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Refusing a United upgrade and other questions

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Dec 30th, 2018, 05:22 PM
  #1
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Refusing a United upgrade and other questions

My wife and I are heading to Europe next fall and are considering purchasing the new upgradable Premium Plus seats and using miles and cash to upgrade to Polaris Business. This would be our first time requesting an upgrade and I'm hoping those with experience can answer a couple of questions about UA's procedures. The United site has you pay for everything up front, including miles and cash for the upgrade. I understand that if you don't get upgraded, the miles are credited and extra fees returned. Do they let you know ahead of time if you're upgraded or does that only happen at the departure gate? Also, if your tickets are together, do they upgrade both and if not, is it possible to refuse the upgrade and still get the extra fees returned? (I'm assuming you surrender your original seat when you upgrade and neither of us want to sit with a stranger for 11 hours if the other is in Business.)
BTW we don't have Premier or Elite status, just miles/cash and the UA credit card. TIA.

Last edited by greytop13; Dec 30th, 2018 at 05:26 PM.
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Dec 31st, 2018, 06:55 AM
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You'll know if you're upgraded when the airline's "revenue management" computer systems decide it's okay to release seats into award/upgrade inventory. That can happen at any time between when you book and when you show up at the airport. IN GENERAL, on transatlantic routes, upgrades "clear" close to the flight date, if ever. As passengers with no elite status, you'll be at the bottom of the totem pole, so honestly I would not get my hopes up.

Now this is your money and miles, but I'll just say this: upgrades with miles and co-pays is almost universally a bad deal. Try this experiment: imagine your miles are worth 2c apiece. Most frequent mileage users assign a dollar value to their miles, with the majority counting them as being worth 1.5c to 2.5c apiece. Now multiply the number of miles needed for the upgrade (remember, upgrades are for one-way travel) by 2c, double it for round trip travel, and add the co-pays to the total. Add that sum to the "base" price of the premium economy tickets and see what you get.

Not knowing your dates or route, I did the following guesstimate, using United's website for a Newark to Paris round trip in September/October.

Base fare, $2995 per person (fare class "A.") United just rolled out their premium economy (PE) fare early this month, so their website is still pretty wonky on questions of upgrades etc.

Miles needed for upgrade (guessing here) - 20,000 one way, 40,000 round trip. At 2c per mile, that's a valuation of $800.

Co-pay needed for upgrade (again, guessing based on United's lowest priced existing co-pay) $250, $500 round trip.

So total round trip cost = $2995 + $800 + $500 = $4295.

Now, what would actual business class tickets for the same days cost? $3392 on American, $3889 on Delta, $3915 on Air France, and $4002 on United - same planes. If you were going to Frankfurt instead, subtract roughly $1000 for each of those for business class.

Now of course these numbers could be quite different based on your dates and where you're flying from or flying to, but the point is that you could save $1000 or more out of pocket, PLUS earn miles rather than spending them, and have confirmed business class seats right from the start, by passing on the upgrade idea and just buying business class seats in the first place.

I'll also mention that depending on your dates, late summer into autumn is often when airlines discount business class seats, but the discounted prices won't appear until March or April of next year. You're really not going to lose anything by being patient, and on the other hand you might be able to save a bundle.
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Dec 31st, 2018, 10:00 AM
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Gardyloo, I was hoping you'd see my post. Your advice is always spot on. Thanks for the detailed information. I've never been sure how to calculate the value of miles. I found PE tix in the R bucket (deep discount, upgradeable) for $1205 from the West Coast. The upgrade to business class would be 20k miles and $425 per leg for a total of 80K and $1700. If the miles are worth $1200 to $1600, that puts the upgrade at $2655-$2855 per seat. I may be mistaken, but I think that's in the ballpark of a good price for business from the West Coast to LHR. We flew Polaris for the first time last year and loved it. However, if our status for an upgrade makes our chances slim to none, we'll hold out for a better price in Spring and assured business seats.
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Dec 31st, 2018, 04:15 PM
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To me, at least, the certainty of paid seats trumps the chance of marginal savings with award seats, but if you can afford to be patient, that's the best plan. Like I say, business class sales DO happen, but usually don't show up until later.

Four thoughts - first, look at alternatives to London such as Dublin, Paris or Amsterdam, which can help avoid big departure taxes (Air Passenger Duty) that you pay for longhaul departures from the UK. Flying open-jaw - to London, home from Amsterdam, say, can save big bucks.

