United Offers Discounted First Class Upgrade at Time of Purchase

Apr 24, 2014

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Yesterday I was helping a family member book a flight to Washington DC (I’m sure lots of you act as the ‘family travel agent’ as well), and after we had completed the booking we were offered the opportunity to confirm a first class seat for $159 each way.  That’s not an insignificant amount of money, but it certainly struck me as discounted compared to what the normal cost is to buy up to first from that fare.  This was a non-elite passenger who purchased a round trip ticket from Houston to Washington DC for $379, which is actually a pretty decent price for those two markets outside of a sale or fare war.

United Discounted Upgrade

The $159 upgrade price displayed via a pop-up right after booking the ticket.  We declined to spend the money for the upgrade, but it did strike me as interesting, and certainly a lower price than I normally see to upgrade on United on a 3 hour flight.  After we declined the upgrade on that screen, the price that was offered to upgrade each segment when going into the reservation was $720+ each direction, so clearly the $159 was a very discounted price compared to that rate.

United Full Price Upgrades

We wouldn’t have paid the extra money in this case regardless, but I think United might see a better conversion rate on these offers if they marketed them as a “one time only offer” and gave the head’s up that if you didn’t accept the offer then that the price may be (much) higher later.  Not only would it probably be better marketing, but it would be a fair warning to the consumer who might be on the fence about whether to spend the money for the upgrade.  If my family member had been reasonably interested in that upgrade, but wanted to think on it a bit, they would have been out of luck when they went to buy even a few minutes later as the price over 4x after we clicked off of that screen.

Once upon a time in my pre-elite days with United/Continental, I was offered cheap upgrades to first when I checked into flights (sometimes referred to online as “Tens of Dollars upgrades”), but rarely were the prices majorly discounted at the time of purchase.

I’m curious as to whether you have also recently seen some of these discounted first class upgrades at the time of purchase, and whether the price jumped as soon as you clicked off of the pop-up.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.