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I need help understanding United's upgrades and upgradeable fares

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Mar 3rd, 2009, 08:44 AM
  #1
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I need help understanding United's upgrades and upgradeable fares

Okay...we are trying to get from ORD to HNL on United in Septebmer 2009 (actually trying to get to LIH, but figured out that it appears to be making the most sense to just book the HNL to LIH leg on Hawaiian Air - that will be another post!).

I have found an "S" class upgradeable airfare that appears reasonably priced (though slightly more than the fare that is not upgradeable). We want to ugrade. A couple questions:

1. All over the place in red, UAL states that there is no guarantee that upgraded seats will be available. Of course we don't want to pay an extra dime for the "upgradeable" fare if we actually can't upgrade. When I called United, they said I would need to actually book the fare and contact Mileage Plus to find out if there would be upgradeable seats available. They did confirm that there are first class seats avaible, but not all are available for upgrade.

2.The new upgrade chart (effective July 1, 2009) shows that the ugrade will cost 17,500 each way PLUS $250 to $500 per leg. How do I find out the exact cost. I think it may be worth it for an additional $500 per ticket, but not $1,000 (still actually debating on the $500).

3. In the past, I have first class with miles and got screwed by United when the flight got cancelled in advance of our trip (usually months in advance) and we got put on another flight and told no first class seats were available. Only choice was to go coach (despite the fact we used enough FF miles for first) or to cancel. With the upgrades and high dollar cost associated with them, any clue on what the odds are that this could happen?

Thanks. I really hate United sometimes (despite being a PE, I rarely use my miles becasue I find it to be a pain in the butt!). Appreciate the input.
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 10:35 AM
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I haven't really studied the new July 1 rules yet because I haven't had need to, but a couple of thoughts.

I'm not sure I understand the "upgradeable" fare for domestic flights. According to the website: "For travel within Region 1 (North America, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America) upgrade awards can be used with booking classes C, D, Y, B, M, H, Q, V, W, S, K, L and T." That pretty much covers the economy fares that you can buy via the website. I rarely use miles to upgrade domestic flights (Hawaii only), so I don't have much experience with it, but I thought the fare class restrictions only apply to to international flights outside Region 1.

I don't think they've published the details on the co-pays yet. But, the website does say, "Upgrade awards requested prior to the effective date for travel after the effective date will not be affected." So, I would think if you buy and request an upgrade now, it wouldn't apply.

All of that said, upgrades to/from Hawaii are very hard to get. Maybe if traffic is down this year, it will be easier, but I personally wouldn't expect them to clear until close to the time of the flight.
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 10:47 AM
  #3
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ms_go - Thanks. Some fares are not upgradeable - when I was searching online, one of the flights I selected literally said "Flight not upgardeable" - perhaps not one of the booking classes above.

I thought that if you used miles to upgrade you could lock in right away once booked? I know 500 mile certificates were not cleared until 24-72 hours before depending on status, but I thought you could use miles anytime after booked...hmmm...do they publish when they can clear? So confusing.

Thanks for letting me know that the co-pays don't apply if booked before July 1. I just assumed it was travel after July 1.
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 10:49 AM
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I'm generally fine with the Fodor's changes, but I do miss the preview/edit function!

I meant to say, I would think if you buy and request an upgrade now, the new co-pay rules would not apply.
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 10:59 AM
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You can lock in the upgrade right away if there's upgrade inventory available. But, that inventory is capacity controlled, just like saver awards. It can open up at any time, or not.

Do you know how to search for upgrade inventory on the website?
-Set your online profile to "expert"
-Do a dummy search for a standard award
-Hold your mouse over "flight info" for a particular flight
-Look for "NC" availability; if it says NC0, there is nothing available
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 11:31 AM
  #6
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ms_go - thanks...very helpful...of course it says NCO on my flights.

It kills me that United calls the fares "upgradeable" but yet you really can't upgrade. I have flown the better part of a million miles on United and can never seem to find a way to easily use the miles (I suppose I should know more about their program flying UAL so much, but I really do avoid using FF miles).
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 11:38 AM
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Sorry, I was thinking international, because that's what I usually search for. It would be "NF" for domestic first. NC is international business. I should not be trying to work and look at Fodor's at the same time.
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 11:05 PM
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Ok you are making this more complicated than it really is. (Not that it's fun, but it's not complex)The truth is, if there is not availability in First when oyu book, it's true, there is no guarantee you will be able to upgrade even if you buy and upgradeable fare. That's ghow united does it. However you CAN maximize your chances.
1) The NEW rules (co pays etc) take place for flights BOOKED after June 30, 2009. SO if you are trying to book now it won't apply to you
2 if you are seeing flights that are not upgradeable on DOMESTIC flights it may be because there is a leg not on United metal. .
3) If you are flexible at all with dates, times etc. - this involves being at the phone and the computer
- go to ual.com and plug in a date you want to fly
- call UAL and have the agent plug in dates etc where there is availability to upgrade to F. If oyu can be flexible or can deal with connecting flights, they MAY be able to find space. IF they do, type those flights into UAL.com EXACTLY as the agent give them to you, then pay right away and request the upgrade. You should be able ot do that and avoid the phone booking fee.

4) If there is no upgradeable space you have some choices. You can ask the agent tot ell you which flight look more open and book the flights and take your chances. (You can do it yourself by doing "dummy" bookings and seeing which flights have the most F seats open at all. This will give oyu SOME idea of how full F is likely to be)
However it is true that Domestic US to HI in F is one of the most popular routes United flies, and upgrades are very hard to come by except at the gate. And you are flying from ORD which along with SFO, JFK and LAX has the highest proportion of UAL top tier fliers (PE, 1K, UGS) in the system .

beyond that I don't know what to tell you. Every airline does upgrades differently and UAL is no worse than others. If you are looking for MORE than 2 F seats I will say that is likely to be VERY VERY difficult.

Good luck.
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Mar 4th, 2009, 12:54 PM
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Thanks...yes, I probably am making this more difficult than it is. I just tried calling United, but got a very unhelpful agent (I usually have to call a few times before I find someone that will go out of there way to help).

My fall back is to book the flight and cross my fingers. I have a ticket on hold and we are in the exit row both flights, which isn't so bad. Would really like that upgrade for the red-eye on the way home though!

So far all the F seats are avaiable for the flights we are looking at. I also checked these same flights for hypothetical dates in March, April, May, etc. Most were open on all these, too (yet "no availability").

I will stress about this another day and then book
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Mar 5th, 2009, 12:13 AM
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Why don't you just book ORD-LIH on United? You would connect in SFO or LAX.
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Mar 5th, 2009, 07:06 AM
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Didn't book ORD-LIH because airfare was a lot more (>$300 difference). Plus we wanted to leave the option open to stay a couple nights in Hawaii to see Pearl Harbor, etc...
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