Second, monitor this board on Flyertalk - https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/premium-fare-deals-740/ . The wonks at FT (okay, guilty as charged) spot the hot deals sooner than anybody else. Some flexibility with origin/destination can result in big savings.

Third, if you're on the west coast, check prices out of Vancouver. Often the short hop to YVR can save a bundle on business class itineraries.

Last, look at fly/hotel packages. American Airlines' Vacations - https://www.aavacations.com/ - often do deep discounts on business class fares if you stay a few nights in hotels you book through them.

Happy hunting and Happy New Year!

Last edited by Gardyloo; Dec 31st, 2018 at 04:19 PM.
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Dec 31st, 2018, 04:18 PM
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Thanks, and Happy New Year to you!
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Jan 1st, 2019, 10:54 AM
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Let me offer another option - booking with United Vacations. You can book the flights for the dates you want and book a hotel for just one night if you have in mind other accommodations then available on the UV packages. We have done a couple trips this way and snagged Polaris for a lot less than the lowest available on united website.
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Jan 1st, 2019, 06:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Seamus View Post
Let me offer another option - booking with United Vacations. You can book the flights for the dates you want and book a hotel for just one night if you have in mind other accommodations then available on the UV packages. We have done a couple trips this way and snagged Polaris for a lot less than the lowest available on united website.
Okay, please for this dimbulb, how do I do this? When I go to book I don't see any way to reduce the # of nights in the hotel.
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Jan 2nd, 2019, 06:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Leely2 View Post
Okay, please for this dimbulb, how do I do this? When I go to book I don't see any way to reduce the # of nights in the hotel.
Go to the "advanced search options" link and under "hotel options" put in different dates than the flights. For example, I just priced a 7-night business class trip from Newark to Paris in May, but with only three nights in a Paris hotel, and the total came to $200 cheaper than for the flights alone.
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Jan 2nd, 2019, 09:53 AM
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An example: I just completed an AAVacations trip R-T London. Huge (HUGE) money saver. My trip was intended to be West Coast to London, London to Munich, home from Frankfurt (or possibly CA to Munich, Frankfurt to London, London Home) for a few days in London and a Main/Rhine Christmas cruise. OMG. The airfares were astronomical. Tried every permutation of open jaw, tried Business for the east bound flight (need those beds overnight) and coach home. Nothing was even remotely doable. So I went to Plan B R-T in/out of LHR and then Lufthansa or BA or EasyJet for connections between London and Germany. Business both way was still well over $5000(!). Tried Business SMF > LHR and Coach home -- still over $4200.

Then -- I woke up and remembered AA Vacations . . . Voila. I ended up Business both ways, PLUS 3 nights at the quite trendy/pretty upmarket St Martin's Lane hotel for a grand total of $3200 plus change. So I think of it as either 3 nights free hotel plus a substantially discounted fare - or - R-T Business for abut $2000. Either way I was a very happy camper.
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Jan 5th, 2019, 06:38 AM
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Thank you all for this VERY informative and useful thread. I, among others I am sure, really appreciate it !
And Happy New Year !
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Jan 7th, 2019, 07:37 AM
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One of the advantages of getting older (there are also some disadvantages) you make decisions on what you want and can afford rather than the long term implications of spending more money.

I used to accumulate AA air miles and use them for flights. Then eventually I noticed that each year it became more and more difficult to not only use the miles but to get decent flights using air miles.

Until I checked AA flights without air miles it looked like AA didn't fly anywhere good and when they did they only had miserable connections. Clearly that's not the case.

Last year after looking day by day I finally was able to use our last big chunk of air AA miles on Business Class. I looked not only during the spring/summer period but we were flexible as to where we would go. We got a non-stop flight from MIA to CDG and a not so good return from Marseilles to MIA. The not so good return turned out to be quite a bit worse than that.

Now I use a cash back card and pay for our flights with cash. An expensive way to live but at least we go when we want, where we want and get the best connections any air lines offer.
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Jan 13th, 2019, 02:56 AM
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Some really useful info here, thanks. One last note: if you work for a large company that books a lot of corporate travel, see if they have any fare deals also available for personal use. I recently learned that I could use our travel department to book Switzerland-New York flights on Delta/KLM in business for $1500 RT year-round. I have to let the dept do the booking with my personal cc. I prefer to fly Swiss for the miles, but 1500 RT in biz in high season is very tempting.
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