The Basics

United Drops My Cost Of A Business Class Upgrade Over 50% AFTER Booking

Written by Charlie

While I am sure this is something that people see quite often in their bookings with United, I did want to mention this in case there are people that do buy up to BusinessFirst with United at the time of purchase. While most people traveling with miles and points probably do not pay for business class tickets, I recognize that there are some that may do that from time to time. By waiting just a few minutes instead of taking the “offer” from United at the time of purchase, you could save big money!

United Drops My Cost Of A Business Class Upgrade Over 50% AFTER Booking

I purchased a ticket recently for Europe to the US roundtrip (this is the first time in as long as I can remember that I bought a United ticket for/from Europe – I always redeem) and when I got through the process, I was offered the “opportunity” to buy up to BusinessFirst (both legs of the trip were on United flights). The price for the upgrade to business class was actually cheaper than if I had searched specifically for business on the reservation (so, it would have made sense for me to book coach and wait for the offer if I really wanted BusinessFirst). But, it was still not cheap by any stretch! To be clear – I did not take either option offered for the upgrade!

Price Of The Outbound Upgrade – Much Cheaper To Wait!


The price to upgrade the outbound segment to BusinessFirst at the time of purchasing the coach ticket was $3,898! That was just the one way. The return segment would have cost $1,269. That means to upgrade both segments to BusinessFirst was going to cost me $5,258. Not cheap for a roundtrip European business class ticket!

However, after purchasing the coach ticket, I was checking some things on my ticket and decided to check the upgrade options. I will say – I never really have looked at that part for international tickets so I cannot speak to what the prices normally look like. Obviously, it had the option to upgrade with miles and a co-pay but the cost to upgrade the ticket to a straight BusinessFirst ticket (just like if I had purchased) cost only $1,598 – a difference of $2,300 over upgrading the ticket at time of purchase! That means that, if I was interested in doing so, I could have upgraded for over 50% less by waiting only a few minutes for my ticket to be ticketed!

Price of the Return Upgrade – More Expensive To Wait

On the flip side, the return ticket’s upgrade price actually went up $200! So, buying the return in business at time of ticketing would have cheaper while it was the opposite for the outbound.

United flyers, do you have the answer to the vast difference in price for upgrading? How about the return flight? In the end, I did not upgrade either flight being content with my Economy Plus seating. If I had paid to upgrade, I would have received an instant upgrade and received an upgraded fare class that would award additional miles. But, I am not paying that much just for extra miles! 🙂

If you want to find the price of your own upgrade, sign in to your United account and go to your reservation. Below the trip details will be the tab for Redeem Upgrade.


Some of the links on Running with Miles are affiliate links that pay a commission if a purchase is made. Running with Miles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • clearly the fare class for the outbound was either reserved or booked out in the lower class, and when you clicked again, either 1 seat had opened, or there was a new filed fare.
    it is auto priced and not “luck”.
    the same but in reverse for the return.
    as well depending on the time of day it could possibly havegone into new fare rules due to that.

    • Would that be the same even though there were 9 seats available? It was the middle of the day so I don’t think any special timeframe had passed to initiate a fare rule. Also, that price stayed constant until the cabin sold out.

  • the upgrade price when you go to your itinerary and click on “upgrade” is usually the fare difference to the lowest business fare available. So that is the “official” price.
    The offers at booking may be the same in some cases, but are usually different (in my experience usuallylower). They are special offers and I have no clue as to the system. I routinely get offered $79 upgrades for 2-3 hour domestic flights for example, at booking – go figure! I’ve never taken an international offer though because the prices tend to be astronomical.
    They still book into some sort of business fare though, and you’ll earn the extra PQM most of the time (not always! there are some stories on flyertalk)
    Finally, there is the offers at check-in, where you don’t earn extra PQM, it’s just a straight buy-up, and is based on how full the flight is and how much the system thinks it can charge you. They are usually much, much lower than these earlier offers. It’s not rare to see $750 offers per leg at check-in for transatlantic flights. hope this helps!

    • Very good! Thanks for the different scenarios! Not normally looking in there for international tickets, I was not sure why the “special” price at time of ticketing was so much higher than the official price. Maybe they felt they could sucker me or something? 🙂

    • Very interesting Augias. Im going to and from Tokyo in 2 weeks and was looking at loads, looks 30% empty in biz class. How often do you get offered that “cheap” upgrade from coach to biz on international? Does it depend on whether you have status with the airline? Does it only happen at the counter at airport or also while checking in online?
      Thanks a lot, much appreciated!!

  • The upgrade on check in offers are funny. Earlier this month I was offered a $800 upgrade to business first on a PVG to SFO flight with only one seat available (which I purchased) but today they want $7000 for an upgrade for TPE to SFO, which I can’t imagine anyone would actually buy!