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Can I Use Miles to Upgrade an Award Ticket on United?

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TPG reader Dave tweeted me to ask:

@thepointsguy–”Is it possible to use miles on United to upgrade to first class for a ticket that was booked using miles?”

I often get asked this question in one form or another. With pretty much all airlines, if you redeem miles for an award ticket in economy, you can’t then use miles to upgrade to a premium cabin.

It’s hard to upgrade using miles on a ticket that was already booked with miles. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

However, if you use credit card points or even Starwood points to book flights directly, then you’re effectively paying for an economy ticket, and you can then use frequent flyer miles to upgrade if you’re in an eligible fare class. You will have to re-deposit or re-ticket in business or first class in order to fly in that cabin.

Some airlines may sell upgrades at the gate and you may get lucky, but in general, if you book an international economy award with most carriers, expect to fly in economy. It’s pretty difficult to combine miles as an upgrade when a ticket is already booked as an award.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at

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