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Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

Old Feb 7, 17, 11:28 am
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Last edit by: leftysauce
Types of Upgrades

UA's Upgrades overview

UA has multiple methods for upgrading to a higher cabin. Examples include: Economy to Domestic First, Economy to International Business or Business (ex-p.s. flights) or Economy to Premium Economy ("Premium Plus").

In this regard, seating in Economy Plus is considered Economy.

Not all upgrade methods are available on all flights (see table).
  • Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPU) are available for most North American flights, Central America flights, and some select Oceania flights. "ex-PS" flights (EWR/JFK-SFO/LAX) and Hawaii-EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, GUM, MAJ and v.v. are not CPU eligible. CPUs are available for all paid fares and in some cases on award tickets with certain credit cards. A CPU is requested automatically for all elites as long as there is a maximum of one non-Premier as only one companion on the same PNR is also eligible for CPU. CPUs cannot be confirmed until inside the particular window:
Global Services: 120 hours
Premier 1K: 96 hours
Premier Platinum: 72 hours
Premier Gold: 48 hours
Premier Silver: 24 hours
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  • Plus Points (provided to Plats and above) are the upgrade currency of United elites. This wiki of this thread has more details about pricing of various Plus Points upgrades.
  • Mileage Upgrade Awards (MUA) can be requested for all UA flights with a higher cabin on all paid fares. This a varying amount of miles and a $ copay (elites are exempt from the co-pay for CPU eligible flights) -- mileage+copay calculator
    Note the miles and copay are due at time of the request and will be returned if unsuccessful.
  • Instant Upgrades are space available for all elites on Y & B fares for CPU-eligible flights at booking or thereafter. For Platinum and below these require PZ space. For 1Ks and GS, this can be done on Y, B & M fares and requires PN space. These Instant Upgrades, if not cleared at booking, cannot be waitlisted and one must keep checking to see if the instant upgrade space opens up. However, CPUs will process, as discussed above.
  • Paid/cash upgrades are a different mechanism and are only available if confirmable -- no waitlisting. Depending on methods, paid upgrades can clear into almost any fare class. If the class would otherwise be used for upgrades, the cash upsell can show up on the cleared upgrade list.
Plus Points and MUA (also called "miles+cash upgrades") are collectively referred to as instrument-supported upgrades, as they are considered with equal priority once applied. They may also be used on Copa (CM), Lufthansa (LH), and ANA (NH) flights.
Waitlisting for a premium cabin award and all forms of Economy Plus are not considered upgrades.


Upgrade Priority and Required Inventory

All upgrades other than CPU may clear immediately if the required inventory class is available. If you request an upgrade when there is not inventory to confirm your upgrade immediately, you will be added to the upgrade waitlist. The required inventory classes are as follows:

RN class is required for all upgrades to Premium Economy (United Premium Plus)
PN class is required for Instant Upgrades to Business/First from Y, B, and M fares for Premier 1K members, and for all upgrades to Business/First of any type for Global Services members.
PZ class is required for all other upgrades to Business/First except CPUs.

Note: The display of the upgrade lists is rather complicated at the moment. There seems to be more information available than usual, but its accuracy is disputed. The following is how it has historically functioned in terms of public visibility.

Passengers with unconfirmed upgrade requests will be added to the upgrade waitlist. This is not the same as the upgrade standby list which you can see on the Flight Status page. You cannot see this list by any means. The ordering of the upgrade waitlist is as follows:
Fare Class priority is J, C, D, Z, P, O, A, R, Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G, N.

Waitlist priority for all flights
  • United Global Services requests
  • PlusPoints upgrades and MileagePlus Upgrade Awards
  • Premier status of the traveler*
  • Fare class
  • Chase United MileagePlus Club cardholders and Presidential Plus cardholders
  • United Corporate Preferred participants
  • United Chase Cardmembers with $25,000 in annual spending
  • Date and time of request



If we haven't confirmed your upgrade by the time you check in for your flight, you will be added to the Upgrades list at check-in, so there's nothing that you need to do after submitting your original request. Our upgrade systems process requests until three hours before flight departure, at which point our gate agents will handle all remaining upgrade requests.

