 01, 12:43 pm   #2
 
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Welcome to Flyertalk, matthewuk!

To answer your first question...it really depends on your situation.

If you've gotten totally sick of flying UA and plan on doing business with BA/VA in the future, and would rather spend those earned miles, I would say, yes, spend that 80K for a free Biz class transatlantic ticket.

But if you plan on bringing more of your flying business to UA, then, hands down, get yourself an upgradable Economy ticket (H fare and higher), and upgrade with 20K/way. I personally consider upgrading an Int'l flight (esp. those long-a** transpacific ones) a great value for your miles. Remember, you may be spending 40K on roundtrip upgrade, but LHR-JFK (or whereever your destination is in the US) is at least 5000 miles one way, so you're only giving up about 30K really. A lot less if you have other bonus miles (like your Premier bonus, etc)

Another thing to consider...flights from UK to the U.S. are often cheaper than the other way around, so you already have an upper hand over us Yanks. This is true especially during the low season (winter). Just book your flights and reserve your upgrade space 1-2 months in advance. (you said you normally book 4 months in advance..keep doing what you're doing)

Yes, you still get miles for upgraded travel, but only on the class paid. (i.e. if you buy Economy tix and upgrade to Biz, you get miles for Economy, which is the actual miles flown plus that 25% Premier bonus, if you fly on UA metal, LH too, I believe)

From what I understand, Biz Saver Award and Biz Upgrade comes from the same bucket, which is called the NC bucket. Can't really say what your chances are like; it all depends on whether you're flying weekdays/weekends, low/high season, etc. You may call up Int'l Mileage Plus Reservation and check the NC inventory for the route and dates you want.

My success so far is 100% on Int'l flights when I book H fare; but often enough I have to be flexible with my travel dates (plus minus 1-2 days) just that sometimes I have to cringe for the delta between the most el-cheapo Int'l fare with the upgradable Int'l fare; which, for U.S. - Europe, can be 100% difference. (i.e. twice as high)

Is it worth it? If you're tall and need space to sleep, eat, work, or to even sit comfortably, YES!! Some people here complain that UA Biz Transatlantic are just so-so, but I'm an easy pax, so I rate it two thumbs up for the money and miles spent. Well, except when it's summertime when H fare to Europe is usually above US$1000 so price isn't a real winner. If you want GOOD GOOD service with free massage on board, etc etc, you fly Virgin. No idea how much it cost to get upgraded though, but probably more than my annual income.

Hope this helps, sorry for the rambling!

Jamester
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Old Jan 16, 01, 1:01 pm   #3
mab
 
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Quote:


DOes one still get miles for upgraded travel - I am aware that if we buy the mileage plus tickets outright we don't get any miles.

Also (quite important) - is there any diffenrece in availability between the two options or is it the same pool of seats - am I likely to have more success one way or the other.

Anyone got any idea on how successful upgrading is? We usually book travel 4 months or more before.......

Finally - is it all worth it? Never flown biz transatlantic so not sure how good it is?

Thanks!!
You still get miles if you upgrade, but only for the class paid (no fare bonus for the class to which you've upgraded).

Availability depends on the route, time, season, etc. I usually do JFK-LHR (and back), and have never had a problem upgrading as a 1k, though quite often the upgrade only clears at the gate (and not in advance).

The upgrade and MP purchase pools aren't exactly the same (the business class upgrade inventory is "NC" class, while the award ticket inventory is "XC" class), and while the two inventories are often close, it is possible that seats will be available in one but not the other. Once the departure management kicks in at the gate, of course, they will try to fill all the seats, based on MP status, etc.

One thing to note: for reasons known only to United, upgrades from economy to business can't use the Arrivals service, while business class MP tickets can. This strikes me as a remarkably cheap (and logically incomprehensible) policy, but that's how it is. So if that hot shower is important to you, go for the MP ticket and not the upgrade.

On the other hand, MP tickets don't earn miles or count toward MP status.



