Waitlisting upgrades internationally on the new United? Prepare to tie up some significant co-pays

by Janice Hough on February 29, 2012

At this point, most travelers who try to upgrade flights to Europe or other international destinations are used to the co-pay concept; increasingly, for the cheaper fares, the co-pays for those upgrades are as much as the base price of the ticket.

With United Airlines, from San Francisco, the upgrades have also been very difficult to obtain, unless a traveler has elite status with the airline. (Even that is no guarantee.)

While waitlisting an upgrade does tie up miles, at least United fliers haven’t had to book higher level fares just to get on the waitlist, and the co-pay hasn’t been charged until check-in, if the waitlist clears.

Now, with the United/Continental merger, this is changing. If a Mileage Plus member wants to confirm or waitlist an upgrade, the mileage AND the co-pay will be charged at time of the request.

Within the U.S. and Canada, that’s not a big deal, as the co-pays are $75 each way. But anyone trying to upgrade to Europe may have to front up to $550 each way per person for their trip; to Asia and Australia, it costs up to $600.

If the waitlist doesn’t clear, the money is returned. But that means potentially paying credit card interest in the meantime. It’s another possible complication for those who cancel or change their cards.

In addition, United business travelers who get reimbursed for the co-pay when they use miles to upgrade, now may have to either wait to file reimbursements for expense money they have paid out months in advance. If business travelers file for reimbursements at the time of upgrade charge, they may have to deal later with having that charge reimbursed should the upgrade not go through.

On a brighter note, at least with today’s infinitesmal money market and CD interest rates, travelers who have the money to pay off their cards won’t be missing much in terms of income.

Plus, considering that paying a co-pay for now at time of ticketing will push the total outlay for a summer flight to Europe close to $3,000, maybe those fliers who can pay that much upfront might face less competition for upgrades.

Of course this change also comes about when United and Continental are merger systems, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen to existing waitlists. Oh, and did I mention that Continental’s system is far pickier on exact name matches as far as getting mileage credit?

It’s going to be interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Janice, didn’t Continental do that from the get go – charge the co-pay when you request an upgrade w/ Miles? Now I’m so confused with all this merger stuff.

  • Anonymous

    UA charged the copay when the upgrade was confirmed.  A better way to do this IMHO.  We decided not to upgrade on our next trip due to the copay situation.  We also decided not to upgrade to economy plus, either.  It is our mini protest…think they will notice :-)

  • Anonymous

    Bodega, you know on 3MAR you won’t necessarily see those EP seats on the seat map, right? I heard that SHARES maps still does not distinguish EP from Priority Seating for all flights yet.

    Re the up-front charge of copay, are they refunding this promptly if you can’t get an upgrade or if you are invol. downgraded for a flight? The copay is a lot of money IMO.

  • Anonymous

    I am waiting until 04MAR to see what exactly has changed.  As for the upfront charge, we know that to get upgraded on many routes, you need to book early so that can be a lot of money out of pocket for something you don’t know if you have or not.

  • PTCOINOH

    Same old United. Once an awful airline, still an awful airline and destined to remain an awful airline. Witnessing first hand the “Unitedification” of a very good airline in Continental is demoralizing and the worst is yet to come when United crews staff Continenatl planes

  • Janice

     bodega, it’s going to be a major mess. Haven’t heard a straight answer on what happens if you pay for econ plus then get upgraded, if that means you pay twice?  And United didn’t charge the copay until you checked in. Going to be tough for many to pay say, $2k for a couple for a waitlisted upgrade for the summer that probably won’t come through.  And not sure how promptly the refund will come through.  I am guessing at least one billing cycle.

  • Mlou

    Waitlising without the upfront co-pay seems to be the most fair way to go.  I am 1K 2 million mile flyer and still often need to wait until the last minute for a upgrade.  There are several routes I fly that are very busy, so I try to get my reservations in months early, but I cannot afford to have my credit card charged 6 months in advance on the hope that the charges along with interest are worth the cost.

  • Anonymous

    Last year when we upgraded to econ plus, UA told me that if I wanted to us miles to later upgrade to first class, they would not refund the econ plus cost nor apply it to the upgrade cost.  I just did 4 UA/CO tickets that I tried to get the clients to wait on. Ugh…..

  • Anonymous

    A couple of years ago, on Continental, I was waitlisted on my miles with co-pay seat from Newark to Rio. When I didn’t get the upgrade, my miles and money were promptly returned without my intervention. We can only hope this continues.

  • Janice

    Hope so too, but it can be a lot of money to tie up. And I have corporate clients who are already worried about dealing with their accounting departments in expensing then possibly crediting the charge

  • Anonymous

    Janice, the system flags my post when I edit it. Do I have to repost?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t like an airline?  Change your loyalty, and take an elite challenge.  The records of air mile redemptions are public.  Look ‘em up.

    This is a simple capitalism and free market issue. Just drop United.  I plan my upgrades on American with the help of Expert Flyer (paid subscription) and have a 90+% success rate.

  • Anonymous

    If you have a job so cushy that you get reimbursed for FF seat upgrade co-pays, I’m pretty sure you can front the money without a problem.

  • Anonymous

    You are kidding aren’t you ?……The people at the helm now are Continental – Smisek and his minions…….CONTINENTAL has made all the changes and decisions, not anyone who WAS with United.   I can’t believe the numbe of people who dump on United (as it is now versus as it was). 
    Good, glad this is happening…..it will discourage people from upgrading and open up more opportunity for NON-REV employees to get into F-class.  

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