Attempting to Sponsor United Upgrades for Others

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My family doesn’t travel that much, so I haven’t had many opportunities go through the process of sponsoring an upgrade. And the folks outside my immediate family who would be worth it usually aren’t flying the same airline.

However, two chances came up in the last couple of weeks for me to investigate the possibilities.

The first: A few weeks ago I found out my best friend’s mother-in-law was taking a trip to Europe next month — the outbound was on Swiss, but the return was on United. I had an extra Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) burning a hole in my account, so I offered to sponsor it if she was eligible.

It had been awhile since I’d attempted to sponsor an upgrade that wasn’t linked to my itinerary, so I pulled up The Wandering Aramean’s helpful primer and accessed her itinerary. The upgrade button his instructions showed was missing. 🙁

So I went back and reread United’s guidelines for using Global Premier Upgrades which I’d only briefly skimmed before. I’d seen “L” fare class was eligible in select regions on my first look, but digging in deeper showed it wasn’t eligible for European flights. Darn.

United GPU upgrade criteria

The second: A friend’s mom was taking a vacation to Central America and he wanted to surprise her by upgrading one of her flights. It would cost him 17,500 miles and a $125 co-pay to do so since he wasn’t an elite. The co-pay on top of the miles made it a little too expensive.

I calculated what I valued my GPUs at and he was more than willing to share some expensive bottles of wine in return for me sponsoring her upgrade. Unfortunately her flight didn’t have confirmable upgrade space, but we were hoping with my 1K status (since the sponsor’s status determines priority on the waitlist) she would clear in advance.

When I pulled up her record to sponsor the upgrade, I happened to look at the tab for just purchasing the upgrade outright. $175. Hmmmm. And that was confirmed. So definitely better to just purchase the upgrade for $175 (less than the bottles of wine would have been) than to waste a GPU or spend 17.5K miles and $125.

Tip: Always check the price of buying up — usually not a good deal, but sometimes it is!

Have you found other resources or tips helpful when trying to sponsor upgrades?


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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