Tracking a United International BusinessFirst Upgrade

On a recent flight to Tokyo, I used a United Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) to request an upgrade for myself to BusinessFirst. The upgrade did not clear when applied and it did not even clear at the 24 hour before the flight mark. At that point, United turns over the regular upgrade process, which is based on award space being available, to a waitlist. Upgrades on the waitlist are processed based on open seats in upper class – First and Business class. The order in which one gets to be on the waitlist is based on multiple factors – ticket price, Elite status and order of checking-in.

The Check-in:

I set an alarm for the exact 24-hour mark before the flight when check-in opens up, to make sure the order of checking-in was in my favor. Now, people who are connecting to your flight from another have an advantage here – they get to check-in at the T-24 mark of their first flight. That is what happened to me. Even before I checked in, I saw someone on the upgrade waiting list. On and on their mobile App, one can see the upgrade waitlist. However, as soon as I checked in, United put me at #1 on the list. I am guessing I had a more expensive ticket, or better status.

The wait:

Then the wait began… United waits typically till the very last minute to keep trying to sell Business class seats or sell upgrades for cash to economy passengers checking-in. Someone paying with cash for an upgrade trumps the entire waitlist!


Around 10 hours before the flight, there were 2 seats still unsold on the flight (Booked 38 out of 40). 14 people had checked-in. I was still #1 on the list.

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Ugh! BusinessFirst was now sold out! 40 out of 40 Booked. There is still hope, as someone may not check-in and end up canceling their flight. Checked-in showed 24. I was still #1 on the waitlist.

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I am now at the airport. I am waiting in the lounge, constantly refreshing the mobile App. I had stopped bye the gate and they told me that chances of an upgrade were slim, as the flight was fully booked in all three classes!


Re-refresh! HORRORS! I am suddenly #2 on the waitlist. I have been trumped by someone with a pricier ticket or a higher status (the mysterious GS on United). Is there hope? Only 32 out of 40 have checked-in…


T-35 minutes

Boarding has now started. I walk over from the lounge to the gate. Will all the booked passengers check-in? I need two not to show up in order for me to get upgraded! Will it be a flat-bed or an cattle class seat for the 14+ hours to Tokyo? My rear-end is already beginning to hurt…

T-32 minutes

I am at the gate. I refresh my boarding pass…




Yes, three of us have been upgraded! BusinessFirst is checked-in full now… but who cares now…


Quick look at the upgrade list for First class shows that one passenger from Business got upgraded to First. That opened up one seat. Two others did not cheek-in, upgrading myself and another.


Ah! Lie-flat seat, big monitor… life is good!


Flights to Japan have slippers on BusinessFirst.


I let them know that I had a ordered a special meal. They go get it from Economy and put it in a BusinessFirst tray for me. You have to let the know – the special meal remains linked to your old seat, if you are upgraded so late in the game.



Share your upgrade experiences with us. Leave a comment.

One Comment

  1. Always great to play the lottery and win!

    Is it sad that I would have believed your meal was from the actual BF service (rather than a Y special meal) if you hadn’t said anything? 😉

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