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United just debuted a new basic economy upgrade offer

Feb. 04, 2021
4 min read
United just debuted a new basic economy upgrade offer
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In recent years, most major U.S. carriers have started offering basic economy fares.

These tickets strip out many of the traditional inclusions in coach tickets, like advance seat assignments and carry-on bags, for a lower price than regular economy.

United's basic economy offering is the most punitive of the "Big 3" — you're not allowed to bring a full-sized carry-on when flying domestically, nor can you complete online check-in.

Fortunately, United just unveiled a new way to avoid the aforementioned restrictions, as confirmed by a carrier spokesperson. With the airline's new "Switch to United Economy" offering, flyers booked in basic economy will have the opportunity to purchase an upgrade to a regular coach ticket.

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Switching to standard coach will allow you to:

  • Bring a full-sized carry-on item.
  • Receive a complimentary seat assignment prior to check-in, with the ability to further upgrade to an extra-legroom seat or first-class recliner.
  • Enjoy Premier elite benefits, like free extra-legroom seats and upgrades.
  • Earn Premier Qualifying Flight (PQF) credit.

Note that you won't earn Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) on the non-refundable upgrade service charge.

The option to upgrade to coach is limited to domestic tickets and short-haul international flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

If you're interested in upgrading, you'll find the option when managing your flight on the United website or mobile app.

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More: Comparing basic economy fares across U.S. airlines

So, is it a good deal?

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

United wanted $45 to upgrade to coach for an upcoming Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Denver (DEN) flight. The flight was selling for $49 in basic economy and $89 in regular coach, meaning that I'd be overpaying by $5 if I purchased the cheaper ticket and then upgraded.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

The spread was much larger on a Wednesday flight in mid-February from FLL to Newark (EWR). United was selling basic economy for $49 and regular coach for $59. The basic economy upgrade fee was $45 per person — $35 more than the fare difference between the two fare types.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Though the offers will differ based on the ticket details, my experience shows that it's likely much better to outright purchase an economy ticket than upgrade to one.

If the upgrade fee is higher than the fare difference between basic economy and regular coach, your best bet — for now — is to call United and reissue the ticket in coach. All United tickets booked through March 31, 2021, qualify for free changes, including those booked in basic economy.

More: What you need to know about United basic economy

As such, you should be able to call United reservations (1-800-864-8331) and have an agent process an upgrade for the cost of the fare difference, as opposed to paying the new upgrade service fee.

For some people, the convenience of buying up to standard coach within the reservation might be enough to warrant the upcharge.

Others, like myself, will be sure to crunch the numbers before pulling the trigger. Either way, it's great to see a new option for upgrading from United basic economy.

Hopefully, this is just the first of many innovations coming to United's most budget offering. Late last year, American Airlines began offering basic economy flyers the ability to upgrade their seat, make same-day changes and enjoy elite-status benefits with no added cost.

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

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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.
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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.

    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