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Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

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Old Aug 31, 22, 12:45 am   -   Wikipost
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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) -- [[url=https://web.archive.org/web/20180328171925/http://mileageplusupdates.com/images/United-Award-Chart.pdf]archive link; prices in chart may be obsolete] 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:
  • All Global Services members (presumably prioritized similar to other members below), including those awaiting a CPU.
  • For CPU eligible flights, Premier 1K members on eligible Y-, B- and M-class fares that were not cleared at time of booking are prioritized by fare class and then time of request.
  • All travelers on waitlisted instrument-supported upgrades: Prioritized by Premier status of the traveler, then fare class and then time of request. There is no priority difference between types of instruments.
  • For CPU eligible flights all remaining Premier members: Prioritized by Premier status of the traveler and fare class (award tickets are considered the lowest fare class)
  • 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.

Additional factors in prioritization for some flights
  1. Premier status of the traveler
  2. Fare class
  3. Chase United MileagePlus Club cardholder
  4. United Corporate Preferred participant
  5. Chase MP cardholders who spent $25K using a cobranded card.
  6. Time of request
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 View Post
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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Old Jan 22, 19, 10:49 am
  #16  
 
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Originally Posted by Kacee View Post
Once you've checked in, time of applying the RPU shouldn't matter. The tie-breaker at that point should be time of check-in.
I would have thought that as well, but here I was before companion in sequence (I forget it 1/2 or something higher, but irrelevant, and also earlier in sequence than the person on list before me).
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Old Jan 22, 19, 10:56 am
  #17  
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Originally Posted by Kacee View Post
Once you've checked in, time of applying the RPU shouldn't matter. The tie-breaker at that point should be time of check-in...
But it sounds like invisible list (and ordered by status/fare/application time) was processed, not visible airport list (ordered by status/fare/check-in time). I was under impression invisible list is used until GA takes over, at which time check-in time replaces application time.
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Old Jan 22, 19, 11:02 am
  #18  
 
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Originally Posted by IAH-OIL-TRASH View Post
But it sounds like invisible list (and ordered by status/fare/application time) was processed, not visible airport list (ordered by status/fare/check-in time). I was under impression invisible list is used until GA takes over, at which time check-in time replaces application time.
Companion must have come off invisible list, because she was #3 on visible list, and timing is consistent with the "final" pre-gate run. Real question is why her rather than me (lower ticket #, before her alphabetically, lower sequence #, and actual status) - only thing I could come up with is that I had new PNR.
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Old Jan 22, 19, 11:04 am
  #19  
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Originally Posted by drewguy View Post
..only thing I could come up with is that I had new PNR.
She has the original PNR w/ older date stamp, which is why I think invisible list was processed. Had it not run before airport took over, you would have gotten upgrade first since it appears you were checked in first. At least that is my (possibly wrong) understanding of the process.
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Old Jan 22, 19, 11:14 am
  #20  
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Originally Posted by IAH-OIL-TRASH View Post
But it sounds like invisible list (and ordered by status/fare/application time) was processed, not visible airport list (ordered by status/fare/check-in time). I was under impression invisible list is used until GA takes over, at which time check-in time replaces application time.
Good point. Caffeine deficit.

Although "who knows" is still a potentially valid answer
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Old Jan 22, 19, 11:20 am
  #21  
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Originally Posted by Kacee View Post
...Although "who knows" is still a potentially valid answer
I don't know how things work. I just think I know how things work.
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Old Jan 22, 19, 12:28 pm
  #22  
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Originally Posted by drewguy View Post
UA upgrade system opened one PN slot ~ T-4 (but not PZ), which my companion got because the RPU had been applied to her reservation a month ago, whereas it was deemed applied to my reservation only after the split occurred around T-24. She had inherited by 1K status for this flight, and "won" the time of application tiebreaker. She jumped #1 (and #2 ) on the visible list, who presumably was 1K on a non-GS RPU but higher fare class than us) because of the PN slot. Then there was a buy-up for the 15th seat, or perhaps a pax who had missed earlier flight, so not an upgrade. Then at the gate they just went on waitlist order without regard to the GS RPU clearing first.
This sounds more or less plausible. Your order on the visible list after splitting the PNR is not deterministic; at least, I have gotten different orders on different segments from splitting the same PNR (same ordering of seq, tickets, etc). Not clear whether you have 1K (WB) or GS (WA) priority on the visible list either with a GS instrument.. I think it's possible you both have GS priority and the first pax on the list was a GS looking for CPU (I don't think this is coded as a WL PN segment so it can be skipped before the gate).

There's a lot of murkiness here though, and I would love to go dig into the code
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Old Feb 3, 19, 2:34 pm
  #23  
 
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Upgrades don't seem to exist at all

I am a multi-million mile flyer and currently 1k. I am not the guy that complains about upgrades being non-existent, but after flying 200k last year on UA and 100k on Alaska it's clear to me there is some upgrade shenanigans going on at United. My upgrade percentage is less than 30% on United and on Alaska more like 90%.

I even have tried flying at off times to try and increase chances with no success. Honestly, I don't know why I do it, but I will be at the next million in 64000 miles then I think I'm gonna jump off. I just don't see the upside anymore at least for me. Not complaining, I'm just done, beaten down and at 6'11" my knees are tired.

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Old Feb 3, 19, 2:43 pm
  #24  
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Originally Posted by shortkidd View Post
I am a multi-million mile flyer and currently 1k. I am not the guy that complains about upgrades being non-existent, but after flying 200k last year on UA and 100k on Alaska it's clear to me there is some upgrade shenanigans going on at United. My upgrade percentage is less than 30% on United and on Alaska more like 90%.
I even have tried flying at off times to try and increase chances with no success. Honestly, I don't know why I do it, but I will be at the next million in 64000 miles then I think I'm gonna jump off. I just don't see the upside anymore at least for me. Not complaining, I'm just done, beaten down and at 6'11" my knees are tired.

