United has transformed its premium service (p.s.) fleet that operates between Los Angeles/San Francisco and New York JFK from a three-cabin configuration with older seats in business and first class to a two-cabin configuration with fully lie-flat seats in business class. United has also increased wi-fi speeds, provided on-demand entertainment at each seat, and caters the flight as an international longhaul (though economy still must purchase hot and cold meals). With that transformation complete, United has raised the price of upgrading on this route using miles without notice.
New Co-Pay Rates
Here are the new prices for one-way upgrades based on fare class–
- Y = 5K miles + no co-pay
- B = 10K miles + no co-pay
- M/E/U = 15K miles + $75
- H/Q = 15K miles + $125
- V = 17.5K miles + $175
- W = 17.5K miles + $225
- S/T/K/L/G/N = 20K miles + $250
Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs) can still be used on this route (making them even more valuable) and MileagePlus elite members are still exempt from co-pays on this route (and all U.S./Canada routes except to/from Hawaii).
Upgrade booked prior today at the cheaper rate will be honored, but the new rate is effective immediately. No advance notice was given, which UA seems to think it can get away with regarding upgrades. Voluntary changes to your upgraded p.s. reservation will result in the new co-pay being charged.
Is it worth it to upgrade?
That’s a tough question and depends on your individual situation. If I was flying on a cheap fare, there is no way I would spend 40K miles and $500 r/t to upgrade when there is hot meals for purchase, wi-fi, and AVOD behind the curtain. But, considering that each flight is 5.5 hours, you are looking at less than $50/hr and less than 4K miles per hour in order to enjoy a fully lie-flat seat and a decent meal–that’s not a great value but also not a terrible, especially if you need to arrive at your destination refreshed.
I fly United so often that I don’t bother to write up trip reports much anymore, but I recently took a friend with me on p.s. and he was absolutely loved it–having only flown on domestic first class seats in the past, he became an instant United fan.
How to Upgrade
In order to confirm you upgrade in advance, your flight must have R space available. You can check R space by calling United reservations or enabling Expert Mode on united.com (a process I will walk through in an upcoming post). Once your reservation is ticketed, you can click “upgrade” on the menu bar at the top of your reservation and confirm the upgrade. Miles will deducted immediately and co-pay charged. If there is not R space, you will also have the option of waitlisting for an upgrade. Miles will still be deducted and co-pay charged.
Lack of Advance Notice
To its credit, United gave us plenty of advanced notice when it devalued its award chart last February. I cannot figure out why United feels that upgrades are different–that suddnely charging $175 more for the same service does not merit a little advance notice for those who have scrupulously saved their points for that purpose.
Going forward, airlines will continue to act in their perceived self-interest, but I believe United and all airlines gain much more respect and acceptance of their devaluations if they just communicate them in advance.