United just debuted a new basic economy upgrade offer
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.
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.
Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!
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.
So, is it a good deal?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
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.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- 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 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 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 $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