United Airlines takes away some upgrades for elite members

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Last week we covered how United massively devalued its frequent flyer program by radically increasing the amount of miles needed for partner award tickets (effective February 1, 2014).  This mileage devaluation wasn’t the only significant program change United announced.  The way certain upgrades work is also changing, and it’s not to the benefit of MileagePlus members.

Previously, United elite members received complimentary upgrades throughout North, Central and northern South America.  That effectively meant upgrades to/from/within the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America and Colombia.  Elite members also received these complimentary upgrades on some intra-Asia flights, such as from Guam to Manila or Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City.

Here are the changes:

  • Complimentary upgrades for elite members are no longer available for intra-Asia and Colombia flights.
  • Regional Premier Upgrades can no longer be used for these routes, and Global Upgrades can be used only on “standard” eligible fares for international upgrades.  That means discounted fares such as Z, P, S, T, L, K, G and N no longer qualify.
  • The cash “co-pay: exemption for these routes is now gone for MileagePlus elite members.

Essentially, what United has done is to take the intra-Asia and northern South America routes and move them from the “short-haul, easy upgrade” category to the “long-haul, costlier to upgrade” category.

Like the changes to partner award tickets, these upgrade changes are very negative for loyal elite members, and make MileagePlus significantly less valuable to savvy travelers.

If you’re thinking about jumping ship and looking for an alternative to United’s program, I am currently recommending the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and American’s AAdvantage program.  Both are significantly better than United at the moment.  Let’s hope that remains the case six months from now.


Fewer now.

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Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

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