Upgrading to United’s best lie-flat on the transcon for just 10 PlusPoints and $199
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.
Editor’s note: While many flights with lie-flat seats on transcon U.S. routes have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, United has begun reintroducing its top class, Polaris, on those routes.
Finding a business-class award seat on one of United’s premium transcontinental flights between Newark or Boston and San Francisco or Los Angeles isn’t easy. The biz cabin on these flights is almost always full of travelers with deep pockets and flexible expense accounts. Sure, there are some seats here or there, especially on the off-peak flights early in the morning or late at night, but this pattern generally holds.
How can a TPG reader score one of the lie-flat business-class seats, especially if award seats aren’t happening? That’s when it’s time to look at upgrade space. And it’s easier — and sometimes cheaper — to find those upgrades on one United aircraft than on the others.
United uses a mix of Boeing 757, 777 and 787-10 Dreamliners on these transcontinental routes. The first two planes only offer a biz and coach cabin, but the Dreamliner offers a Premium Plus cabin. And booking a seat in the premium economy cabin is the key to unlocking these easy and cheap upgrades to the lie-flat seats.
As a United Premier Platinum or 1K member, you’ll receive 40 and 280 PlusPoints each year, respectively. You can use those points in a number of ways, but at just 10 PlusPoints, the cheapest upgrade you’ll find is from Premium Plus to business on a short-haul flight. If you were to upgrade from coach to business, it’d cost 20 PlusPoints.
Not only does the upgrade cost fewer PlusPoints if you’re already booked in Premium Plus, but your odds at scoring the lie-flat upgrade are much higher. That’s because United prioritizes upgrades from premium economy to biz as higher on the upgrade list than those looking to confirm biz seats from economy, regardless of status (assuming that you’re clearing at the gate).
This means that there could be a Global Services (GS) member seated in coach wait-listed for a biz upgrade, but a flyer without status booked in Premium Plus would be higher on the list — and more likely to clear — than the Global Services member.
That’s exactly what happened to me on a recent flight from Newark to Los Angeles. There were plenty of GS and other 1K passengers on my flight, so my wait-listed upgrade from coach to biz had almost no shot at clearing. But then, I noticed that the buy-up to Premium Plus wasn’t all that expensive at $199. So, I quickly purchased the premium economy upgrade and noticed that my name shot up to the top of the upgrade list.
Within minutes of requesting the Premium Plus to biz upgrade, I received an email confirming that my upgrade cleared, well ahead of some of the other GS and 1K members on the flight.
This strategy of buying Premium Plus to confirm an easy upgrade to biz isn’t always cheaper. If you’ve purchased your coach ticket well in advance, there’s a high likelihood that the upgrade to Premium Plus will cost hundreds of dollars. In that case, it’s probably worth chancing the upgrade, or not bothering at all.
But if your coach fare was quite high — which is likely if you’re buying last-minute tickets — or you notice a cheap Premium Plus buy-up, you’ll want to jump on it to greatly improve your chances at a biz upgrade.
This same logic even applies to those who don’t have PlusPoints (though you could always ask a generous friend with top-tier elite status for a donation). United’s MileagePlus Upgrade Awards to the lie-flat seats are also cheaper if you’re already confirmed in premium economy.
In the example above, buying a premium economy seat would cost $269 more than coach, but you’d be saving the $125 upgrade co-pay and end up much higher on the upgrade list. And, if your upgrade didn’t clear, you’d still be seated in Premium Plus, which is much more comfortable than coach for the five-hour-plus flight.
Overall, buying a Premium Plus ticket can be a great strategy for scoring easy business-class upgrades. That’s what I used for a recent cross-country flight, so stay tuned for the full review to see if it was worth it.
All photos by the author.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees