United dropping upgrade co-pay for some

Cashing in those hard earned (or just accrued through credit card sign-up bonuses) miles for upgrades used to be a great deal. One could purchase a relatively inexpensive ticket and still fly up front without too much extra spend. Then the airlines caught on and realized that they were leaking revenue so they tightened up the rules. Flying on a cheap fare upgrading with miles became either impossible (Delta, US Airways) or required a co-pay (Continental, United Airlines, American Airlines, etc.). The co-pay basically covered the difference – and sometimes even more – to get the fare up to a higher level of total revenue for the airline, plus you were still paying the miles. Certainly the cash outlay was less than most paid business class seats but the cost wasn’t nearly as good.

United Airlines has announced that as of yesterday their elite frequent flyer customers will no longer have to pay those fees on a specific subset of routes. The routes exempted include those within the Lower 48, Canada and Alaska. Flights to Hawaii as well as most international routes will still require a co-pay for the upgrades. The co-pay fees were only introduced in January as part of a shift to permit upgrades from all fare classes. It didn’t last long for the elites.

This policy is strikingly similar to that of Continental, United’s new best buddy and hopeful merger partner. The two carriers have been aligning their frequent flyer programs and benefits for the past several months and adding this into that process isn’t all that surprising. Some of the other program alignments are noted in the links below.

This is a small give-back for a small set of customers, but it is certainly nice to se the airlines do something good for customers every now and then.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Re “The co-pay fees were only introduced in January as part of a shift to permit upgrades from all fare classes. It didn’t last long for the elites.”

    The fare class change was only for international flights and upgrades were previously available on all fare classes for domestic travel without copay.

  2. United Airlines Mileage Plus Upgrade Co-Pay Fee Investigation

    Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten, L.L.P. is currently conducting an investigation into United Airlines’ Mileage Plus ticket upgrade policy.

    As members of United Airlines Mileage Plus program, some consumers are told that they can purchase a regular Economy Class ticket and apply their accrued miles toward a seat upgrade to Business or First Class.

    After opting for the upgrade upon arriving at the airport, some consumers are surprised to find that they must pay an additional “Co-Pay” fee in order to board the airplane and claim their upgraded seat. These Co-Pay fees can range in amounts up to several hundred dollars per seat.

    If you or someone you know has been surprised by United Airlines’ requirement of Co-Pays at the point of check-in, or if you would like more information about our United Airlines investigation, please contact us using the link below:


    Please see the Disclaimer Page on our website for important information regarding communications with Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten, L.L.P.

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