*On flights equipped with United Premium Plus, we will process requests to upgrade to business class for customers ticketed in United Premium Plus (fare classes O, A, R) before processing requests for customers ticketed in economy.

Upgrade priority on United Premium Plus
On aircraft with United Premium Plus, well first process United Polaris business class or United Business waitlists for all members who have purchased United Premium Plus seats, using the same priority order that applies to all upgrades. Well then process waitlists for members with United Economy seats.

New waitlist requests for MileagePlus Upgrade Awards can be made until 24 hours before departure. New waitlist requests for PlusPoints upgrades can be made up until the flight check-in cutoff time.

United will periodically run sweeps from this list. The required inventory class for your upgrade does not need to be available in order to be upgraded from the standby list; passengers on the list will be upgraded at the discretion of United's systems. (You can also think of it as space was opened and then you immediately took it.)

For flights with Premium Plus, those with paid Premium Plus fares will be prioritized above those with paid economy fares even if status is lower. However, GS with paid economy are higher on the list than non-GS customers with paid Premium Plus fares. Therefore, GS with paid Prem Plus, then GS with paid economy, then other Prem Plus pax (1Ks, then Plat, then Gold, etc), then Economy (1Ks, then Plat, then Gold, etc). Not clear if this applies to GS in economy -- certainly not pre-gate waitlist (as they are waitlisted for PN) but unclear what happens at the gate merged waitlist.
How does PlusPoints/GPU/ Mileage Upgrade waitlist for business work with PremiumPlus?

Once check-in starts a new waitlist will be generated for use at the gate. The pre-gate list will continue to process until the flight goes to the gate, typically one to three hours prior to departure. This new list is the visible one on the Flight Status page. Generally they will have the same order, but there can be some differences in priority ordering of the two lists -- usually due to the time tiebreaker -- which is time of request for the pre-gate list and time of check-in (sequence number) for gate list. The visible (upgrade standby) list is not used until the flight is under gate control and the gate agent manually processes an upgrade.

The upgrade list sometimes also shows passengers who have been upgraded. Advance-cleared upgrades will not show on the gate list as cleared -- only passengers who clear after they check in will display with a green checkmark. Some paid Premium Plus fares may show as a confirmed upgrade to Premium Plus.

For both cases, display cleared upgrades will appear in alphabetic order and regardless if checked-in (as long as a seat has been assigned). Uncleared, waitlisted requests will appear in priority order.

Upgrades and Companions
Main article: Comprehensive Companion Upgrade Questions

The following applies ONLY to the invisible upgrade list.

Up to one companion on the same PNR as you is entitled to a CPU based on your status. However, because PNRs must consist only of passengers with the same itinerary, you will only be eligible for an upgrade if all passengers on your PNR have the same upgrade eligibility. For CPUs, you may extend your CPU status to one companion, and then the system will take the status of the lowest passenger on the reservation.

This is a little complicated. Here are some example PNRs:

1K and non-status companion: both are eligible to CPU as 1Ks
1K and two non-status companions: no one is eligible to CPU
1K, Gold, and non-status companion: the companion gets "1K CPU status" but the Gold cannot, so all three pax have Gold priority

The situation for instrument supported upgrades is slightly different. Waitlisting an instrument is also all-or-nothing on the PNR. Either all pax must have a waitlisted upgrade, or none may. If you have a waitlisted upgrade for a multiple passenger PNR, it will have the priority of the highest Premier status on the reservation. Thus:

1K and non-status companion, 2x PlusPoints applied: both are eligible as 1Ks with PlusPoints
1K and three non-status companions, 4x PlusPointsapplied: all four are eligible as 1Ks with PlusPoints

Multi-pax PNR upgrades are all or nothing - you may (or may not) be skipped over if there are fewer available seats than members in your party. If you do not like the treatment of your PNR, you may split it into smaller pieces at any time and be treated as smaller groups or individuals.


Now, what happens if you haven't cleared by check-in?

