How to Take a Business Trip in Style: Using Miles to Upgrade a Paid Coach Ticket
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers. For folks who love to travel, taking business trips can be a great way to explore new places. But many companies will only pay for travel in coach. Fortunately, you can often use miles and points to upgrade a paid coach ticket to a more comfortable and civilized Business Class seat! In this example, I’ll show you how to book a paid coach ticket on United Airlines and use miles to upgrade to Business Class!
How to Upgrade a Paid Coach Ticket on United Airlines With MilesMany airlines give the option to use cash or miles to upgrade a coach award ticket. But folks traveling for business typically purchase paid coach tickets they can expense to their company. This makes using miles and points challenging for business travelers. But if your company is paying for your coach ticket, you can use your own miles and points to upgrade your seat! American Airlines, Delta, British Airways, Etihad, Emirates, and many other major airlines also allow you upgrade a paid ticket using miles and points. Here’s how to book a paid coach ticket and upgrade it with miles on United Airlines.
Step 1. Search for a Paid Coach Ticket Eligible for UpgradesGo to United.com and login to your MileagePlus account. After logging in, click the “All search options” link on the home page. On the next page, select “No” on the award ticket option. Choose round-trip, one-way, or multi-city based on your travel plans. Scroll down and enter your destination and travel dates. Scroll down again and select “economy” for your cabin. Under the upgrade type, select “Buy Economy and upgrade” from the drop-down menu. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “Search.” The cheapest available coach tickets are shown in the first column. United Airlines restricts upgrades on deeply-discounted coach fares or “basic economy” fares. That’s why in the second column, you see the price of the coach fare plus a co-pay. You also see the number of United Airlines miles required for the upgrade. Look for flights with the green arrow next to them. These are flights with current available upgrades. Be sure to check with your company for their policy regarding booking business travel. They may or may not be willing to pay for the co-pay portion of your upgrade. Keep in mind, United Airlines does not charge a co-pay to upgrade full fare coach tickets. Full fare coach tickets are usually refundable and changeable, which some companies prefer anyway. So if your company is willing to pay full fare, there is no co-pay to upgrade using miles! After selecting your flight, United.com proceeds with any additional flights you included in your original search. In this example, the return trip search displayed flights with a red question mark and a yellow arrow. The yellow arrow indicates that the flight is eligible for a wait list upgrade. This means that a confirmed upgrade isn’t available, but you can get on the wait list to fly Business Class if an award seat opens up prior to departure. If you choose this option, United Airlines will charge you the co-pay and miles at booking. If a Business Class Saver award seat doesn’t become available before your flight, you’ll receive a refund of the co-pay, miles, and any taxes you paid on the upgrade. So you should only choose this option if you are comfortable flying coach! The red question mark displays when not all legs of the trip are available for upgrade. This may be okay if you have a short connecting flight before or after a longer international flight, but make sure you read the details to understand which flight is actually being upgraded.
Step 2. Book the FlightAfter selecting your flights, the “Review Itinerary” screen will display your selections. At this point, you must have enough United Airlines miles in your account to cover the cost of the upgrades to Business Class. Remember, United Airlines is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner
What If My Flight Is Already Booked?If your employer has already booked your ticket in coach, you can still upgrade your ticket using United Airlines miles! To upgrade an existing reservation, click “Manage Reservations” on the United Airlines website and find your flight. Click on “View/Change Seats.” Then select the seat you would like. Remember, if you purchased a “Basic Economy” or deeply-discounted coach ticket, you may not be able to upgrade your seat with miles. The next screen displays the number of miles and co-pay to upgrade.
You Can Do It Too!Before starting your search, it’s a good idea to check your company’s policy for business travel. Some companies will actually pay for you to fly Business Class! But if yours does not, you’ll want to know what the policy is for coach fares. Will they only pay for the cheapest available flight? Or is full-fare coach an option? Next, you’ll need to have enough miles to actually pay for the upgrade. There are lots of ways to earn United Airlines miles, particularly if you travel frequently for business. But even if you don’t, it’s easy to earn United Airlines miles with sign-up bonuses and spending on credit cards. You can earn United Airlines miles directly with cards like:
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Card – Earn 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account (check out all the ways to use United Airlines miles!)
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card – Earn 50,000 United Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account (here’s our review)
- United MileagePlus® Club Card – Earn 50,000 United Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account (here’s our review)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account (here’s our review)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account (here’s our review)
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card – Earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases withing the first 3 months of opening your account (here’s our review)
- Chase Ink Bold (no longer available)
- Chase Ink Plus (no longer available)
Is an Upgrade Worth It?I think so! For travel to Europe, or any long flight, Business Class makes a huge difference! Lounge access, priority boarding, delicious meals, premium drinks, and a lie-flat seat are great reasons to upgrade to Business Class. And for business travelers, the ability to sleep comfortably can help you land rested and refreshed if you have to work right after arriving at your destination. With Business Class upgrades to Europe starting as low as 20,000 United Airlines miles, upgrading your paid coach ticket can be a great deal! For domestic flight or shorter international flights, you’ll pay fewer miles to upgrade, but it’s probably best to save your miles for longer flights or an award ticket!
Bottom LineIt’s easy to use miles and points to upgrade a paid coach ticket to Business Class. Even if your company pays for your coach ticket, you can often still upgrade using your own miles! When paying for coach and upgrading to Business Class on United Airlines, look for tickets with current available upgrades. This is shown by the green arrow on the search page. If you see flight options with a red question mark or yellow arrow, be careful to check the details! If you paid for a full-fare coach ticket, you’ll only have to pay miles for your upgrade. Otherwise, there will be a co-pay.
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