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

May 5, 2020

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.

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. 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • 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.
  • 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
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.