United makes it easier to upgrade your Ethiopian Airlines flight

Jul 14, 2020

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United Airlines is using the downtime during the coronavirus to make a bunch of adjustments to its MileagePlus program.

We’ve seen the carrier extend elite status, remove its partner award chart, make it harder to qualify for status through Star Alliance flights and raise the cost of such awards across the board.

Today, however, the carrier is back with a (small) positive update.

As a member of Star Alliance, United has enabled us to redeem United miles for one-cabin upgrades on many Star Alliance partners. Though there have always been a bunch of terms and conditions associated with these upgrades, one of the most limiting was that you could only process upgrades on All Nippon Airways and Ethiopian Airlines within eight weeks of departure.

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No matter how much availability there was more than eight weeks before departure, you couldn’t use your United miles to lock it in.

What’s changing

As of July 14, that’s now changing. United now allows upgrade requests on Ethiopian-operated flights between 330 days and 24 hours prior to departure. United’s website has been updated to reflect this policy update.

Ethiopian offers a wide range of business-class products across its fleet (Photo by Alex Macheras/The Points Guy)

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 tickets. Specifically, this includes Y, G, S or B classes of coach tickets — though United could always opt to make this less restrictive in the future. These one-cabin upgrades are offered from coach to business.

In the below example, the cheapest B class round-trip coach ticket from New York to Addis Ababa costs $1,840. (For reference, the cheapest round-trip business-class ticket on these dates is around $4,500.)

Screenshot courtesy of ITA Matrix
Screenshot courtesy of ITA Matrix

If you’re looking to bump to business class using miles, you’d be out 35,000 miles one-way. This could be a good use of United miles, especially if you’re sitting on a stockpile of transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Plus, Ethiopian is a great option for those looking to fly to Africa, the Middle East and beyond, thanks to the plethora of business-class award availability the carrier releases.

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

Bottom line

Ethiopian is the last of the Star Alliance carriers to have its upgrade window extended. On May 5, 2020, United made a similar change for flights operated by ANA.

Previously you’d need to wait until eight weeks before departure to upgrade ANA flights, but now UA allows upgrade requests on ANA-operated flights up to a full year before departure (until 24 hours before your flight). Note that if you’re a United Premier Platinum, 1K or Global Services member, you can redeem PlusPoints instead of miles for the upgrade.

Some people have many extra United miles to spare. And if you’re looking to upgrade a flight with Ethiopian Airlines, you’ll now have 11 months in which to confirm the upgrade.

Featured photo by Aldo Bidini / via wikimedia

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