Securing Business Class Upgrades to Europe on United

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I’ve written a few times about my mom and her sister taking their “teacher retirement” trip to Europe in 2014.  They are going to London, Paris, Rome, and a couple other spots on miles and points, and I couldn’t be more excited for them!  In fact, Little C and I are so excited for them that we are meeting them for part of their journey in Paris.  I’ve never been to Paris, so next year seems like the perfect time for the four-year-old and I to pay the city a visit.  Three generations of girls in Paris, woohoo!

Deciding How to Get There:

I’ve toyed around with every way conceivable to get there and back with the sole requirement being that we are guaranteed to fly there and back in a lie flat seat.  Of course we wouldn’t spontaneously combust if we had to fly coach, but I don’t play this game so that I fly on vacation with my daughter to Europe in coach.  I play this game so that we can get some real sleep on the plane (hopefully) and have a bunch of fun in the process.

I had hoped to redeem miles for her, and purchase a revenue ticket for myself (so that I earn premier qualifying miles), but availability didn’t line up for that to work.  In fact, business class reward availability in general for our dates wasn’t what I wanted.  Since my mom and aunt’s trip is already booked, our dates weren’t really flexible, so I couldn’t plan the trip around award availability the way I usually like to.  I had to look for reward availability on our specific dates in April.  I could have potentially made it work with some reward flights, but it wouldn’t have been the best itinerary, or the best use of miles.

Buy Coach Tickets and Apply Business Class Upgrade Using GPU:

Ultimately, I decided that it made more sense to simply buy mileage earning coach tickets on United for both of us, and apply United Global Premier Upgrades that you earn by being 1K, than to redeem miles that really wouldn’t give me a good rate of return for such a straight-forward round trip.  To do this on United you have to buy a W class or higher fare, which means you aren’t getting bargain basement prices, but the prices weren’t terrible either.  Remember that you can often get a kid’s fare when flying internationally with a little one, so that resulted in a slight discount for C’s ticket without changing her fare class.  Buying the tickets isn’t cheap, but it would have been around 100,000 miles per ticket if we redeemed for business class, assuming found good availability.  In other words, it was a ton of miles or money either way.  I made what I think is the best call in our situation.

Since I wanted to be sure to have confirmed business class seats, I wasn’t willing to be wait-listed for an upgrade using a Global Premier Upgrade.  I wanted to buy a ticket that had upgrade (R) space available at the time of purchase.  You can look for R Space by clicking on the Fare Class after you have searched for flights on your dates, as shown below.  You need to have opted into “Expert Mode” for this option to display.  One Mile at a Time has a good post that explains more about that process.  It’s easier than it sounds, so don’t let the “expert” word scare you off.

United R Space Mommy Points

Finding R space months in advance to Europe can be pretty hard, but I was able to find it into London and back home out of Paris.  In a perfect world, I would have found it both in and out of Paris, but London was close enough.  We will just tack on a cheap flight or British Airways Avios redemption from London to Paris.

We purchased the tickets and had the upgrades applied immediately after, so there is no wondering or waiting to see if our upgrades will clear later.  I would not want to pay more for an upgrade eligible W fare only to not have the upgrades clear!

Using Points for Hotels Takes the Sting Out of Buying Tickets:

With that we are booked and are looking forward to our time in Paris.  We have had our hotel reward nights secured at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome and the Radisson Blu Champs Elysees for a while now, so that makes the sting of buying the airline tickets a bit easier.  Of course as the trip gets a little closer I’ll be turning to you all for any of your “can’t miss” family friendly Paris recommendations!

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  1. Heads up, if your plat marriott we stayed at marriott paris champs elysees in nov and ended up with a complimentary upgrade to the presidential suite….. On an award redemption! Rack rate was €8,000 and it was amazing! Also took mommy points advice and booked it before the category’s changed so it saved me 5k points. Love what you do, keep it up!

    Only thing we did was email the hotel and asked for an upgrade if available.

  2. Have the gals look into Rome passes (metro/museum passes) if in Rome for a few days. We got a lot of mileage out of them when I took the scouts there this year.