[This message has been edited by mab (edited 01-16-2001).]
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Old Jan 16, 01, 1:23 pm   #4
 
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oops forgot to add......

is it possible to check availability of upgrades online?
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Old Jan 16, 01, 1:38 pm   #5
 
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If you intend to become a mileage junkie then do the upgrade instead of the free ticket unless you are going to use the free ticket to substitute for a last minute purchase at an outrageous price.

Put another way: The 80,000 miles gets you one free Biz RT. The 80,000 miles plus about $1200 gets you two Biz RTs, and you earn about 24,000 miles for the travel (once you make Premier Executive), for a net cost of $1200 plus 56,000 miles. Also the two Biz RTs are now paid fares instead of freebies, and the flight miles count toward your retaining Premier or Premier Exec status for 2002.

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Old Jan 16, 01, 1:48 pm   #6
 
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On the transatlantic market, there is usually a very small difference between an upgradeable fare requiring 20,000 miles to upgrade OW (M), and the higher fare (B) requiring only 10,000 miles. Typically $100 or less OW. So you should consider buying the B fare. You'd be saving 20,000 miles for about $200. Best deal around.
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Old Jan 16, 01, 2:06 pm   #7
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by matthewuk:
is it possible to check availability of upgrades online?
Not directly, but if you do a business-class booking almost to completion and click the "Select your seat" button to bring up the seat maps for your selected flights, you can get an idea of the potential NC availability based on the unassigned seats. No guarantee though.

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Old Jan 16, 01, 2:27 pm   #8
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Droneklax:
On the transatlantic market, there is usually a very small difference between an upgradeable fare requiring 20,000 miles to upgrade OW (M), and the higher fare (B) requiring only 10,000 miles. Typically $100 or less OW. So you should consider buying the B fare. You'd be saving 20,000 miles for about $200. Best deal around.
That sounds a deal......

We typically fly to SFO or RNO - about 13,000 miles + 25% = 15,000 - at LEAST once a year (skiing !!)

If we could get a 'B' fare, we can fly business every time for only 5000 miles!!! (A couple of months expenses on the old mileage plus visa at the moment !!)

How do I find out a 'B' fare price....on website bookings you can only specify Coach, Biz or 1st.....do I need to call UAL direct?

btw - cheers for the help everyone....this board is great and very fast - how do you all keep up!!!

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Old Jan 16, 01, 4:16 pm   #9
 
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matthewuk,

Sorry for the info mislead; I believe mab is right; upgrade to business is what NC inventory is and Business Class Saver Award is XC.

As for checking for upgrade space, it's all a crap shoot; the only sure way to go is to call UA. I'm sure you probably have a few friendly UA agents (what we call "angels") in the U.K. who could help you. I think even your travel agent can see upgrade inventory, but not sure about this one.

Now, be aware that the difference between B and M fare may be $100 One Way, but the difference between M and H fare (20K vs. 40K miles upgrade cost) is a lot more than that. If money is your friend, buy H fare.

Again, you won't be able to see much on the United's website when you're shopping for fares. Please follow the direction posted by BlondeBomber for more info: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/Forum50/HTML/004308.html

Or if you don't have the patience for travelocity, call UA.

Quote:
Originally posted by matthewuk:
btw - cheers for the help everyone....this board is great and very fast - how do you all keep up!!!
Easy, we're all too bored at work. Not me though, I gotta go to a meeting right now.

Hope it helps!
Jamester
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Old Jan 16, 01, 5:22 pm   #10
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Had to buy a UK friend a ticket from LHR to Sth. America via USA for very late 2000, and man there is a weird system there. I did all the calls so I know. Phoned UA and ask for ticket, and got quoted 1100. In Q class. Best deal they had on price.

Phone ebookers.com and get told Q class is about 650. But they had "certain inventory" on certain days, etc, etc, etc. Went on for hours. Went back to UA and politely asked as a 1K whether I couldm't get a beter Q deal off them direct. "NO". Most complicated booking I ever made. So, the UK retail/airline situation is rather complicated to put it mildly. Seats were to be upgraded with SWU's so class did not matter on that one.

