Can You Use United Miles to Upgrade a Ticket on Lufthansa?

by on July 7, 2013 · 14 comments

in Lufthansa, star alliance, Sunday Reader Questions, United, Video Blog Post

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TPG follower Jason has a flight booked on Lufthansa that he would like to upgrade using United miles:

“‪@thepointsguy‬‬ can you use United miles to upgrade a ticket you already bought on Lufthansa?”

Yes you can upgrade a Lufthansa ticket using your United miles, but be aware that you must be booked in the most expensive fare classes.

That’s the big downside to using miles to upgrade across alliances, because even though airlines have these agreements where you can use miles on one to upgrade tickets on another, you’re often paying much higher fares in order to qualify to do so. And once you book a ticket in one of those fare classes, the cost is already so high that it usually isn’t worth it to then redeem your hard earned United miles for an upgrade.

In this particular case, United’s partner upgrade page says that your ticket must be in Y or B class in economy – expensive full-fare – or B, C or J in business class in order to use miles to upgrade on Lufthansa. There’s not much of a bargain to be had there.


This is the downside to alliances – while they have agreements where you can upgrade across the board using one airline’s miles to upgrade on another (which is nice since you have many more options), in order to qualify to do so, you often need to purchase a full-fare or refundable economy ticket. Some carriers do have agreements with other airlines to allow upgrades in more fare classes, but in general you’re going to be slammed with having to book that higher fare class.

SkyTeam Mileage Upgrade Program

SkyTeam Mileage Upgrade Program

The other alliances, like SkyTeam and OneWorld, do have the alliance-wide upgrades though not every carrier participates. Either way, it is going to cost you. Basically unless you are a full-fare business traveler who isn’t so concerned with the high cost of a refundable ticket, these alliance upgrades are likely not going to be worth it.

What I would recommend is to forget alliance-wide upgrades and stay within one airline. It’s usually much less restrictive to buy a ticket on United and then use your United miles to process an upgrade. When you’re staying within one carrier, they usually have more fare classes available since it’s the airline’s own upgrade scheme.

What is your take on alliance-wide upgrades, do you feel they are worth it?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Dundili

    How do you actually upgrade the LH flight? At the airport or before?

  • thepointsguy

    Call before

  • charlie

    I recently looked into upgrading a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Tehran and ran into the same issue. United was unwilling to upgrade that flight due to the embargo on Iran. I then applied for the Barclay Lufthansa card figuring I could use some of the 50K miles signup bonus to upgrade. I’ve been a bit active in the last 3 months receiving signup bonus cards and Barclays did not give an instant approval. Also Lufthansa would not even let me know if they had available seats for upgrade until after I bought the ticket. My visa requirements made it imperative to be on particular flights and they were filling up. Not knowing if Barclays would give me the miles, and not knowing that even if I had the miles seats were available I choose to go cheap and book the lower class fare. I was a little surprised that Lufthansa’s premium economy doesn’t get a better seat, free bags, early boarding, etc. Only more miles and a chance to upgrade. Felt like I lost the battle.

  • Dhurd

    LH Business Class is noting special anyways. They don’t even have lie flats. Though First Class, that something else.

  • thepointsguy

    Their new business class is lie flat. Their old product isn’t great, but id still greatly prefer over economy!

  • Kacee

    Agree completely. The star alliance upgrade is an illusory benefit for most travelers. Not only is it mostly unavailable, but the price in miles is quite high.

  • Efilon87

    Booked a business award with my UA miles from IAH-FRA on the LH A380. Am I able to us LH miles to upgrade to first class?

  • Bocos

    I booked an economy award ticket on LH using United miles. (Business wasn’t available for an award ticket.) If I want to upgrade to business, would I be able to do so with LH miles if seats are available? How many LH miles does it take to upgrade from economy to business flying from the USA to Europe? Does anyone know if during the day of departure upgrades might be available or any other options I’m not aware of? Thanks!

  • thepointsguy

    Nope you’d have to reticket into first is availability opens up

  • Dan

    TPG – when was the last time you actually flew International Long Haul (across an ocean, not Caribbean) Economy?

  • Rick

    TPG would definitely know more about it, but based on what I know, you wouldn’t be able to upgrade an award ticket. As he mentioned before, it would have to be Y or B buckets, the award tickets aren’t booked as Y or B.

  • Bill

    Bought a round-trip ticket on United, IAD-FCO, where return leg was on Lufthansa with fare class Economy B. Was trying to use the online ‘upgrade with miles’ page on and it kept giving me an error response. Called United and the lady at the Alliance desk said it was because I was on a United code share. She was able to change the code share flights to actual LH flights (without an upcharge). I am now able to complete the online request without an error. (Still no seats, but lady at Alliance desk said to keep trying up until the flight date).

  • Deb Miller

    I think it’s insane how difficult the airlines and alliances are now making it to upgrade at all… United’s new plan on how they’re going to be awarding miles flown based on fare paid is going to make it even more challenging because it’ll be harder to earn the miles you’ll need to upgrade – at least it’s only United for now.

  • Artpen100

    Any idea on whether there is much availability of seats for upgrades with miles if you do book B or Y with united on LH metal TATL? I am concerned that if the flight is not showing up as upgradeable from regular economy on at the time of booking, the chance of it coming up later is about the chance of it opening up on regular economy TATL, which in my experience is close to nil.

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