The big news Friday was United’s devaluation of its MileagePlus award chart starting 01 February 2014, particularly for premium cabins on Star Alliance partners, but United also announced a policy change eliminating complimentary upgrades on flights to/from Northern South American and within Asia:
The following restrictions apply to upgrades on flights to/from Northern South America and within Asia departing on or after February 1, 2014: (1) Complimentary Premier Upgrades and instant upgrades are not applicable; (2) Regional Premier Upgrades (for any fare class) and Global Premier Upgrades (for flights booked in fare class Z, P, S, T, L, K, G or N) can no longer be requested on or after November 1, 2013; (3) There is no co-pay exemption for MileagePlus Upgrade Awards requested on or after November 1, 2013.
So, miles (without a co-pay exemption for Premier members) or Global Premier Upgrades for fare classes W or higher and can still be used, but no more complimentary upgrades on flights within Asia or to the following points considered Northern South America:
It is safe to say that few will be burning systemwide upgrades on a 4-5 hour flight with a domestic first class product…that is why complimentary upgrades logically were given in that market in the first place. Perhaps this is the first step of a gradual rollback of United’s complimentary upgrade program…
United distinguishes Asia from Oceania, so complimentary upgrades will still be possible to/from its Guam hub to the many points served in Asia (and even Cairns in Australia). On a recent 777 (domestic config) flight from Guam to Tokyo, business class went out 1/4 full, so it is nice that elites will still be eligible for upgrades on these routes.
In my experience, upgrades to Northern South America are a cinch, so I expect United employees and other pass riders to be very pleased with what will become an easy region to secure front cabin space in.
Why the cutbacks in upgrades? Who knows. United probably figured everyone would be up and arms over the devalued award chart and just overlook this…