Multiple pax PNRs are not eligible for the (visible) upgrade standby list. If you wish to be added to the list, you must split the PNR at check-in. This often happens even if you didn't intend to. Note, however, that the hidden list is active until 3 hours before departure and splitting your PNR changes it. Therefore, you may wish to delay check-in until the airport. On the other hand, the tiebreak for the gate list is time of check-in, so you may wish to do so immediately. It depends on your situation.

Companions may be eligible for the upgrade standby list even after splitting the PNR, if it is split at check-in. The behavior of your companion(s) depends on whether the reservation had instruments applied. You may have one CPU companion, who will be waitlisted with your Premier priority but with an effective fare class below X (namely, last). If your companion was on a different PNR originally, or you want to designate a different companion, an airport agent can do that for you. Therefore, the list of 1Ks might be:

1) 1K on an S fare (you)
2) 1K on a K fare
3) Your no-status companion
4) Plat on a B fare

If your reservation had instruments applied, however, this process is different. In this case, if the reservation is auto-split at check-in, all travelers will have your Premier priority with their fare class. Say you are a 1K with three non-status companions, all with GPUs applied. Then you have

1) 1K on a V fare,PlusPoints applied
2..5) you (1K) and your three companions on W fares, ordered by sequence number
6) Plat on a Q fare, miles+cash applied


Frequently Asked Questions

I was #1 on the upgrade list, but someone else got the upgrade instead. What happened?
The most likely answer is that a higher status passenger or fare moved to your flight.

I'm #1 on the upgrade list but seats in the forward cabin keep disappearing. No one is being upgraded. What's going on?
There are two major sources of this. First, once your flight is within 24 hours of departure, it is eligible for SDC. Passengers with paid premium tickets can change to your flight and take seats. Many experienced flyers, especially FT members, underestimate the volatility of flight loads on the day of departure. Additionally, United usually makes a time-of-departure upsell offer available at check-in. Purchasers of this upgrade may often appear similar to last-minute revenue bookings.

I was waitlisted for I (or IN) class and did not clear. Am I now eligible for an upgrade?
"Upgrade" is the wrong terminology. You should be automatically placed on the standy list for business or first (whichever applies). Historically there have been problems with this occurring automatically, but that seems to have mostly been fixed. The exact priority compared to passengers who are waitlisted for an upgrade is unclear and a matter of some dispute. See discussion of GG ONESTANDBY lines 32-55.

Who are these people who are on standby lists for both Business and First?
These are non-revs (i.e., UA employees and family members) - either NRPS (non-rev positive space) or NRSA (non-rev standby). Non-revs can list for any cabin. NRPS are traveling on company business (e.g., deadheading pilots) and will clear into open space ahead of upgraders. NRSA travel standby and will be last in priority after all paid passengers. Why would someone be listed on both standby & upgrade list(s)?
Originally Posted by leftysauce
I want to note the distinction that this only applies to NRPS that book the specific cabin directly (eg. if NRPS are eligible for J, they will clear into J immediately if any J seat is available). Otherwise, if NRPS book a lower cabin, they will be waitlisted after all paid (cash+award) pax but before NRSA for upgrades to higher cabins.
Deadheading Pilots Will Have Upgrade Priority Over Elites
Can you have one companion on a different PNR?
Yes, but only at the airport/gate and some agents are not familiar with the process. They are at the bottom of your status group.

Related threads
Ever see (+X blocked) in booked column on upgrade list?
Consolidated "Waitlist for Award Seats Questions/Issues"
[Consolidated] Chance of upgrade clearing on my flight
Decoding the alphabet soup - fare buckets for UA
Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively [Archive]




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Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

Old Jul 16, 19, 10:53 pm
  #211  
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Originally Posted by Kacee
It's still rather perplexing that trumps the published upgrade priority rules. Something is wrong with UA's coding.
Well, while I agree that the upgrade system is probably defective, in truth, the published rules aren't well-defined. The most obvious of the gray areas is the one that the OP asked about: the priority order between people who had been on the same PNR prior to splitting.

