How To Upgrade To Business Class on United Airlines

United 767 Polaris

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United Airlines has one of the best business class hard products amongst American carriers, especially since the launch of United Polaris.

However, their business class comes at a steep price difference often over 5x as expensive as economy.

From a spacious private seat, to elevated food, and the lounge experience, United may be one of the few airlines where a business class ticket is actually worth the cost.

United’s high-end business class experience is known as Polaris and it offers passengers more than most other airlines. We’ve flown this route multiple times from Newark to Frankfurt, Chicago to London, and again from Newark to Rome (on the older configuration). Another major perk of United Polaris is the dedicated lounge they offer passengers which is an huge upgrade from the typical United Club we’ve experienced many times.

United Polaris Seat
United Polaris Business Class Seat

The good news for United travelers is the airline offers the ability to upgrade from a lower cabin at a fraction of the price after you are already ticketed. We’ve seen rates to upgrade from Economy or Premium Economy at about ~$400 and 30k miles.

Compared to the full price ticket that is a steal.

United Polaris Lounge Buffett
United Polaris Business Class Lounge

Note that many times the United Business Class upgrade from a lower tier ticket is not guaranteed and you will be put on a waitlist. In our experience as long as there is a seat available your upgrade will clear but there is a chance it does not.

How To Upgrade To Business Class

Once you have a your reservation ticketed there are a few ways you can apply for an upgrade. The easiest will be online but don’t rule out checking once you arrive at the airport.

Here is how you can go about upgrading:

Upgrade With Cash or Miles on United Website

United makes it easy to apply for an upgrade on their website and here is how you can do it.

  • Go to the United Airlines website and open Manage bookings section
  • Then, navigate to your booking reference and select manage trip

In the manage trip section you will see the third option of “Upgrade Cabin”. Click this to determine your options.

United Website Manage Trip

You will be presented with two options when you click the upgrade cabin depending on availability. It will be Upgrade with Money or Upgrade with Miles.

United Website Select Upgrade Money

Often times the Upgrade With Money option will be the cash difference of the ticket, which can be $~2,000+. This makes the Upgrade with Miles to be the most reasonable option.

United Website Select Upgrade Miles

In this instance you can see I am offered an upgrade to Polaris from EWR to BRU for 20k miles and $425. Not bad for a ticket that would be thousands of dollars more if I just paid cash. This is also a waitlist ticket but I can notice many seats in Polaris available so my upgrade will most likely clear.

Upgrade With PlusPoints

United introduced a new way flexible way to upgrade on domestic and international flights known as PlusPoints. This is one of the most flexible benefits offered to United status members allowing them an easy way to upgrade their flights or even family and friends flights.

Earning Plus Points

How you earn PlusPoints varies by status but the general breakdown is as follows:

United StatusPlusPoints Earned
1K280 PlusPoints (plus the 40 you earned with Platinum status)
1K earning additionalAdditional 20 PlusPoints for every 2,000 PQP beyond 15,000 PQP*

The benefits kick in when you reach United Platinum and you are granted with 40 PlusPoints. However, there is a huge jump once you reach 1K where you will gain 280 PlusPoints in addition to more as you accrue additional PQP.

Once you obtain your PlusPoints you will see just how flexible they are to use and provide you with a number of options depending on what you are seeking.

Short Haul Flights

Short-haul flights are generally defined as those without United Polaris business class service. These would include flights within the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and premium transcontinental service; flights between the U.S. and Canada; Bogota, Colombia; Central America; Caribbean; Mexico and Quito, Ecuador; flights between Guam and Honolulu, including island hopper service; and intra-Asia flights.

Upgrade from:Upgrade to:PlusPoints
United EconomyUnited First or United Business20
United EconomyUnited Premium Plus20
United Premium PlusUnited Business10

The amount to upgrade on one of these routes comes at a maximum of 20 PlusPoints per passenger and only 10 if you are already booked in United Premium Plus.

Note, if you are booked in United Basic Economy you cannot apply PlusPoints to upgrade.

Long Haul Flights

Long Haul Flights are defined as those with United Polaris Business class, which are mainly international flights. This is where PlusPoints can really provide a huge benefit taking you from a standard economy seat into a lie flat bed on a long journey.

The great news is the distance you fly does not affect the amount of PlusPoints needed to upgraded and United offers a standard redemption chart for each class.

Upgrade from:Upgrade to:PlusPoints
Discounted EconomyUnited Polaris business80
United EconomyUnited Polaris business40
United Premium PlusUnited Polaris business30
United EconomyUnited Premium Plus20

You’ll notice the standard rate to upgrade from United Economy to United Polaris Business is 40 PlusPoints. There is also a rate for Discounted Economy at 80 PlusPoints but note this is not Basic Economy, that is still ineligible on long haul flights. United defines Discounted Economy as fare classes: S, T, L, K and G.

Another benefit to PlusPoints is the ability to upgrade from United Economy to United Premium Plus for only 20 PlusPoints. This is a great deal that will give you a more comfortable seat and better food on a plane that has that cabin available.

Upgrade By Calling United Airlines

If you are having trouble upgrading online you can always call United to execute your upgrade. United Airlines reservation number is 1 (800) 864-8331.

Upgrade At Airport Check In

You can also upgrade when you are checking in at the airport and see if there are any last minute seats available. Given the easy options United allows we suggest checking in advance online to increase your chances. Typically the airport upgrade option is the same price as what you see online, unlike upgrading on Air France when we got a ticket for $300 from Paris to New York.

Although this is last minute, if you are not expecting an upgrade then getting one at the airport is one of the most satisfying feelings. Make sure to be polite to your check in agent as they will be more inclined to help you score the better seat.

Summary & Takeaways

Paying to upgrade to business class after you purchase a ticket is often a significantly cheaper alternative than buying a business class ticket outright. Note in recent years United has moved to a dynamical pricing model that can sometimes charge the actual fare difference making it not worth the upgrade.

We have still seen many travelers still score deals between $250 – $500 + 20,000 – 50,000 miles to upgrade to business class so we would say it’s still worth a shot. Keep your travel plans flexible and don’t bank on getting a reasonable upgrade offer but it’s always worth a shot in our opinion.

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