Now That United is Introducing Premium Economy,, How Are They Handling Awards and Upgrades?

United announced that international premium economy will go on sale on Monday for certain flights starting March 30, 2019 and that it will expand to 21 routes by the end of May.

Initially this includes (effective March 30 unless noted):

  • Newark – Hong Kong, Mumbai, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Barcelona (April 29), Brussels (May 22), Dublin (May 22)
  • San Francisco – Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tel Aviv, Tokyo Narita, Auckland, Beijing, Paris (April 29), London Heathrow (April 29)
  • Washington Dulles – Tel Aviv (May 22)

That makes the question of how upgrades are going to be handled most urgent. Will they follow the international model of one cabin class upgrades, or the model that Delta has thus far followed of allowing upgrades to either cabin from coach? Or will they follow American and not get the IT done to allow awards or upgrades into premium economy yet at all?

How American Airlines Handles Premium Economy Awards and Upgrades

American was the first of the major U.S. airlines to introduce a premium economy cabin for international travel. However there is no AAdvantage award redemption for premium economy travel, and there is no way for most members to upgrade to premium economy either.

The only ways to upgrade to premium economy on American are:

  1. A paid upgrade at check-in if they expect seats to be available. This is offered complimentary to Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey members along with a companion.

  2. Complimentary at the gate for ConciergeKey and Executive Platinum members, but the request process can be confusing.

Over the summer the President of AAdvantage shared that premium economy awards and upgrades are coming albeit with uncertain timing. The good news in the meantime is that American’s mileage and systemwide upgrades still are valid from coach to business class.

How Delta Handles Premium Economy Awards and Upgrades

Delta offers awards and upgrades for their premium economy product. And upgrades aren’t limited to ‘one class’ (economy to premium economy, premium economy to business). Instead Delta allows their Global Upgrade Certificates to confirm an economy passenger into either Premium Select (premium economy) or DeltaOne (business class).

  • Once an upgrade is cleared, it’s used. So if you waitlist for both premium economy and business class, and premium economy clears, you’d need a second upgrade certificate to upgrade to business.

  • So you only want to waitlist for premium economy upgrades if you’re going to be happy with that as an upgrade and you do not expect to successfully clear into business class.

United Announces How They’ll Handle Premium Economy Awards and Upgrades

Here’s what United shares about premium economy and both awards and upgrades,

MileagePlus members will have the option to book award travel in United® Premium Plus by using their MileagePlus miles. For upgrades, either a single Global Premier Upgrade or a MileagePlus Upgrade Award can be used to move up to a United® Premium Plus seat or to United’s Polaris business class cabin.

Premium economy awards will be offered, as with Delta but unlike American thus far. More importantly, upgrades will still be permitted from coach to either premium economy or business class, seemingly the Delta model.

While I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see one-cabin upgrades, United chooses not to be the first to make their international upgrade product less valuable compared to Delta and American. That’s great because it makes it harder for American to go first with this.

It does not appear that United has updated its award charts online yet with premium economy redemption information, and since the cabin isn’t yet for sale we can’t price awards by searching for space yet either. So we’ll have to watch this.

Ultimately I do imagine premium economy awards will make business class awards more expensive, since the programs will see a need to differentiate their cabins in terms of price.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Premium economy is already such a huge flop because nobody asked for it in the first place and nobody wants it. The only reason why it exists at all is because of the worthless scam artists AKA consultants at McKinsey, BCG, et al. This is going to flop hard like it has been flopping for Singapore airlines, but ultimately airlines will be happy to raise the price of business class redemptions. The only point of premium economy is to devalue business class so business effectively becomes a worse first and premium economy becomes a worse business. So unfortunate, but true.

  2. @Ray you’re most sadly and grossly mistaken. International premium economy is extremely common and performs quite well for a large number of international carriers. That it doesn’t work well on the longest routes in the world for Singapore on EWR-SIN and LAX-SIN does not obviate the high occupancy and great performance of international premium economy. Just because you don’t know about it and don’t want it doesn’t mean you have any semblance of a clue about the world markets about which you’re discussing.