OP suggests he should have been ahead of his wife due to having the Club card. I would argue that the benefit of having the Club card probably conveyed to everyone on the reservation, which is why OP and his wife were #1 and #2 in the first place. Considering that they were 1Ks on a W fare, it wouldn't surprise me if the "correct" order would have been OP #1 , another passenger #2 , OP's wife #3 (or later). OP's wife inherited OP's Club card status, and, then, as findark notes, the ordering of passengers after splitting the PNR appears to be nondeterministic.
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Old Jul 16, 19, 11:00 pm
  #212  
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Originally Posted by jsloan
OP suggests he should have been ahead of his wife due to having the Club card. I would argue that the benefit of having the Club card probably conveyed to everyone on the reservation
That may be the explanation, but it's contrary to the published rules which extend the benefit only to the primary cardholder. If UA's coding was correct, the waitlist would prioritize the primary cardholder first.

While it may not be a big deal in this specific context, it raises broader questions about the reliability of the waitlist coding.
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Old Jul 17, 19, 9:11 am
  #213  
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Originally Posted by Kacee
That may be the explanation, but it's contrary to the published rules which extend the benefit only to the primary cardholder. If UA's coding was correct, the waitlist would prioritize the primary cardholder first.
The published rules are contradictory: there's another rule that says that the upgrade status of a multi-pax reservation will be based upon the status of the highest passenger traveling, and I can't imagine that UA really intends to split PNRs four days prior to travel when processing CPUs, in order to enforce both rules at once.
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Old Jul 21, 19, 8:30 am
  #214  
 
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So for RAP-EWR - it was showing 2/12 booked, +9 blocked. Now it says full - and I am still sitting at #1 on the UG list. How is that even possible? Or did they preemptively block CPUs/op-ups, and I will only clear at the gate? Seems quite silly to me.
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Old Jul 21, 19, 9:12 am
  #215  
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
So for RAP-EWR - it was showing 2/12 booked, +9 blocked. Now it says full - and I am still sitting at #1 on the UG list. How is that even possible?
Because if blocked plus booked equals total number of seats it will say "full." Could be booked 3/12, 9 blocked or booked 2/12, 10 blocked, or similar combination adding up to 12.
Originally Posted by jsloan
I can't imagine that UA really intends to split PNRs four days prior to travel when processing CPUs, in order to enforce both rules at once.
No, but once the PNR is split, priority should go to the primary Chase cardholder. That's what the rules very clearly say, and the fact the coding doesn't work that way reinforces the conclusion that the list doesn't always populate the way the rules say it should
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Old Jul 21, 19, 11:50 am
  #216  
 
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I did get upgraded, but my reservation still says CPU requested. First time Ive seen that happen. Also annoyed it took so long because Im now not assigned to an A seat on an E175 and I cannot change it.
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Old Jul 22, 19, 1:10 pm
  #217  
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
I did get upgraded, but my reservation still says ‘CPU requested’. First time I’ve seen that happen. Also annoyed it took so long because I’m now not assigned to an A seat on an E175 and I cannot change it.
Seems perhaps as though you were pushed forward as an op-up rather than a cleared upgrade. Did you check the list to see if you showed with the check mark?

I agree that sometimes when F seats are blocked, the logic for clearing upgrades can be a bit, well, illogical.
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Old Jul 22, 19, 4:09 pm
  #218  
 
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Originally Posted by fumje
Seems perhaps as though you were pushed forward as an op-up rather than a cleared upgrade. Did you check the list to see if you showed with the check mark?

I agree that sometimes when F seats are blocked, the logic for clearing upgrades can be a bit, well, illogical.
No, there was no list, so it seems to have been processed as an op-up. I know someone flying tomorrow that is showing the same thing - X seats sold + Y blocked - instead of CPUs. It seems like UA is overriding their CPU system to oversell Y and op-up folks who would get CPUs usually. Perhaps semantics, but it seems deliberate.
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Old Jul 22, 19, 4:19 pm
  #219  
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
It seems like UA is overriding their CPU system to oversell Y and op-up folks who would get CPUs usually. Perhaps semantics, but it seems deliberate.
You phrase that as if there's some sort of diabolical plot by UA to deprive you of an A seat. There is not. The standby upgrade list does not process when the cabin is blocked full.

