Business/First Class for Less: How To Utilize United MileagePlus Miles for United Flight Upgrades (at the Time of Booking!)


As a valued frequent flyer with United Airlines and also a member of their MileagePlus program, you have a fantastic opportunity to upgrade your travel experience for less. 

In today’s blog post, we will explore how you can make the most out of your United MileagePlus miles to enjoy business-class or first-class flights at a fraction of the cost.

Ready? Let’s go.

Understanding United MileagePlus Miles

Before we get into the art of utilizing United MileagePlus miles for flight upgrades, let’s get to know about this loyalty program. United MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program offered by United Airlines, allowing passengers to earn miles every time they fly with United or its partners. These miles can also be earned through various partner activities, such as hotel stays, car rentals, and credit card spending.

United Airlines MileagePlus members can then use these earned miles towards award flights or even flight upgrades at the time of booking! Keep in mind the availability of upgraded seats is subject to various factors, including route, demand, and initial fare class. Early planning and flexibility with your travel dates are crucial factors in securing those coveted first or business-class seats.

How to Use United MileagePlus Miles for Flight Upgrades at the Time of Booking

Upgrading flights is rather common amongst travelers who seek out a higher class cabin but couldn’t afford one at the time of booking or the airline ran out of the seats they desired.

But, airlines like United offer you a benefit of a potential upgrade at the time of booking. You don’t have to get on the phone with an agent later or look out for open seats to be able to upgrade your flight.

So, how does United let you upgrade?

  • Go to and enter your initial details. DO NOT check the ‘Book with Miles’ box.
  • Be sure to choose Economy Class. Next, click on ‘Advanced Search.’ This is where the magic happens.
  • Scroll down to find the ‘Upgrades, certificates, and promotion codes’ and click on the arrow to release the dropdown menu.
  • Select ‘MileagePlus Upgrade Awards(MUA)’ and click on ‘Find Flights’.
  • The image below shows you the cost of booking the flights with and without using the MileagePlus Upgrade Awards(MUA) option.
  • With MUA, in this example, the base fare of both the Economy and First class tickets are the same at $84. An additional service fee and 20K miles will however be added to initiate your upgrade, bringing the cost of the First class ticket to $159 + 20K miles.
  • If you don’t choose the MUA option, the cost of a First Class ticket will be $284.

Is This Worth It?

In this particular case, the upgrade is NOT worth it, because:
1. The upgrade is a waitlist which means your First Class seat is not confirmed yet. (If the waitlist does not clear at all, you will be reimbursed the additional charges and still get to travel in the base class of booking.)
2. The total cost of a First Class ticket with the MUA option is $159 + 20K miles. If the United miles are valued at 1.2 cents per mile, then the total value amounts to $399. This is way more than the actual price of the ticket.

However, there are instances where this form of payment ends up working out much cheaper for you. So be sure to compare these different forms of payment before you proceed to buy your ticket.

That said, if you are someone who has a lot of United miles at hand and would prefer using points over cash to pay for the ticket, this flight could actually make sense for you.

Final Thoughts

By taking advantage of the MileagePlus United Awards at the time of booking, you’ll gain access to more payment options — with the possibility of securing low-cost fares for higher cabin classes. The best part is that this feature applies to both domestic and international flights. Take the time to thoroughly compare your choices and travel cleverly.

If you enjoyed this post, you would enjoy The Hub ‘N Wifi Newsletter — a Friday newsletter, aimed at making you a 1% smarter traveler.

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