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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?

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