United to no longer offer elite-only three cabin first class award space

United posted the following announcement on FlyerTalk / Milepoint:

I wanted to let you know about a change we’ll be making to the way we allocate MileagePlus award inventory for United Global First and United First on 3-cabin aircraft. As many of you know, we currently use the same fare class (ON) for both upgrades and Saver travel awards redeemed from MileagePlus Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services accounts. A consequence of this pairing has been fewer seats being available for upgrades.

To remedy this imbalance, we will begin using ON exclusively for upgrades into United Global First and United First on 3-cabin aircraft effective February 1, 2013. Having a dedicated fare class for these upgrades will enable us to offer differentiated availability. To accommodate this change, we will no longer offer a dedicated fare class for Saver travel awards redeemed from MileagePlus Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services accounts. Instead, the inventory once used for ON class will be allocated to O class, which will become the sole booking class used for Saver Awards in United Global First and United First on 3-cabin aircraft.

Between now and January 31, ON will still be used for new Saver Award bookings from Platinum, 1K and Global Services accounts, and any flights booked prior to this change will not be impacted. We’ll also continue to offer better access to Saver Awards in United First (on 2-cabin aircraft), United BusinessFirst and United Business for Premier Platinum members and above, and better access to Saver Awards in United Economy for all Premier members.

Basically up until this point Premier Platinum/Premier 1K/Global Services members could redeem miles at the saver level for seats in three cabin first class that were otherwise only available for upgrades. Airlines have different fare “codes” for awards and upgrades, and typically the number of available upgrade seats is greater than the number of available award seats, at least in three cabin first class.

This was at times a huge benefit, as “ON” (upgrade/elite-only award) space was often much more readily available than “O” (award) space. Just as an example, take a look at the flight below, which has five “ON” seats and no “O” seats:

So there’s still time to book under the old policy, though not much. Here’s to hoping it’s one of the few MileagePlus changes for next year.

(Tip of the hat to Wandering Aramean)


  1. Pretty simple, they’d rather have people buying J and upgrading to F then redeeming for miles for F.

    Thumbs down from me!

  2. Hi, lucky,

    I use expert flyer to follow the ticket information from NRT to PPT of air Tahiti. There is no reward seat for ppt to NRT. And I also follow its seat map and availability. But it seems that they never change during the past month. But the price of this trip on kayak is rising about 20%. Can I trust expert flyer?

    Sorry to ask question here. For your “ask lucky” section, it is too big on one page. It took me too long time to the end of the page.

    Merry Christmas and Happy new Year!


  3. @ Cindy — Well just because the seatmap doesn’t change doesn’t mean that no one booked, as some people simply don’t assign seats when making a booking. That being said, there’s a good chance that the availability hasn’t changed, and they’re just changing the prices up. Airline prices are constantly changing, so I wouldn’t read too much into the pricing.

  4. very disappointing, as i use this space from time to time and generally has good availability. Does this also mean they are eliminating the space for non-revs?

  5. @ DiscoPapa — Well they should care, because this will translate into more international first class space for them. 😀

  6. Good for us: No one needs elite status with UA then anymore. 1K and GS are not worth it, Platinum for the fee waivers and that’s it…

  7. Lucky, can you spell out in another post whether this new United policy affects availability to first class award travel redemption for non-elite? I am having a hard time understanding whether this affects me or not (non-elite, occasional traveler who likes to redeem miles at saver level in first or business class). Thanks!

  8. @Lucky – Oh, I know all about that… 🙂 Just wondering what Carl’s remark about “eliminating the space for non-revs” had to do with the ON / O fare classes.

  9. @DiscoPapa – i was being sarcastic. In my experience, F cabins on international UA flights are full of non-revs, which i normally don’t have a problem with. But if UA is going to reduce the space for their most loyal customers, i would hope that cuts both ways.

  10. Never used this benefit as a 1K and likely wouldn’t even consider it. So if this is the worst that COdbaUA has for 1k members next year, it’s fine by me. Unfortunately, I expect worse to come next year.

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