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Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

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Old Jul 18, 22, 12:48 pm   -   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 Feb 10, 20, 3:39 pm
  #586  
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
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Apologies but I am still not understanding how the timing of check-in changes upgrade waitlist priority.
Here's our scenario: Wife and I (both no status) are on separately ticketed PNRs for ORD-NRT and are waitlisted for Polaris using Milage Upgrade Award.

- Feb 15, ORD-NRT 12:00pm
- 777-200, J8, Y9 - currently showing old business class, but has been reliably swapping to Polaris T-2 days out. Looking at "where my plane is coming from" also indicates so (not sure if thats an accurate way of checking)
- App shows capacity 48, booked 40 (+1 blocked)
- We are at 11 and 12 using Milage Upgrade Award

From what I am seeing, swapping to Polaris increases 2 seats, and becomes (+3 blocked). Still looks like it may be a long shot for us to clear? Is there a check-in strategy, earlier or later, that can improve our odds if things stand as-is?

Thanks!
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Old Feb 10, 20, 4:39 pm
  #587  
 
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Originally Posted by booyaa View Post
Apologies but I am still not understanding how the timing of check-in changes upgrade waitlist priority.
Here's our scenario: Wife and I (both no status) are on separately ticketed PNRs for ORD-NRT and are waitlisted for Polaris using Milage Upgrade Award.

- Feb 15, ORD-NRT 12:00pm
- 777-200, J8, Y9 - currently showing old business class, but has been reliably swapping to Polaris T-2 days out. Looking at "where my plane is coming from" also indicates so (not sure if thats an accurate way of checking)
- App shows capacity 48, booked 40 (+1 blocked)
- We are at 11 and 12 using Milage Upgrade Award

From what I am seeing, swapping to Polaris increases 2 seats, and becomes (+3 blocked). Still looks like it may be a long shot for us to clear? Is there a check-in strategy, earlier or later, that can improve our odds if things stand as-is?

Thanks!
Those ahead of you are likely doing the same thing as you... waitlisting for an upgrade with either +P or miles. Their MP status is what has them on the list where they are. The tie-breaker in all this changes from date of request to check-in order once check-in opens but thats still subordinate to each passengers MP status. So, just check in at T-24 but dont expect that to change your chances.

Now that I wrote that, someone more expert than me can correct.
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Old Feb 10, 20, 4:50 pm
  #588  
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Originally Posted by booyaa View Post
Is there a check-in strategy, earlier or later, that can improve our odds if things stand as-is?
Two comments.

First, you can't trust the waitlists right now, they are notoriously inaccurate.

Second, to maximize odds of at least one upgrade, check-in as early as possible. To maximize odds that you sit together (either in Y or J) check-in as late as possible. To split or not to split PNR
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Old Feb 10, 20, 4:55 pm
  #589  
 
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Originally Posted by JimInOhio View Post
Those ahead of you are likely doing the same thing as you... waitlisting for an upgrade with either +P or miles. Their MP status is what has them on the list where they are. The tie-breaker in all this changes from date of request to check-in order once check-in opens but thats still subordinate to each passengers MP status. So, just check in at T-24 but dont expect that to change your chances.

Now that I wrote that, someone more expert than me can correct.
ah so those above us are either higher MP or same no status but requested earlier. If anyone new gets added to list from now on has higher MP than me, they will be placed higher right away, but if same no status, below us.

And to beat out those with same no status but requested earlier and listed above us as of now, wed have to check in earlier than them, that sound right?
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Old Feb 10, 20, 5:00 pm
  #590  
 
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Originally Posted by Kacee View Post
Two comments.

First, you can't trust the waitlists right now, they are notoriously inaccurate.

