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Decoding United's revenue, award and upgrade fare classes

Aug. 04, 2021
5 min read
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We know United's classes of service as business or first, premium economy and coach. But reservations systems don't label bookings in the same way at all — instead, those same cabins are J, O and Y, and a wide variety of other letter designators as well.

Take the Polaris cabin below. Everyone booked there gets to select whichever seat they wish, even though 1A might be flying on a ticket booked in "I" class (saver award) and 8L might be flying in full-fare J. Decoding those letters reveals not only whether a flyer booked their seat with miles, but roughly how many miles they used — and if they're flying on a revenue ticket, we can even get a general sense of how much they paid.

United's Polaris business class uses the same fare codes as domestic first class. Photo by Zach Honig/TPG.

For frequent flyers, fare classes are the key to mileage earnings and elite credits, too — a basic economy customer ("N" class) will earn far less than a business traveler on a full-fare "Y" ticket, for example.

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You'll also need to pay attention if you're hoping to use an upgrade certificate to move from economy to Polaris biz — you'll use 40 PlusPoints if you book a flight in the "W" fare class or higher, while less expensive fare classes require double that amount.

These codes come into play when it comes time to change a flight, too — if only a higher fare class is available, you'll likely need to pay the difference in price, even if taking advantage of United's same-day change. In other words, these are definitely some letters you'll want to add to your vocabulary. When it comes to United, let's see how they break down.

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Revenue Fare Classes

To really make sense of this alphabet soup, I recommend pulling up United's site and following along. But first, you'll want to head over to your profile page and enable Expert Mode, so you're able to see the full list of fare classes whenever you search for a paid itinerary, just as you can below.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

The list of "available fare classes" above includes paid tickets, upgrades and awards, all mixed in together. Starting with revenue fares, here's how it breaks down.

First/business class

J - Full fare
C - High fare
D - High fare
Z - Discounted fare
P - Deep-discounted fare

Premium Plus

O - High fare
A - Discounted fare
R - Deep-discounted fare

Economy

Y - Highest full fare - regional instant upgrades for all elites
B - Full fare - regional instant upgrades for all elites
M - High fare - regional instant upgrades for Premier 1K
E - High fare
U - High fare
H - High fare
Q - Discounted fare
V - Discounted fare
W - Lowest Polaris upgrade-eligible fare
S - Deep-discounted fare
T - Deep-discounted fare
L - Deep-discounted fare
K - Deep-discounted fare
G - Lowest discounted fare
N - Basic economy - no changes permitted

Upgrade Fare Classes

Next up are the upgrade fare classes — you can move up from economy to either Premium Plus or Polaris business class, and from Premium Plus to business class as well. As outlined above, passengers booked in the "W" fare class or higher can redeem 40 PlusPoints to move to Polaris business class on international flights, while tickets booked in S, T, L, K or G classes need 80 points.

All paid Premium Plus fares are eligible for Polaris upgrades at 30 PlusPoints, and all regular economy fares are eligible for Premium Plus upgrades at a rate of 20 PlusPoints.

First/business class

PN - Global Services mileage and PlusPoints, and instant upgrades for all other customers
PZ - Platinum and Premier 1K PlusPoints and all mileage upgrade awards

Premium Plus

RN - Upgrades for all members

Award Fare Classes

Finally, it's on to the awards. There are a total of nine fare classes for mileage tickets, and just as with paid flights, the rates can vary wildly from one code to the next. If you're hoping to see fare classes when searching for an award, you'll actually need to begin with a revenue search — individual codes won't appear if you click "book with miles" on United.com.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

First/business class

JN - Everyday award for elites and credit cardholders
ZN - Everyday award for all other customers
IN - Saver award for elites
I - Saver award for all other customers and partner redemptions

Premium Plus

ON - All awards (variable pricing)

Economy

YN - Everyday award for elites and credit cardholders
HN - Everyday award for all other customers
XN - Saver award for elites and credit cardholders
X - Saver award for all other customers and partner redemptions

Bottom Line

Many frequent flyers have likely committed most of these fare classes to memory — from paid tickets to upgrades to awards, knowing the meaning of each code empowers you to book, change and earn credit from flights as effectively as possible. While you don't need to memorize them all today, I do recommend enabling Expert Mode on United's site, giving you access to all of this incredibly useful data whenever you log in, be it on the airline's website or its new mobile app.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Featured image by PointsPlus replaces United's current upgrade system. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
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  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases