Ups and downs for United GPUs on Lufthansa

Then I'm happy and sad for you.
Then I’m happy and sad for you.

United Airlines and Lufthansa have changed the way some upgrades are handled between the two carriers. The long-awaited (or at least long-indicated) transition from paper GPU certificates to an electronic solution has finally happened and, as is often the case, there is good and bad news.

Upgrade Timing

The good news is that upgrades can be processed in advance, as early as the time of ticketing. Previously upgrades were only available at the departure gate. And upgrades can be waitlisted if it cannot confirm at booking. These are two significant changes and should be relatively well received. The bad news is that GPU-supported upgrades now carry a 10-hour cutoff. They must be REQUESTED at least 10 hours prior to departure and they must CLEAR 10 hours prior to departure. This means no last-minute upgrades at the gate when there is a no-show.

Eligible Fare Classes

For United Airlines-operated flights passengers must have a minimum of a W fare class to upgrade from coach to business. Using those same GPUs on Lufthansa metal has required a V fare class (one higher than W) for the past few years. Combined with the upgrades only clearing at the gate that made for a bit of a gamble in paying more in hopes of an upgrade. Under the new policy the minimum fare class on Lufthansa-operated flights is now a Q fare, two higher than the W for United flights. That gamble just got a bit bigger.

Codeshare flights (i.e. UA flight number operated by Lufthansa) are also eligible for upgrades which is another win for customers. Unfortunately they cannot be processed online; one must call in to request the upgrade in such cases.

Overall it is a mixed bag of changes. Some will love the advance confirmation potential while others will lament the inability to clear at the last minute or the higher minimum fare requirement. At least the upgrades are skipping Lufthansa’s new premium economy cabin for 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. Bummer about the new Q fare or higher requirement. However I don’t think codeshare upgrades are new. In the past I never had issues with using paper certs on codeshare flights as long as they’re operated by LH. Given that doesn’t actually alow you to book specific fare class I’d usually book them through united as codeshare and then upgrade with the cert.

    BTW, do you know what are the criteria for clearing the upgrade? Are they coming out of a specific fare bucket or can you upgrade as long as there are any seats in that class?

    1. Definitely capacity controlled for the upgrades; I’m not certain what inventory bucket LH uses or if it is visible anywhere publicly.

      I wasn’t sure about the codeshare thing in the past. The mention of needing to call in for them is really why I shared that bit of the news.

        1. Everything else in *A is based on the underlying code of the operating carrier so I have no reason to believe this is any different. I suppose one could find out in the 24-hour free refund window but I’d bet against that working out.

  2. any idea what the business to first upgrade path looks like / required fare classes?

    First is typically empty on routes I take like SFO FRA and YVR FRA.

    1. For business to first the upgrades book into “O” which is the same as the award bucket for first class travel. Typically it is not made available to partners more than 14ish days in advance of travel.

      1. Thanks Seth —

        O is the United First fare class, right?

        Any idea which of the business fare classes are eligible for the GPU?

        Like J probably can upgrade to an F award but I doubt Z (deep discount business) can.

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