The United Upgrade Clearing Order and Other Tips to Get Upgrades

People with elite status have the best chance of being upgraded on United flights, but there are other ways.
Carissa Rawson
By Carissa Rawson 
Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
united upgrade clearing order for a passenger

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We all want to sit in first class, don’t we? Or even better — business class on a long-haul international flight. If you’re flying with United Airlines and hoping to score yourself an upgrade, it can be confusing trying to parse all the different criteria.

Let’s take a look at the United upgrade clearing order and tips to snag one of those coveted seats. 

Who is eligible for an upgrade?

Not everyone who books a United flight can be upgraded. There are certain fare classes that aren’t eligible — such as basic economy — and certain limitations, like upgrades for award tickets. 

That being said, there are ways to upgrade nearly every flight except for seats in basic economy. How and when you’re upgraded will depend on a variety of factors, as we’ll discuss below. 

The United upgrade clearing order

If you’re able to get on the waitlist for an upgrade, United processes its requests in a distinct order:

  1. United Global Services requests. This elite, invite-only tier of members have all their upgrades cleared first. 

  2. PlusPoints and mileage upgrade awards. Those who redeem these for upgrades are second in line for clearance. 

  3. Elite status. The higher your status, the better your chances. 

  4. Fare class. More expensive fare classes clear first. 

  5. Chase United MileagePlus Club cardholders and Presidential Plus cardholders. High-end credit cardholders beat out cheaper cards. 

  6. United Corporate Preferred members. For those whose company enrolls them in this program.  

  7. United Chase Cardmembers with $25,000 in annual spending. Spending more gets you a better chance at getting upgraded. 

  8. When you request. The earlier you request, the better. 

When does the United upgrade waitlist clear?

Unfortunately for eager travelers, your upgrade won't clear when you book your flight. Instead, you'll be placed on a waitlist.

That said, the airline will sometimes confirm an upgrade ahead of checking in for the flight. If you are at the point of check in and haven't received news of an upgrade, you'll be added to the list (and subject to the order of clearance) outlined above.

🤓Nerdy Tip

New waitlist requests for MileagePlus Upgrade Awards can be made up to 1 day (24 hours) before departure. Conversely, new waitlist requests for PlusPoints upgrades can be made closer to departure, up until the flight check-in cutoff time.

Tips for getting upgraded

Let’s face it, not many of us are going to be invited to join United Global Services. Here are some other ways to increase your chances of snagging an upgrade on United.

Earn elite status

There are a couple of reasons you’ll want to earn elite status with United if you’re looking to get upgraded. 

First, even the lowest tier of United elite members, Premier Silver, are entitled to complimentary Premier upgrades. These are available on most domestic flights and can move you from economy class to first class for free.

Second, those who earn Platinum status and above receive an annual allotment of PlusPoints. Platinum elite members earn 40 PlusPoints and United 1K members earn 320 PlusPoints per year. 

These PlusPoints act as upgrade certificates for your flights, and they work on both domestic and international routes. Depending on your fare class, it can cost as little as 40 PlusPoints to upgrade from economy class to Polaris business class on a long-haul international route. 

Third, those who have Premier elite status are entitled to instant upgrades when purchasing a full-fare economy class ticket. This is available for Y and B fare classes, as well as the M fare class for United 1K members. 

Get a co-branded credit card

You’ve seen above that those with a co-branded United credit card are higher in the pecking order than some others, especially if you have one of the more expensive United cards. 

However, there’s one other big benefit to holding a co-branded card: upgrades on award tickets. United generally doesn’t offer upgrades on award tickets, but if you have both elite status and a United credit card, this option becomes unlocked. This also applies to a companion traveling on the same ticket. 

Buy a higher fare class

Not all airline tickets are the same. Every airline sells a specific number of tickets in different fare classes. The lower the class, the cheaper the ticket. United is no exception to this, and it gives upgrade priority to those booked in higher fare classes. 

Here’s the order of clearance for economy class tickets: Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K and G.

This means that those who’ve purchased a ticket with a U fare class will be upgraded before those who’ve booked in a W fare class. 

While this doesn’t matter a ton if you have elite status — since that precedes these upgrades — it can make a difference when it comes to breaking a tie for an upgrade. 

For example, if two United 1K members have booked economy tickets on the same flight, but one of them is in B and the other is in H, the one in B is going to get that first class seat.

Note also that S, T, L, K and G are considered deep-discount economy class tickets. You can still upgrade these, but, for example, it’ll take you 80 PlusPoints to do so. 

Book a premium economy ticket

Last, but certainly not least, is the method of purchasing Premium Plus seats in order to score an upgrade to United Polaris

On flights that have premium economy seats, those who have booked a Premium Plus seat have first priority for upgrades over everyone else. Only once those upgrade requests have cleared will United begin to process upgrades from those in economy. 

Snag a United upgrade with miles

If you don’t hold elite status but you do have a stash of United MileagePlus miles, you’re in luck. United also offers mileage upgrade awards, which have the same upgrade priority and availability as PlusPoints.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Chase Ultimate Rewards® points transfer over to United at a 1:1 ratio, making it easy to acquire more United miles. 

The cost of using a mileage upgrade award will vary based on your flight, but you may also be charged a cash co-pay. Those who are traveling in O, Y or B fare classes are exempt from these co-pays.

Getting upgraded on United, recapped

We won’t deny that there’s a certain allure to flying up front. After all, it’s the reason why many travelers chase frequent flyer programs. If you’re looking to score an upgrade on your flight, be sure to take note of the United clearing order and take advantage of these tips in order to give yourself the best possible chance of success.

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