United Airlines restarts automatic upgrades to first class

Jul 8, 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.

When the coronavirus pandemic landed stateside, airlines immediately responded by modifying many aspects of the travel journey. In an effort to create a safer environment onboard, some carriers introduced social distancing policies, modified boarding procedures and limited inflight service.

As airlines embark on the long road to recovery, some have begun scaling back these changes. Each airline is going at its own pace, but United has some good news for its Premier elite members: As of July 8, all Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs) will once again be processed automatically.

At the outset of the pandemic, United temporarily stopped processing automatic upgrades. Eligible customers would be notified at the gate if they cleared into first and elites could voluntarily turn down the upgrade if they preferred to remain in economy class (possibly with more space).

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

United Airbus A319 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Today’s update will likely be great news for those who’ve already restarted traveling. Since United doesn’t cap the capacity of its flights, knowing whether you’ve been upgraded in advance will reassure you that there will be a little more space between you and your neighbor. And if you’re not happy about how full your flight is, you can always make a same-day change.

Additionally, this should reduce the congestion in the gate area before departure and hopefully speed up the turn-time between flights.

With this change, the system will once again clear upgrades in priority order based on the appropriate window, assuming there’s space available. Premier 1Ks — United’s highest published status — will be bumped up as early as 96 hours before departure. Premier Platinums, Golds and Silvers are at 72 hours, 48 hours and 24 hours, respectively.

Related: Inflight service is resuming — here’s what food and drinks you can expect on your next flight

United isn’t the only airline to restart automatic upgrades. Of the U.S. “big three” carriers, Delta also paused automatic elite upgrades at the outset of the pandemic. However, Delta beat United to restarting the automatic process on June 4 (with capacity caps in place through Sept. 30). American Airlines, on the other hand, has continued to process elite upgrades as normal throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Restarting automatic upgrades is just one of the many modifications that United’s making to the travel experience. Last week, the Chicago-based carrier announced that it’s bringing back beverages in all cabins. Coffee and tea have returned on certain flights as well, and liquor is now available in all premium cabins.

Beginning July 15, the carrier will be reducing its Saks Fifth Avenue bedding on certain flights. The plush Saks duvet will no longer be available in domestic business class or on lie-flat first-class seats between the mainland U.S. and Alaska and Hawaii. Instead,  the airline will be offering a light throw blanket. That same light blanket will be removed from international Polaris cabins.

Nonetheless, if you’re an elite member traveling with United in the near future, be sure to check the upgrade list. You’re once again eligible for automatic advanced upgrades.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

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 you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • 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 $80 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 PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • 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
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
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.