  3. As a 1k buying not cheap but not the most expensive tickets for transatlantic (exSFO and ORD) I am not having good luck on GPUs. The chances of getting an upgrade as a less than 1k on a cheap ticket W must be very low. The system is also faulty with GPUs fslling out at switch over 24 hrs before departure, so you might think you are in the system but not. R space is hard to find. I am rather dissapointed with UAs handling of all this. Though to be honest, the excitement of travelling business class (it is not business first as they market) wears off fast. Perhaps better to fly the more enjoyable / shortest route and invest in a nice hotel at the other end to recover.

  4. Our family’s hands down favorite thing to do in Paris, was we did a private bike tour with They have a double bike which would be perfect for you and your daughter. I cannot recommend it more.

  5. I’m actually plan to drop 1K for the first time in about 8 years. I’m cashing in all my miles in ’13. I actually went 8 for 8 with GPU upgrades in ’13 so no complaints there. My recommendation would be to use them on Lufthansa if you can, the new Lufthansa business lie flat is sweet.

  6. Like you, i look for the “R” space when using a GPU on international “W” fares, since i don’t want to pay the higher fare for nothing.

    But be advised, as happened on my recent return from Narita, if your flight gets cancelled, you lose the upgrade, as they rebook based on your original fare basis. If that is another carrier, no upgrade period. Another UA flight, there would have to be the “R” space.

  7. I definitely would second that suggestion about doing Eurostar (the name of the railroad company that does direct London-to-Paris trains) for London to Paris. It can be a little bit cheaper than paying for an air ticket, and also is an invaluable experience (European trains are just so much better than here in the states) for anyone traveling to the area for the first time. 🙂 is the site. have fun! (and maybe spend some time in London; I love that city!)

  8. Might I suggest one night in London with Little C and then the Eurostar into Paris. Great way to arrive in London at Gare du Nord. You will both love the train trip.

  9. Oh another thing. When my wife and in-laws were in Paris in September, I booked them the 2CV car tour. They loved it! In one car it seats 3 people so if you have more they will book you another car. Great, fun way to see Paris. Google it, I used Viator but many options.

    Oh, and you can pre-book a meal at the Eiffel tower several months out. Several places to choose from, they were working on the 2nd floor in September to add more stuff.

  10. Another vote for the Eurostar from London to Paris, its the preferred way to travel for people who do it all the time for a good reason and it goes city to city so is actually faster than a plabe.

  11. Hi! Great post. I would also recommend the Eurostar to Paris from London. I’ve taken the Thalys train from Brussels-Paris, very comfortable way of traveling, and you get to see the landscape as you’re passing through.

  12. Took Eurostar last year. Great way to get from Paris to London. We booked business class and had a great lunch. Very relaxing. In Rome consider using Walking Tours of Italy for the coloseum tour and the Pristine Sistine for the Vatican tour. Well worth it

  13. You mentioned you had upgrades applied immediately. I read the One Mile at a Time post, and I still dont understand. How were you able to do this- is there an option to use points to upgrade?

  14. When looking at fares to Europe, that option for R Space and Instant upgrade shows on some flights, however, I’m not a 1k, just a general member with Premier Access. If I selected one of those flights, would I be eligible for the upgrade? If not, that’s kind of misleading to even have it appear as an option.

    • You would be eligible for an upgrade using an upgrade instrument if there is R space. There are no complimentary upgrades to Europe. I used a global premier upgrade that 1ks get. You could likely also use miles + copay, though that is usually very pricey. I’ll do a separate post on that option, but again, it often isn’t a great deal.

  15. Ok, I’m reading further into the instant upgrade option. Am I understanding that as a premier member with no status I must purchase a Y-fare in economy to get the upgrade? That would make more sense than for it to not be an option at all.

  16. Any chance you can tell us how much of a premium a W class ticket is over the cheapest coach fare? Is it double? $1200 vs. $600 kind of thing? I’m just wondering how much more you paid to fly business and thus how much it’s worth to you.

  17. PS May want to think about Radisson Le Dokhan’s Trocadero. They gave me free continental breakfast (with room service) for being a Gold Elite (status matched).

  18. Thanks for all the suggestions. Don’t have the time on this trip to add time in London, so will be looking for the quickest route to get on to Paris. That may be a flight since we are already at LHR, but normally I totally agree about the Eurostar.

    I hate getting into specific dollar amounts as it never seems to go well, but I will tell you that some $600ish RT fares aren’t available for my dates from Houston, so the difference between the lowest available fare and the W fare was not much. We’re talking $100 or so difference between lowest currently available and W fare combined for the two of us.

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