And yes, of course UA blocks F seats to oversell Y. They make more money that way than if they let seats fly empty.
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Old Jul 23, 19, 4:14 pm
  #220  
 
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There is no priority difference between GPU, RPU & MUA requests.
​​​​​​​From the Wiki, is it really true that a GPU gives the same priority as a "miles and cash" upgrade when waitlisted? I would have thought some revenue would have prioritized you higher.
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Old Jul 23, 19, 4:25 pm
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Originally Posted by dlcrow
From the Wiki, is it really true that a GPU gives the same priority as a "miles and cash" upgrade when waitlisted? I would have thought some revenue would have prioritized you higher.
All instruments are created equal. I use GPU on domestic flights all the time and use to think well the GPU trumps and RPU... wrong. All the same.
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Old Jul 23, 19, 5:20 pm
  #222  
 
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Originally Posted by Kacee
You phrase that as if there's some sort of diabolical plot by UA to deprive you of an A seat. There is not. The standby upgrade list does not process when the cabin is blocked full.

And yes, of course UA blocks F seats to oversell Y. They make more money that way than if they let seats fly empty.
It seems to me that UA ls trying to sell as many F tickets as they can - leave the space open and see if someone bites - instead of processing CPUs early, if that is the case, they should do away with 96h lead time for CPUs. Just another benefit that has no meaning.
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Old Jul 23, 19, 5:40 pm
  #223  
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
...if that is the case, they should do away with 96h lead time for CPUs. Just another benefit that has no meaning.
There are routes/flights that still clear 96 hours out for 1Ks - they're just becoming far less common. I'm pretty sure in the past, UA has shot themselves in the foot by giving out too many CPUs, only to get complaints that last-minute F buyers weren't able to get seats. Seems UA has now gone too far the other way in holding back seats too long on flights that have little chance of selling all F seats.
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Old Jul 23, 19, 6:03 pm
  #224  
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Originally Posted by IAH-OIL-TRASH
There are routes/flights that still clear 96 hours out for 1Ks - they're just becoming far less common.
Yes, I cleared an award CPU last week at T-96, so it definitely happens.

Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
It seems to me that UA ls trying to sell as many F tickets as they can - leave the space open and see if someone bites - instead of processing CPUs early, if that is the case, they should do away with 96h lead time for CPUs. Just another benefit that has no meaning.
Yes, UA is much more aggressive about monetizing the F seats now, that's been discussed in this forum for years. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the specific situation you're complaining about. They didn't sweep CPUs on your flight because virtually the entire F cabin was blocked for an oversale. That's actually a good thing for a 1K who's hoping for an upgrade, because it means the seats can't be sold out from under you. Sometimes patience is a virtue.
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Old Jul 23, 19, 7:02 pm
  #225  
 
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Originally Posted by Kacee
Yes, UA is much more aggressive about monetizing the F seats now, that's been discussed in this forum for years. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the specific situation you're complaining about. They didn't sweep CPUs on your flight because virtually the entire F cabin was blocked for an oversale. That's actually a good thing for a 1K who's hoping for an upgrade, because it means the seats can't be sold out from under you. Sometimes patience is a virtue.
That is absolutely not what happened. I booked the flight on 5/29 for a 7/21 departure. There were 2 F seats booked at that time, and until the op-up was done, zero other people booked an F ticket. Until they swept everyone up, UA continues to sell F tickets in parallel with Y (with one more F seat than Y seat offered). It was only once that last Y seat was sold that they did the manual op-up. Clearly UA was trying to monetize every last seat possible, and only when they had sold the last ticket did they do it.

I would have much rather received the privilege of being upgraded T-96 and picking my own seat, as opposed to getting a C seat and then being unable to change it at all because the cabin was filled simultaneously. This is clearly a situation that previously wouldve been a no-brained CPU before I had even departed on Friday on the outbound leg.

Similarly, someone I knew was flying EWR-MSP this morning. They did the same thing, and only processed CPUs (assuming it went that way since I could see names with checks next to them) around T-1h. Before that, it showed a fully-booked F cabin with no upgrades cleared.

YMMV but it feels like UA is taking a different approach and steadily downgrading a listed benefit to the various status classes.
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