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United has long offered a super-elite status for its top customers, called Global Services, offering members special perks beyond those available to top-tier 1K elites. The criteria for entry aren’t published, however Global Services members typically purchase full-fare tickets (in F, A, J, C, D, Y and B fare classes) and spend tens of thousands of dollars a year (some estimate $50,000 or more), before taxes and fees.

Confirmed perks include special check-in areas at United hub airports, a dedicated help desk with the airline’s most capable agents, top priority for complimentary upgrades and flexible upgrade certificates that can even be applied to award tickets and other benefits. And as of last week, it appears that United’s added another perk for its “high value” customers (presumably top Global Services members): Complimentary upgrades processed weeks or even months before departure.

United’s Global First cabin.

The upgrades come as part of a program that United is reportedly calling “surprise and delight,” so by definition they won’t be a frequent occurrence. Top customers will receive an upgrade from paid BusinessFirst to Global First on select long-haul 747, 767 and 777 aircraft, letting elites escape those embarrassing four across business-class seats and move up to the airline’s (slightly more respectable) first-class cabin, free of charge. United will also upgrade passengers on domestic flights, but considering the target group is customers who already book first-class seats, the benefits there may be negligible.

Ultimately, even top customers won’t benefit from this new program on a regular basis since upgrades will likely need to be applied manually, though it does give agents some flexibility when it comes to rewarding the airline’s most profitable frequent flyers.

H/T: Brian Sumers

Have you benefited from United’s “secret” upgrade program?

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