United upgrades the upgrade process for Global Services

One of the nice benefits Global Services elites get from United Airlines on domestic trips is that complimentary upgrades (CPUs, f/k/a UDU/EUA) clear in to the PN bucket rather than the R bucket. That means a lot more upgrades for those passengers in general. But, until recently, that only applied for CPUs, not upgrades supported by other instruments such as miles, GPUs or RPUs, and only on domestic trips, not all flights. Acting on a tip from a reader this afternoon (thanks!) I reached out to the United Airlines twitter team to confirm if that policy has recently changed. It has:

While this change will have roughly no effect on the vast majority of customers who fly United it is a significant improvement for the GS members. The PN bucket is much more widely available than the R bucket meaning their upgrades should clear in advance more often. And given that the GS passengers are usually the high value customers which United tries to make happy, relaxing the upgrade inventory requirement seems like quite the generous move. Generally speaking upgrades will clear at time of request a LOT more often (nearly always, I’m betting) and on all routes. Great news if you’ve got that status.

For everyone else, I’m pretty sure the net impact is relatively neutral. If the GS elite was waitlisted at the same time as a lower tier elite the GS was getting the upgrade ahead of them anyways with the R inventory so not a huge difference. Maybe a difference if the company holds back more upgrades for last minute GS purchases, but I don’t really think that this change should affect that either way.

I will note that last year when I was lucky enough to have GS status I did have the agents force a GPU into P a couple times in IRROPs but never as part of the normal course of travel. So that upgrade is not unprecedented but it is a formal policy now.

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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. What is your impression of GS overall when you had the status? I’ve usually flown a couple of airlines and so had my status and spend spread out. Been thinking about moving it entirely to UA since they are doing better operationally and have a much better network for my purposes. Understandably, there’s no guarantee that I’ll get it. But I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out – whether the perks it has over 1K is worth an attempt to get it.

  2. What is PN used for normally on long-haul flights? On expertflyer.com I read that it’s for “Upgrade from B/M Class for Elites” and the mouse over says it’s not for BusinessFirst routes, only for domestic first class.

    I was just looking at international routes I wanted to upgrade on and saw a ton of PN space while R sits at 0, but was confused given the text above.

  3. Prior to this PN was not used for anything on routes marketed with BF service. That note from EF is based on my initial work getting the fare buckets figured out and this change is brand new so not much of a surprise that they don’t have it yet. I’m guessing they will soon enough.

    @MK: My GS experience was fine, but not exactly what I was expecting, particularly in IRROPs situations. Once or twice I had to press them to deliver on promised benefits and a couple other times they were surprisingly inflexible when dealing with issues they caused my MX troubles. That said, there are other aspects of the program which are very nice. Once when trying to SDC from JFK-IAD-ORD to a later LGA-ORD – a change which should not have been permitted for a number of reasons – I started to explain to the agent that I was looking for SDC space. She interrupted me and said, quite simply, “Mr. Miller, what would make you happy at the end of this phone call?” I told her, she put me on hold and came back 2 minutes later with the ticket reissued. The upgrade cleared not long after that. So there were definitely high spots in the service but it wasn’t completely consistent. Part of that might be because I was absolutely at the bottom of the GS totem pole (yes, there are tiers within the program) but I don’t know for certain.

  4. Yet another example of how United has actually become two airlines: one for the GS pax, and a completely different one for everyone else. Rather than improve upgrades or boarding process for loyal 1K fliers who fly day in and day out on them, it has completely neglected them in favor of the 1% who have GS. It’s a shame, and it’s why I switched to American after 1MM on UA.

    1. What is there to improve on upgrades for 1K? Generally speaking, if there are seats open, they get them, it’s not like a free for all where if a silver beats 1K to checkin they are higher on the list. And I quite like the boarding process now that there aren’t “Premier Access” and “Economy” lanes, but lanes for individual groups, which makes it much smoother.
      And there is a reason they cater more to GS than any other group, and it isn’t for fun, GS customers provide more revenue than the other customer.

  5. I was hoping that the GPUs for GS would tap into P/PN space for all intl flights, but after I re read the post I got the domestic part that I had skipped on earlier.

  6. @Kris Ziel Silver does trump a 1K if they are on Y or B fares. My upgrade rates as a 1K are pretty abysmal and I’m not buying the cheapest fares. It all depends when and where you fly. Based on my experience I could quite easily see 1K’s going almost the whole year with only a couple of upgrades.

  7. I just tested this out and it worked. However, I could not process the upgrade myself on the website. I had to call the GS desk and they made it happen. I confirmed that R=0 on my international segments (LAX-NRT-LAX) and PN=9. Originally booked in W.

  8. Does this still apply if you are a non GS member who is being sponsored with a GPU from a GS member?

  9. Any idea what the standards are for GS these days? Still seems to be a giant mystery elsewhere on the internet…..

    1. It is a giant mystery mostly because UA keeps it that way. Alas, I have no special insight other than to have observed that there are enough exceptions to the “rules” discussed elsewhere to suggest that no one really knows too well.

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