As a long-time flyer on UA you seem to be oblivious to the factors that has resulted in fewer upgrades. Claiming shenanigans being the reason is proof. UA is 1) right-sizing cabins to route, 2) right-pricing F, 3) selling ToD upgrades, etc. No shenanigans - just reducing inventory and monetizing more efficiently.

As for Alaska, with its limited fleet variety, it cant right-size the F cabin to various routes. If AS fits your travel patterns, fly them. If it doesnt, you just cant compare AS to UA - you just have to expect fewer upgrades. And its not shenanigans.

Last edited by IAH-OIL-TRASH; Feb 3, 19 at 9:53 pm
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Old Feb 3, 19, 3:01 pm
  #25  
 
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I disagree.

I can't mention the number of times the flight shows many open seats in first to all of sudden be sold out andy name is 7-8 down the list. There must be many more 4 mm flyers or GS on my flights than on many others. Yes, I call this shenanigans.

There seems to be a "real" upgrade list vs what is provided. At this point stop sharing the information because it's other wrong or of no use.
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Old Feb 3, 19, 3:17 pm
  #26  
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Originally Posted by shortkidd View Post
I disagree.

I can't mention the number of times the flight shows many open seats in first to all of sudden be sold out andy name is 7-8 down the list. There must be many more 4 mm flyers or GS on my flights than on many others. Yes, I call this shenanigans.

There seems to be a "real" upgrade list vs what is provided. At this point stop sharing the information because it's other wrong or of no use.
Still not shenanigans. As mentioned many times elsewhere, UA is frequently not clearing upgrades (instruments and CPUs) until after check in starts. Thats why seats are open. If it makes you feel better to call it shenanigans, that fine, but UA really is not doing anything nefarious as shenanigans implies. You need to understand that the invisible list is what upgrades are processed off until airport takes over. After check in starts, there are often open seats nowadays. Once UA upgrades off the invisible list - poof - theyre gone. Youre not being deprived of upgrades, youre just not as high on the list as you think you should be. Ahead of you during the check in period may be anyone trying for upgrades via miles or instruments, GS (and their companions), 1Ks on higher fare classes. ToD buyers maybe buying the seats out from under everyone.

Seems like you are unaware of the differences between the visible and invisible lists and their importance. Maybe you need to read the wiki. With a little understanding of the process, you can reserve you frustration to not getting upgrades, not towards not getting upgrades and thinking United is doing something nefarious to you.

So if right-sizing capacity, right-pricing F, and ToDs have nothing to do with reduced upgrades, what do you think UA is doing here to target you?

My upgrade percentages are way down, too, but Im cognizant of the various factors that contribute to that decline.

Last edited by IAH-OIL-TRASH; Feb 4, 19 at 1:23 pm
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Old Feb 3, 19, 6:54 pm
  #27  
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Originally Posted by shortkidd View Post
it's clear to me there is some upgrade shenanigans going on at United
If you define "shenanigans" as UA selling F seats, including purchased upgrades at check-in, that statement is accurate. Otherwise, it's not.

AS, unlike UA, has not yet figured out how to monetize the F cabin. Nonetheless, if you were based at SEA, ANC, or PDX, you would likely have a similarly crappy upgrade percentage on AS.
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Old Feb 4, 19, 1:18 pm
  #28  
 
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Originally Posted by shortkidd View Post
I disagree.

I can't mention the number of times the flight shows many open seats in first to all of sudden be sold out andy name is 7-8 down the list. There must be many more 4 mm flyers or GS on my flights than on many others. Yes, I call this shenanigans.

There seems to be a "real" upgrade list vs what is provided. At this point stop sharing the information because it's other wrong or of no use.
Believe me I feel for you and have looked many times at jumping to AS where when I matched with them I had great upgrade luck. It looks like your hub is ORD, my experience is that out of ORD/LAX/EWR/BOS/SFO unless you are basically #1 or #2 on the list you are not getting a CPU. As others pointed out they often don't clear instruments until <T24. They openly sell F to literally the time the door closes. As previously mentioned there are many other reasons that will result in 1K and even GS not clearing when seemingly high on the list. Do I like it, of course not. As many will tell you I have been vocal about this as well. But it simply is what it is. It is how UA has set up the game, and they play it very well obviously.
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Old Feb 4, 19, 2:27 pm
  #29  
 
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Rookie question here because I have never really explored this. According to the Wiki it says that if I apply for a MP UG the fee part is waived as an Elite. So when I see 30k miles plus $600 when I look at UG options on my reservation as a 1K ( or my wife as a Plat) I wouldn't pay the $600? That seems too good to be true so am I misreading this? If so, given that UA knows my status, why am I shown a dollar amount? Sorry if this is a dumb question.
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Old Feb 4, 19, 2:29 pm
  #30  
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Originally Posted by Fizzer View Post
Rookie question here because I have never really explored this. According to the Wiki it says that if I apply for a MP UG the fee part is waived as an Elite. So when I see 30k miles plus $600 when I look at UG options on my reservation as a 1K ( or my wife as a Plat) I wouldn't pay the $600? That seems too good to be true so am I misreading this? If so, given that UA knows my status, why am I shown a dollar amount? Sorry if this is a dumb question.
No. It's only waived for upgrades on routes that would be CPU-eligible -- short-haul, not long-haul.
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