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United Airlines restarts automatic upgrades to first class

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 7/8/2020 Zach Griff
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When the coronavirus pandemic landed stateside, airlines immediately responded by modifying many aspects of the travel journey. In an effort to create a safer environment onboard, some carriers introduced social distancing policies, modified boarding procedures and limited inflight service.

As airlines embark on the long road to recovery, some have begun scaling back these changes. Each airline is going at its own pace, but United has some good news for its Premier elite members: As of July 8, all Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs) will once again be processed automatically.

At the outset of the pandemic, United temporarily stopped processing automatic upgrades. Eligible customers would be notified at the gate if they cleared into first and elites could voluntarily turn down the upgrade if they preferred to remain in economy class (possibly with more space).

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United Airbus A319 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy United Airbus A319 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Today’s update will likely be great news for those who’ve already restarted traveling. Since United doesn’t cap the capacity of its flights, knowing whether you’ve been upgraded in advance will reassure you that there will be a little more space between you and your neighbor. And if you’re not happy about how full your flight is, you can always make a same-day change.

Additionally, this should reduce the congestion in the gate area before departure and hopefully speed up the turn-time between flights.

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With this change, the system will once again clear upgrades in priority order based on the appropriate window, assuming there’s space available. Premier 1Ks — United’s highest published status — will be bumped up as early as 96 hours before departure. Premier Platinums, Golds and Silvers are at 72 hours, 48 hours and 24 hours, respectively.

Related: Inflight service is resuming — here’s what food and drinks you can expect on your next flight

United isn’t the only airline to restart automatic upgrades. Of the U.S. “big three” carriers, Delta also paused automatic elite upgrades at the outset of the pandemic. However, Delta beat United to restarting the automatic process on June 4 (with capacity caps in place through Sept. 30). American Airlines, on the other hand, has continued to process elite upgrades as normal throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Restarting automatic upgrades is just one of the many modifications that United’s making to the travel experience. Last week, the Chicago-based carrier announced that it’s bringing back beverages in all cabins. Coffee and tea have returned on certain flights as well, and liquor is now available in all premium cabins.

Beginning July 15, the carrier will be reducing its Saks Fifth Avenue bedding on certain flights. The plush Saks duvet will no longer be available in domestic business class or on lie-flat first-class seats between the mainland U.S. and Alaska and Hawaii. Instead,  the airline will be offering a light throw blanket. That same light blanket will be removed from international Polaris cabins.

Nonetheless, if you’re an elite member traveling with United in the near future, be sure to check the upgrade list. You’re once again eligible for automatic advanced upgrades.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.


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