Quote:
is it possible to check availability of upgrades online?
I know it is the year 2001, and our computers do everything for us short of mowing the lawns, and feeding the dog, but I never understand with such crucial things why it is not ALWAYS done with a phone call to UA. It is a free call, and you get ACCURATE info.


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Old Jan 17, 01, 11:31 pm   #11
 
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matthew: While I agree with most of the analysis above, there are a few (minor?) inaccuracies:

It would be great if LHR-JFK ran 5000 miles. Actually it's 3466.

Droneklax's advice about the difference between "H" and "B" is well-taken. Right now, r.t. NYC-LHR in "H" is around $575, "B" is about $800. During the summer, the numbers are usually around $1050 and $1250. The ascending price sequence, from "H" up, is: H,M,B,Y. "H" AND "M" are 20K each way for the upgrade, "B" and "Y" are 10K each way. So "M" does you no good, unless the other differences in the "M" fare, at the time, over "H" (such as minimum stay & advance purchase) are useful.

Along with the others, my recommendation is to buy the ticket and upgrade with miles whenever possible, until and unless you reach the point where you're already 1K and the status miles are no longer useful. In my own case, having just extended myself to make PE for the first time in 3 years, I'm going to continue pressing until I make 1K (at least, that's my plan for 2001), since the additional benefits are considerable. Every time I cash in a free ticket to go JFK-LHR in "C", that's 6932 miles towards status I just gave up.
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Old Jan 18, 01, 1:21 am   #12
 
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Welcome to FlyerTalk, Matthew!

This does get confusing. To review the fare issues:

W,V,Q are the cheapest discount ticket "fare bases." These can never be upgraded with miles.

H,M are the next lot up. They can be upgraded for 20,000 miles each way from Europe to the US.

B,Y are unrestricted or "full-fare" economy. They can be upgraded for 10,000 miles each way. (B is actually so minimally restricted as to be comparable to pure Y.)

Personally, I've never found an upgradeable ticket at a reasonable price; I would never pay as much as H fare. As a rule of thumb, "H" is at least twice the lowest discount fare, usually ~ $1,000 SFO-LHR. But some people find it a fair price to pay for the fewer restrictions, include the ability to upgrade.

American Airlines, by contrast, allows flyers to upgrade using miles on any published fare basis.

United always gives full mileage credit as long as you pay any published fare. The credit you receive depends on the fare basis of your underlying ticket, apart from upgrades: 100% for economy, 125% for paid business.

As pointed out above, the main differences between upgrading and flying XC is that the first method allows you to accrue miles while the other entitles you to use Arrivals by United (shower, suit press, breakfast).

Availability of upgrade seats can be checked using United Connection 3.0, I believe. http://members.aol.com/premexfiles/ucweb30.exe Also, the software for the Palm Pilot does this.

For calculation purposes, base mileage from Heathrow to SFO is 10,736 return; 11,736 for Reno.


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Old Jan 18, 01, 4:09 am   #13
 
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complicated isn't it....!!!

We ALWAYS buy the cheapest fare available which 9 times out of 10 is from United Vacations. We use them because as a 'perk' they provide free connections from EDI (usually an extra 100GBP) and I get 10% discount on their vacations by being a member of the GB Ski Club.

You also get a rental car cheap (first week free, subsequently 70Gbp/Week)

I've checked my invoice for this March's trip (310GBP each including 2 weeks rental car and EDI-RNO) - we're in Q class which obviously isn't upgradeable. That explains why they would charge an extra 45GBP for an upgradeable using miles ticket (which until I found this board I thought was an administrative charge - thinking about it now, it;s more likely the diffenrece between the two booking classes)

I would rather be able to book flights myself - at the moment it takes about an hour to get throught to United Vacations - you then have to wait for a confirmatiopn invoice before you can ring UA and confirm Premier seating etc etc - real pain in the butt. I also think I could perhaps do some elements more cheaply.

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