A reader recently asked me to explain the difference between a pending upgrade and a waitlisted uprade on United Airlines.
It’s really quite simple: pending means that you are outside the time limit for a waitlist to clear. Waitlist means you are within the time limit and if an upgrade seat were available, it would have been confirmed.
Taking a step back, on United you need NF fare bucket space if you are trying to upgrade to first class or NC space if you are trying to upgrade to business class. You can check availability using tools like KVS or ExpertFlyer or by setting your Mileage Plus profile to "advanced" and performing an award search (only an award search, when you are logged in to your Mileage Plus account, will show NC and NF space). If you are using miles, a systemwide upgrade, or a regional upgrade you are eligible to clear immediately if NF or NC space is available. If there is not space available, you will immediately be waitlisted for the upgrade.
But under United’s unlimited domestic upgrade program (like the old e500 upgrade system before it), upgrades do not clear automatically even if there is upgrade space–they only clear at a specified point before each flight.
|Status||Prior to departure,
confirmed as early as
|United Global Services||120 hours|
|United Premier Executive 1K||100 hours|
|United Premier Executive||72 hours|
|Continental Presidential Platinum||72 hours|
|Continental Platinum||72 hours|
|Continental Gold||72 hours|
|United Premier||48 hours|
|Continental Silver||48 hours|
So while an upgrade is automatically requested on your behalf when you purchase your ticket if you are a United elite, your upgrade will be displayed at "pending" instead of "waitlisted" until you reach your upgrade window. Once you have reached your window, your upgrade will either be confirmed or waitlisted.
Occasionally, you might find an "upgrade denied" message next to your flight. Just ignore it. I haven’t seen one lately, but it is just a glitch. Even if you are #42 on the upgrade list with zero seats remaining, you won’t be kicked off the upgrade list.
This gets a bit off-topic, but status appears to trump all when it comes to an upgrade. A Premier Executive trying to use a SWU to upgrade a LAX-IAD flight would be passed over for a 1K, even if that 1K’s upgrade was complimentary. As a holder of top-tier status I appreciate this, but I often wonder why United is so cautious to restrict upgrade space prior to travel, such that many (myself included) have no shot at using upgrade instruments including miles or SWUs to score a premium seat and must hope for a "free" upgrade using the unlimited domestic program. I would think UA would rather have travelers burn those than give away the upgrades for free…