  3. More info on upgrades here – http://mileageplusupdates.com/mileageplus/english/upgrades/

    Specifically –

    “If you’d like to be considered for a move to a United® Premium Plus seat or for an upgrade to the United Polaris business class cabin, we’ll move you to the first available seat. If the first available seat is a United® Premium Plus seat, we’ll continue to look for space in the United Polaris business class cabin without requiring an additional Global Premier Upgrade.”

  4. Premium Economy cabins have been on offer worldwide long before the US3 “discovered” them.

    They’re popular, they’re successful and they’re very profitable (for most carriers) so saying “they’re a huge flop” is, at best, uninformed,

  5. Good stuff:

    Take out First, make Business like old first class.
    Make Premium Economy like old Business class.

  6. You state for Delta:

    “Once an upgrade is cleared, it’s used. So if you waitlist for both premium economy and business class, and premium economy clears, you’d need a second upgrade certificate to upgrade to business.”

    United one-ups Delta on this aspect.

    United will continue to look for Business class space even if the upgrade first clears into premium economy. And will not require a second certificate.

  7. Gary,

    Being a United hater must be tough. You failed to mention how generous United is with upgrades compared to AA/DL

    You could have just cut and pasted like I did.

    –MileagePlus members seated in United Economy can use a single Global Premier Upgrade request to move to a United® Premium Plus seat or upgrade to the United Polaris® business class cabin.
    –If you’d like to be considered for a move to a United® Premium Plus seat or an upgrade to the United Polaris business class cabin, we’ll move you to the first available seat. If the first available seat is a United® Premium Plus seat, we’ll continue to look for space in the United Polaris business class cabin without requiring an additional Global Premier Upgrade.
    –Members who have purchased United® Premium Plus upgrade-eligible fares will also be able to request an upgrade to the United Polaris business class cabin using one Global Premier Upgrade.
    –United Polaris business class upgrade requests for members who have purchased United® –Premium Plus seats will be processed in priority order first, followed by upgrade requests for members who have purchased United Economy seats. Learn more about upgrade priority order.
    –There will be no fare class restriction for members who have purchased a United Economy seat and request to move to a United® Premium Plus seat, and no fare class restriction for members who have purchased a United® Premium Plus seat and request an upgrade to the United Polaris business class cabin.
    –Members requesting to move to a United® Premium Plus seat only and who have domestic portions of their itinerary will not be automatically waitlisted for United First. To be waitlisted for —-United First on domestic portions of an international itinerary, use your Global Premier Upgrade to request an upgrade to the United Polaris business class cabin.

    https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/mileageplus/premier/global-upgrades.html

    You’re such a hack.

  8. @rmah Gary has historically shown a profound lack of respect for his readers through the egregious amount of misspellings and grammatical mistakes. The relative lack of them in this article is atypical.

  9. If the Aeroplan award chart is any indication of PE award redemption cost for the big three, PE awards are no bargain. Cost of J awards may or may not go up and will be primarily determined by competitions.

  10. The “big flop” remark comes from a lack of facts. The Ozzie overseas carriers are doing quite well with it. During my last three trips to AU and NZ on ANZ, business class was wide open on their long hauls out of LAX but there was no availability in PE. The combination of price, amenities, and the extra space makes it a good deal for many (those “love seats” are rather interesting). Talking to the flight attendants, they confirmed the same and mentioned Qantas and Virgin are in similar straits. So, poster, you may not like PE, or think it squeezes additional $$ unnecessarily out of passengers, but it is quite popular in some parts.

  11. EWR-DUB is showing award availability for next summer. A shocking price of 120k per person one way. Even if that’s Everyday pricing (assuming so since it doesn’t say “Saver award” above the price like it does for 30k in economy), that’s only 5k cheaper than 125k Business Everyday pricing on many days. Suffice it to say, with such high Premium Economy pricing, Business looks too cheap on a relative scale. Your prediction of this being an upward force on Business award pricing looks accurate unfortunately.

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