Skip to content

It's now easier than ever to upgrade your flight to Japan using United miles or certificates

May 05, 2020
4 min read
It's now easier than ever to upgrade your flight to Japan using United miles or certificates
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: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route networks. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.

Though United used last week to make some negative adjustments to its MileagePlus program, today the carrier is back with a (small) positive update.

As a member of Star Alliance, you've long been able to redeem United miles for one-cabin upgrades on many Star Alliance partners. Also, if you've got some PlusPoints — United's new upgrade currency — to spare, you could use them on three select partners — ANA, Copa or Lufthansa.

For more travel tips and news, sign up for our daily newsletter

Though there's always been a bunch of terms and conditions associated with these upgrades, one of the most limiting was that you could only upgrade ANA flights within eight weeks of departure. No matter how much availability there was more than eight weeks before departure, you couldn't use your United miles or PlusPoints to lock it in.

Fortunately, today that's changed. United now allows upgrade requests on ANA-operated flights up to a full year before departure (until 24 hours before your flight). PlusPoints upgrades can be made 365 days before your flight, and mileage upgrades may be made 331 days before departure. United's website has been updated to reflect this policy update.

ANA The Room business class.

Though availability is capacity controlled, you now have a much longer window through which to find the space. Pro tip: Use ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures) to set an alert.

Related: The best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability

In and of itself, this is great news. However, many of the remaining terms and conditions are still quite restrictive.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

For one, you can only upgrade expensive economy, premium economy or business-class tickets. Specifically, this includes J, C or D class (business), G or E class (premium economy) or Y, B, M or U (economy) — though United could always opt to make this less restrictive in the future. These one-cabin upgrades are offered from coach to business and from business to first, but not from coach to premium economy.

For example, a round-trip coach ticket from New York-JFK to Tokyo Haneda (HND) in U class would run you about $2,300. (For reference, the cheapest round-trip business-class ticket on these dates is $7,500).

If you're looking to bump to business using miles, you'd be out 25,000 miles for the one-way. This could be a great use of United miles, especially if you're sitting on a stockpile of transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Alternatively, if you're a United Premier Platinum, 1K or Global Services member, you can use 40 PlusPoints for the bump from coach to business. Though the cost of the coach ticket is quite high, redeeming PlusPoints isn't a terrible option.

Using United miles or PlusPoints to upgrade from business to first is a much worse deal. If you use miles, you're going to be out 50,000 for the bump. (PlusPoints upgrades from business to first cost 40 points). But the real issue is the cost of a D-class business ticket, which can get as high as $13,000 for a round-trip from New York.

ANA The Room business class.

Fortunately, ANA's brand-new business-class product, dubbed The Room, is remarkable. I flew it back in January and had no qualms about calling it the new gold standard for business class.

Related: Review of ANA's The Room business class

While today's update from United is certainly good news for those looking to upgrade their ANA flight, note that there are still other ways to get to Japan in style using miles and points.

One of the best values is by redeeming Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for ANA flights. Alternatively, you can book an award ticket with Air Canada Aeroplan or Avianca LifeMiles.

But some people have many extra United miles or PlusPoints upgrades to spare. And if you're looking to upgrade a flight to Japan, you'll now have a full year in which to confirm the upgrade.

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 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 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our 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 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our 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