Skip to content

Decoding United's revenue, award and upgrade fare classes

Aug. 04, 2021
5 min read
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.

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.

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.

Knowing how to make the best points redemption at the best time is easy with the free TPG App! Download it for free today.

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

Sign up for our daily newsletter

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.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023