Skip to content

Upgrading to United’s best lie-flat on the transcon for just 10 PlusPoints and $199

May 19, 2020
5 min read
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.

Related: How to upgrade United flights

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.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

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.

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 premium travel card for value
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

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

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

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
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 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • 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

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more