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Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

Understanding the United Upgrade List Comprehensively

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Old Apr 26, 20, 5:03 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-SFO/LAX, BOS-SFO and v.v.) 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
    • 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) -- see UA award chart for details 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. For Plats and below these require PZ space. For 1Ks and GS, this can be done on Y, B & M fares and requires PN space. 1K & GS, if not cleared at booking, will be waitlisted.

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)

Recent announced modification
Effective August 14, 2018, upgrade waitlists are processed in the following priority order:
  1. Premier status of the traveler
  2. Fare class
  3. Chase United MileagePlus Club cardholder
  4. United Corporate Preferred participant
  5. Time of request
Later in 2018: We will include upgrade priority for primary Chase United MileagePlus Cardmembers who have met the $25K annual spend Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) waiver on a Chase MileagePlus co-brand card. Priority order for these Cardmembers will fall after United Corporate Preferred participants and before 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.)

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 has only checked-in passengers and 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 Economy fares may show as a confirmed upgrade to Premium Economy.

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, once checked in, in priority order. But until all have checked in, the visible gate waitlist is incomplete.


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

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, GPU 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 the upgraded passenger was not checked in. Remember that the upgrade standby list (the visible list) only shows passengers who have checked in.

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)?

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 1, 19, 2:24 am
  #1  
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Has United said anything about if/how premium economy will affect upgrade priority?

On AC, the priority is cabin, status, then fare class, so a low-status person in premium economy is above a high-status person in economy on the list.
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Old Jan 1, 19, 2:46 am
  #2  
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Originally Posted by canadiancow View Post
Has United said anything about if/how premium economy will affect upgrade priority? ...
Yes
On aircraft with United® Premium Plus, we’ll first process United Polaris business class or United Business waitlists for all members who have purchased United® Premium Plus seats, using the priority order listed above. We’ll then process waitlists for members with United Economy seats, using the same priority order.
Suspect GS will still override due to PN/PZ issue but otherwise sounds similar to AC

Originally Posted by canadiancow View Post
On AC, the priority is cabin, status, then fare class, so a low-status person in premium economy is above a high-status person in economy on the list.
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Old Jan 6, 19, 4:18 pm
  #3  
 
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So just to be clear GS always clears first over everyone else on both the instrument list and the CPU list? Other GS tie breakers are fare class? Then time of check in?
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Old Jan 6, 19, 4:26 pm
  #4  
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Originally Posted by jp12687 View Post
So just to be clear GS always clears first over everyone else on both the instrument list and the CPU list? Other GS tie breakers are fare class? Then time of check in?
GS clear into PN which is available before PZ, so inherently any waitlisted GS will clear before any waitlisted PZ (the rest of the folks).At the gate GS will be at top of list, except for displaced passengers and must flys (employees need elsewhere) and a few other special cases) inside the GS group there will be tiers based on Y/M/B fares, then instrument supported, then CPU. Fare class is the second factor, and the third, fourth, ... have gotten a bit more involved with the soon Chase Club cardholders, then the Corporate Preferred participant and then the old final item, sequence number / number of check-in.
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Old Jan 7, 19, 2:43 pm
  #5  
 
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I feel like this is a question I should be able to find the answer to... sorry if I missed something.

If someone is GS and PN inventory is available at T-120, should a CPU for sure clear at T-120? Or does it not necessarily work that way? Thanks!
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Old Jan 7, 19, 3:02 pm
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Originally Posted by Johnallent View Post
I feel like this is a question I should be able to find the answer to... sorry if I missed something.

If someone is GS and PN inventory is available at T-120, should a CPU for sure clear at T-120? Or does it not necessarily work that way? Thanks!
In short, no.

It wouldn't necessarily happen automatically, and it isn't supposed to be done manually any longer. CPU inventory is not the same as PN (or PZ for non-GS).

See this thread
Consolidated Global Services Thread: Benefits, Questions [2018]
and previous years' discussion for a more comprehensive overview.
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Old Jan 10, 19, 1:46 pm
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Curious if anyone has a rational explanation for this situation other than the upgrade system just doesn't work correctly.

A320 out of BWI, 7/12 booked at about T-48. BWI is generally not elite heavy. We have two reservations:

Res1, G fare:
  • myself, 1K
  • companion1, general member
Res2: also G, booked as soon as possible after the first reservation
  • Mrs. thesun, 1K
  • companion2, general member
Res1 got upgraded at 3 minutes before T-24, so before check-in. Res2 was checked in and split a few minutes after T-24. After 2 hours, Mrs. thesun was down to #9 on the upgrade list and companion2 was #11 .

Theoretically, when I got upgraded, Mrs. thesun should have been next up and companion2 should be somewhere below her. So for her to drop down to #9 is surprising. It seems unlikely that in 2 hours, 9 1Ks or GS bought higher fare tickets, or 9 people put in mile or instrument supported upgrade requests. I suppose it's possible there were groups of 3 or 4 that got skipped since there was insufficient inventory to upgrade them all at once. Also seems unlikely as all different last names. But who knows, all I can see is what the app tells me.

All the scenarios I can think of seem rather unlikely. It is possible that the system didn't work correctly to my benefit - I could have been higher in the list than I should have. Which would fall into the category of system not working correctly.
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Old Jan 10, 19, 3:37 pm
  #8  
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How many total on the list of which they were 9 and 11? My best guess is that most of 1-8 were lower status on instrument-supported upgrades, and I have a strong suspicion that invisible list CPUs are capable of jumping waitlisted instruments if the system allocates CPUs but not PZ.
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Old Jan 10, 19, 3:47 pm
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30ish were visible on the list.
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Old Jan 10, 19, 4:24 pm
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
How many total on the list of which they were 9 and 11? My best guess is that most of 1-8 were lower status on instrument-supported upgrades, and I have a strong suspicion that invisible list CPUs are capable of jumping waitlisted instruments if the system allocates CPUs but not PZ.
30ish on the list, a typical amount for bwi. Your guess makes sense, the instrument upgrades would be stuck.
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Old Jan 17, 19, 6:41 pm
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I am a Plat traveling on Y domestically. Does this mean I am only behind all GS, then 1K on Y/B/M? I am put ahead of the RPU group?
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Old Jan 17, 19, 7:24 pm
  #12  
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Originally Posted by fearless2357 View Post
I am a Plat traveling on Y domestically. Does this mean I am only behind all GS, then 1K on Y/B/M? I am put ahead of the RPU group?
It is generally believed that the answer is no, you would be behind a 1K on a G fare for CPU, but it's not immediately clear how the system was updated to account for Plat YB-ups no longer clearing into PN.
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Old Jan 17, 19, 9:35 pm
  #13  
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
It is generally believed that the answer is no, you would be behind a 1K on a G fare for CPU, but it's not immediately clear how the system was updated to account for Plat YB-ups no longer clearing into PN.
I think this is probably accurate at the gate. However, a Platinum on a Y fare could clear into open PZ, if it exists, any time before the gate. So, you may or may not be behind 1K instruments (probably are) but would be ahead of 1K CPUs prior to departure -- presuming they don't run CPUs without opening PZ space.
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Old Jan 22, 19, 10:34 am
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Here's an odd situation I encountered a few days ago - I share to illustrate how the list works (I think), or to figure out if something didn't work (not making shenanigans claim).

I'm 1K, traveling with companion (no status) on same PNR. 2 RPUs from a GS friend applied to two-leg trip. Check in and we're split - companion retains original reservation locator, I get a new one. First leg UGs don't clear. Second leg showed 2 seats available when we checked in at T-24 (well, T-28), with me as #2 and companion as #3 on UG list, and stayed that way, until a few hours before second flight, when it moved to 3 seats available. About T-4, my companion gets upgraded. I remain #2 on list, with 2 seats available. Closer to flight time, drops to one seat, and then person on list above me is upgraded at gate to last seat.

Here's what I think happened - sound right?

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.
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Old Jan 22, 19, 10:36 am
  #15  
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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.
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.

UA broke the upgrade system when it changed fare classes. Mostly impossible to reverse engineer the process right now, because the "rules" as we know them are not being consistently applied.
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