Second, to maximize odds of at least one upgrade, check-in as early as possible. To maximize odds that you sit together (either in Y or J) check-in as late as possible. To split or not to split PNR
Gotcha. Our PNRs are already separate, and we dont care as much about sitting together, so looks like check-in as early as possible is the way to go. We do also have another domestic segment before that flight, so well get to check in even earlier.
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Old Feb 11, 20, 7:36 am
  #591  
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Yes. The odds of it mattering when you check in are pretty small, but it doesn't hurt to do it early.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 7:55 am
  #592  
 
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Random data point.

EWR-GSO CRJ-550
CPU'd at T-96 into PZ
Following OLCI, name not shown on cleared list
Currently booked 5/10 with 3 checked in and no names shown as cleared
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Old Feb 14, 20, 8:09 am
  #593  
 
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj View Post
Random data point.

EWR-GSO CRJ-550
CPU'd at T-96 into PZ
Following OLCI, name not shown on cleared list
Currently booked 5/10 with 3 checked in and no names shown as cleared
For the past month or so, it iseems that any upgrades processed before t-24 do not show on the cleared list, and any after t-24 do, except for sometimes the after-boarding upgrades, which may not show.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 8:24 am
  #594  
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Originally Posted by fumje View Post
For the past month or so, it iseems that any upgrades processed before t-24 do not show on the cleared list, and any after t-24 do, except for sometimes the after-boarding upgrades, which may not show.
Actually, people clearing before check-in haven't been appearing on the list for quite some time; a year or more, IIRC. UA claimed they were going to fix it, but it clearly hasn't been a priority.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 8:59 am
  #595  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
Actually, people clearing before check-in haven't been appearing on the list for quite some time; a year or more, IIRC. UA claimed they were going to fix it, but it clearly hasn't been a priority.
Yes, but I mean to highlight that actually it has changed, some time in the past two months. Previously (for about a year, or maybe a bit more?), if you cleared before you checked in, you would not show. Now, if you clear after t-24h, you will showeven if you have not checked in. There was a while around the turn of year when things were changing frequently, but the behaviour seems to have settled on this latter manner.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 9:14 am
  #596  
 
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Originally Posted by fumje View Post
Yes, but I mean to highlight that actually it has changed, some time in the past two months. Previously (for about a year, or maybe a bit more?), if you cleared before you checked in, you would not show. Now, if you clear after t-24h, you will show—even if you have not checked in. There was a while around the turn of year when things were changing frequently, but the behaviour seems to have settled on this latter manner.
I don't know what UA is doing but the way the systems seem to operate, it's as if UA hands off their upgrade activities from one system (reservations/non-visible) to another (check-in/visible) at T-24.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 9:15 am
  #597  
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Originally Posted by fumje View Post
Yes, but I mean to highlight that actually it has changed, some time in the past two months. ....
As highlighted here, Upgrade waitlist / display / clearing issues since PlusPoints changeover, the latest round on waitlist / cleared list issues started in early Dec 2019, with the change over to PlusPoints.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 9:50 am
  #598  
 
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj View Post
Random data point.

EWR-GSO CRJ-550
CPU'd at T-96 into PZ
Following OLCI, name not shown on cleared list
Currently booked 5/10 with 3 checked in and no names shown as cleared
Update:
Now booked 6/10 (+1 blocked??)
Checked in: 4
Only one name showing on the list, not yet cleared. Same name on Standby list, so likely NRSA.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 10:16 am
  #599  
 
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj View Post
Update:
Now booked 6/10 (+1 blocked??)
Checked in: 4
Only one name showing on the list, not yet cleared. Same name on Standby list, so likely NRSA.
Are you looking for your name on the list? As has been pointed out, if your upgrade cleared before T-24, it won't show on the list at any point.
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Old Feb 14, 20, 11:17 am
  #600  
 
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Originally Posted by JimInOhio View Post
Are you looking for your name on the list? As has been pointed out, if your upgrade cleared before T-24, it won't show on the list at any point.
Initially yes, but I find it odd when there are no Elites at all on an upgrade list. But now that I understand that it will show only those Elites that have checked in AND have not been cleared ahead of time, it makes more sense.
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