United Economy Plus Upgrade Tips
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Hilary Stockton

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United Economy Plus Upgrade Tips


TravelSort reader Mike writes "What are the ways to get a free upgrade to United Economy Plus? I'm 6'3 and am really tired of having my knees jammed up against the seat in front of me (and of course the guy or gal in front of me is even less pleased) but would like to avoid paying the additional fee for Economy Plus if I can."

Mike's question is probably common to a lot of folks that fly United even occasionally, and would love a free upgrade to United Economy Plus, with more legroom. Unfortunately a free upgrade isn't that easy. Here are the top ways to get it:

1. Be a United Premier Gold, Premier Platinum or Premier 1K to Upgrade to United Economy Plus at Time of Booking

On both paid tickets and award tickets, United elites with Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K or Global Services status are able to upgrade to United Economy Plus at the time of booking.


2. Be a United Premier Silver to Upgrade to United Economy Plus at Time of Check-In

United Premier Silver members are only able to upgrade to United Economy Plus at the time of check-in (24 hours before departure), *not* at the time of booking.


3. Be on the Same Reservation as a United Elite

If you're traveling on the same reservation as a United Elite, you're able to upgrade to United Economy Plus with the same time frame as that members. Note that United Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members can upgrade up to 8 people traveling on the same reservation, but United Gold and United Silver members may only upgrade 1 person traveling on the same reservation.


4. Be Star Alliance Gold and Get Lucky 

Officially, even with Star Alliance Gold status, you're not entitled to United Economy Plus seating. In practice, some Star Alliance Gold members are lucky enough to be able to select a United Economy Plus seat at time of check-in, similar to United Premier Silver members.


5. Be on a Business or First Class Award Flight and Ask Nicely

If you booked an international business or first class United award ticket with the requisite number of United miles, but a segment didn't have award availability so you're seated in Economy, you may have luck by asking nicely at check-in, the lounge or the gate. There's no guarantee, but also no harm in asking.


6. Be Bumped Up Because There's No Space in Economy

If you have no United elite status, you could get very lucky if on a full flight such that you have a ticket but don't have a seat assignment. 


7. Pay and Get a Free United Economy Plus Upgrade with the Barclays Arrival Card

If you don't qualify for United Economy Plus for free via one of the above ways, you'll need to pay if you want it. If the Economy Plus section isn't full, you may even be able to pay with a credit card on board.

The good news is that if you get the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard with a 40,000 points bonus and pay for your United Economy Plus upgrade with it, you can get a statement credit that refunds your United Economy Plus upgrade fee. The 40,000 bonus equates to $440 in free travel, when you rebate charges from these travel categories: airlines, travel agencies, tour operators, hotels, motels, resorts, cruise lines, passenger railways, and car rental agencies.



Isn't There a United Economy Plus Annual Pass?

There used to be one; as of March 2012 United stopped selling these.


If I'm a United Elite But My Non-Elite Partner is Traveling on the Same Flight but a Separate Ticket Can I Get a Free United Economy Plus Upgrade for Him or Her?

Officially, no--your elite status allows you to upgrade up to 8 companions traveling on the *same reservation* to United Economy Plus. Companions on other tickets, even though they're on the same flight, are not eligible. That said, you may be lucky and get a sympathetic United agent to upgrade your partner anyway. 


How Do I See What United Economy Plus Will Cost?

Simply mouse over an Economy Plus seat while making your reservation, and you should be able to see the additional cost. The price is added to your total reservation cost.


Why Are There Different Prices for Different Economy Plus Seats?

United varies the pricing of Economy Plus seats even within the same cabin on the same flight by row and type (window, aisle, middle) and also varies the pricing over time, just as it does with other seats on the plane.


Can I Get a Refund of My United Economy Plus Seat?

Only if you weren't actually seated in Economy Plus, for example due to an equipment change, etc. Unfortunately, even if you paid more to select a certain Economy Plus window seat but were reseated in an Economy Plus middle seat, you wouldn't be entitled to a refund. The United terms state: "An Economy Plus purchase reserves a seat within the Economy Plus seating area. Specific seat assignments are not guaranteed." Seems somewhat unfair, but those are the terms.

The good news is that you may even receive goodwill compensation in addition to your United Economy Plus refund. See United Economy Plus Refund and Goodwill Miles for Downgrade.

Do you have other tips for scoring United Economy Plus upgrades?

Related Posts

Best Premium Economy Airline Seats

United Business First Review

United Club Card Annual Fee Waived: Worth It?

Flying with Kids: Tips for Taking Toddlers on Long Plane Flights

Best Airlines for Kids and Families


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Picture?type=large Ella B. commented 25 Jun 2014
Hi all, FYI: My mom just flew away for vacation using UnitedAirlines service on June 11, 2014. She is 66 years old and she has her knee problem. So, I bought her Economy Plus seats within her booked tickets on United.com. When my mom reached to destination, she called me and I asked her about how was the seat. She told me that the room between all seats in the entire aircraft absolutely the same and there was no reason to buy Economy Plus seats... so we paid money what for?... (it was aircraft Boeing 747-400, flight UA903, from San Francisco, at 2:10PM.) I'm so disappointed and I want to get my money back. I'm going to open claim to United, and if the will not refund, I will sue them.
Picture?type=large Richard P. commented 25 Nov 2014
Hilary, Thanks for the article! You wrote that with "the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard...you can get a statement credit that refunds your United Economy Plus upgrade fee." That sounds great but I can't find confirmation of that. Where did you get that from? Thanks, - Rich
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 26 Nov 2014
Richard, the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard comes with a 40,000 point signup bonus after meeting minimum spend of $3000, so after meeting minimum spend you'd have 46,000 points that can be used as a statement credit for $460 for a travel expense incurred on the card. That could be a United Economy Plus upgrade fee or any other qualifying travel expense you put on the card--hope that helps!
Picture?type=large Lis G. commented 06 Feb 2016
Hi Hilary! I have a question: Do you know if there is any price difference for purchasing the Economy Plus upgrade on reservation time or on check-in counter? Thanks!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 06 Feb 2016

Lis, generally the price for Economy Plus remains the same at check-in for a given route (most of the price differences depend on route/route length), if available (it will even be sold on the plane if there are empty Economy Plus seats), but on popular flights there may be few if any Economy Plus available at time of check-in, since United elites get Economy Plus free. Also, those passengers without seat assignments in Economy would be given Economy Plus if Economy completely fills up (though this is a risky strategy, since if you don't select an Economy seat you may find yourself assigned to a middle seat in Economy at the back of the plane--and even if you do get assigned to Economy Plus, it's likely to be a middle seat). So I recommend paying for Economy Plus at time of booking if it's what you want and if you're not elite.

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