United Airlines and Lufthansa were both founding members of the Star Alliance and have maintained a close relationship as both codeshare and joint venture partners over years. United’s top-status 1K flyers receive six GPUs (Global Premier Upgrades) each year and as part of that partnership, can use those GPUs to upgrade on Lufthansa as well as United flights. United introduced changes to the Lufthansa upgrade process today, some negative and some possible.
- Lufthansa GPU requests will be electronic: No more paper certificates. Starting today, you may go to the Lufthansa GPU page on united.com to learn more about the process and link to an online portal where you can request your upgrade. The request may be made as soon as your ticket is issued, up to 10 hours before flight departure.
- Please note: The online process works for flights marketed with a Lufthansa flight number (e.g. LH431). For codeshare flights marketed by United (e.g. UA8837, operated by Lufthansa), please contact the MileagePlus Service Center to make the request, rather than going online.
- Paper certificates remain valid for a very limited time: Lufthansa will retain limited capability to accept paper certificates for flights through January 31, 2015. However, acceptance is at Lufthansa’s discretion and may vary based on station capability, so we highly recommend you convert to the online process as soon as possible. If you currently have paper certificates already issued for future flights, please mail them back to using the return address on the front of the certificate, with a request that they be re-deposited to your account for future use. After today, we will no longer issue paper certificates.
- Lufthansa handles clearance priority: Your request may be confirmed instantly if upgrade seats are available. If upgrade seats are not available, you may choose to be placed on Lufthansa’s internal upgrade waitlist.
- Please note: Currently, waitlist requests will remain valid until 10 hours before departure. If Lufthansa does not clear your upgrade request by this time, we will automatically re-deposit the GPU into your account.
Lufthansa upgrades have until today remained one of the last vestiges not just of the old United, but of the last decade of airline travels — upgrades on Lufthansa had to be printed on paper and mailed out, then redeemed at the airport on a standby basis as long as long as there were seats available and sufficient meals had been catered. If the airport agent forgot to collect your upgrade certificate, you could use it again…
That is out — paper certs will still be valid through the end of January 2015, but no more paper-issued certs. There are other changes as well.
V-Class No Longer Eligible
United requires you to purchase a W-fare class in order to be eligible for a GPU upgrade on United metal and up until today, Lufthansa had required the purchase of a V-fare, one fare higher within the range of economy class fares.
V-Class is no longer eligible, meaning you’ll have to spend an extra $200-275, depending on the destination, to book into the next category up, Q class.
L, T, X, I, R, N, S, W, Z, P, K, V, O, ID, AD, IP are now excluded fare classes.
Thankfully, the GPUs still access business class, rather than the Premium Economy cabins popping up on more and more Lufthansa flights.
Upgrade Can be Waitlisted, Must be Confirmed 10hrs Before Flight
Unlike the longstanding process of nervously waiting in the check-in line or at the gate on an upgrade, upgrades must now be confirmed at least 10 hours before your flight and can be confirmed instantly, even at the time of ticketing.
That is good news for those hoping to confirm space in advance but bad news for those who book last-minute travel or wish to take advantage of the usual no-shows that leave open-seats at the last minute.
It is not clear where the upgrade inventory will be coming from, but my guess is I-Class for business (award business class) or O-Class for first (award first class). In my experience, we do not see this space open less than ten hours before departure — if it does open, it usually opens 2-5 days prior to departure (as much as 14 days), so I would not worry about missing out on very last minute space.
Under the old scheme, there was no need for a particular class of service to be available when waiting at the airport gate area prior to boarding — if there were seats that went unclaimed, you received one. If upgrades must now clear in I-Class or O-Class, there is no indication that standby upgrades would even be possible, even if permitted.
Check ANA Tool for Upgrade Space
Although the United, Aeroplan, and LifeMiles websites may show Lufthansa award space, the only 100% accurate tool, in my experience, is the ANA tool. If you see space available using this tool, it is likely you can confirm an upgrade immediately on Lufthansa.
A Good Change or Bad One?
I like that upgrades can now be confirmed in advance and I am not so bummed out by the increased fare class requirement in order to be eligible for an upgrade. I am disappointed that waitlisted upgrades cannot be transferred to an airport waiting list, because now those last-minute cancellations will lead to non-rev upgrades or empty seats rather than happy frequent flyers.