Star Alliance Upgrades

One of the most frustrating things about flying on an airline that is not one you have status or miles is the inability to upgrade with miles or upgrade instruments. (You can always upgrade with cash). I recently flew from Japan to the US on ANA and had to sit in coach. Traveling the same route on United, I would have had a very good chance of upgrading using miles or a GPU.

Flying on a Star Alliance airline that you don’t have miles on? All hope is not lost. For Star Alliance flights, there are Star Alliance upgrades. They are however very difficult to use and get upgraded with. These are upgrades that can be used within the Star Alliance network to upgrade on one member airline Here is how they work:

  • It only works if both both airlines – the one you are upgrading on and the airline you are using miles from, participate in the Star Alliance Upgrade program. Not all Star Alliance members do
  • You need to book the flight in ‘full-fare’ economy (Y or B) fare to be eligible to upgrade
  • There is no waiting list. You only get upgraded if upgrade space is available at the time you request the upgrade
  • There is no benefit for Elites. As there is no waiting list, there is no ‘priority’ by elite status
  • Upgrades are by segment. You need to apply for each segments upgrade separately. So, if you are flying say Lufthansa IAD-FRA-BLR, IAD-FRA will need to be upgraded independently from FRA-BLR. Each segment that you can try to upgrade will need to be a B or Y fare ticket and have upgrade availability

I tried in vain to get my recent ANA flight upgraded using United miles. This was my first attempt at using a Star Alliance upgrade. Though I could see space available in Business Class on the ANA flight, upgrade space never became available, at least whenever I logged in to try to do an upgrade.

Details of the program are here on the Star Alliance website.

Also, read this post about other kinds of Upgrades on United.


  1. This is a topic seldom discussed and I wish a greater analysis was done by alliance and by airline (at least for Star Alliance, an analysis of at least US Air and United, American on One World and Delta on Sky Team.). So I’m glad you’ve touched upon the subject. However, you’ve provided very little detail. For instance, you mention that not all Star Alliance airlines participate. But you don’t provide specifics as to which airlines do participate. Nor, do you give an example of cost, co-pay or miles needed to upgrade (versus the outright cost of first class). It is likely that MileValue or ThePointsGuy would have done a more in depth analysis, if/had they addressed this topic. Please take this as constructive criticism, as again, it’s at least a start to touch on the topic.

  2. Good to know. I once got upgraded on a Swiss flight when economy was overbooked on their A330 ZRH-CAI. I was a star alliance gold member (1K on UA) and I thought that may be the reason for the upgrade but who knows.

  3. @Larry, thanks for your critique. Good points. I will do a follow up post soon with a more detailed analysis.

  4. Just like any other upgrade, it is subject to capacity control – just because there is an open seat doesn’t mean it’s available upgrade. One way to check is to confirm whether a *A award seat is available – if it is available for an award, it’s available for *A upgrade.

  5. The *A Upgrade program is ridiculously expensive and rarely of any value. You need regular award inventory (“I” bucket) and the cost for an upgrade is usually very similar to the cost of just redeeming for the award seat, minus the Y or B fare.

    Maybe if someone else is paying for your tickets and they insist on paying full fare can it almost become reasonable. Maybe.

    But probably not.

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