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United makes it easier to upgrade your Ethiopian Airlines flight

July 14, 2020
4 min read
United makes it easier to upgrade your Ethiopian Airlines flight
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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

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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

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 image by An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 757-200. (Image by Aldo Bidini / via wikimedia)

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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
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  • Annual Fee is $250.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
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

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • 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.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees