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United operates what you might refer to as a mini-hub at Honolulu International Airport (HNL), flying to a handful of South Pacific islands (via the “Island Hopper“), in addition to Tokyo (NRT), Guam (GUM) and the following mainland US destinations:

  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD)*
  • Denver (DEN)*
  • Houston (IAH)**
  • Newark (EWR)**
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD)**
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)

Currently, the airline doesn’t offer complimentary upgrades to elite members on the above routes marked with a ** — if you’re flying from Houston, Newark or Washington, your only option to upgrade is to redeem miles, a Regional Premier Upgrade or a Global Premier Upgrade (which are only issued to elite members). Mileage upgrades will run you as much as 30,000 miles + $500 each way, depending on the fare class.

For at least two of the routes mentioned above (Newark and Washington, D.C. to Honolulu), passengers who upgrade will almost certainly travel in a lie-flat seat, though Houston flights are often operated by a 777-200 with recliner seats, as are many Chicago and Denver flights (currently). However, United will soon be swapping in a new lie-flat 777 (with 3-4-3 seats in coach) on flights that currently have the recliners.


Around the same time — as of March 1, 2017 — these ORD and DEN flights will no longer be eligible for complimentary upgrades. Unfortunately this change will also impact Hawaii routes not operated by this new aircraft, including Chicago and Denver to Maui, and Denver to Kona on the Big Island and Kauai.

Notably, the 777s currently operating Honolulu flights from Chicago and Denver offer 32 first-class seats, while the reconfigured planes only have 28, so there will be fewer upgrade seats to go around either way.

H/T: View from the Wing

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