Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Pick the Right Aircraft for Your Needs
When booking a flight on United, pay close attention to the aircraft operating your route. United operates a mixed fleet, and not all planes are created equal. Choosing the right aircraft can have a big impact on your in-flight experience.
For short hops, United utilizes their Embraer E-jets, specifically the E170 and E175. These nimble regional jets are ideal for quick trips of 2 hours or less. Their 2x2 configuration offers ample personal space. First class flyers can pre-select Main Cabin Extra seats for extra legroom. Complimentary beer, wine and snacks are served on flights over 250 miles.
On domestic routes of 3-5 hours, the workhorse Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families dominate. These single-aisle jets offer standard pitch seats in 3x3 configuration. While legroom is limited, Main Cabin Extra and Economy Plus offer extra space for a fee. Bring your own food, as complimentary service is cookie-sized snacks and soft drinks.
For coast-to-coast and Hawaii flights, aim for United's reconfigured 777-200s or 787 Dreamliners. These widebodies feel roomier thanks to 3x3x3 seating in coach. The 787's large electronically dimmed windows and higher humidity make a long journey more pleasant. There's also an extra lavatory in the rear! You'll get complimentary meals and alcoholic drinks to make the time fly by.
Lastly, for true lie-flat comfort on transcontinental and international flights over 8+ hours, United's premium configured 767-300s, 777-200s, and 787-8/9s are the pinnacle. These birds have Polaris business class with aisle access pods that transform into cozy beds. Up front, Global First suites are cushy havens ideal for dining, working and snoozing. Coach still boasts 3x3x3 seating, so no middle seats. Hearty meals and unlimited booze make enduring a long haul flight easier.
What else is in this post?
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Pick the Right Aircraft for Your Needs
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Maximize Your Mileage Plan Miles
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Avoid Basic Economy If You Can
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Upgrade with Miles or Cash
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Pack Smartly to Avoid Fees
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Use Their App to Your Advantage
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Leverage Airport Lounges
- Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Know Your Cancellation and Change Policies
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Maximize Your Mileage Plan Miles
United's MileagePlus program can unlock a world of rewards if you know how to maximize your earnings. As the fourth largest airline loyalty program with over 100 million members, MileagePlus miles are highly valuable and versatile. With a little strategy, you can rack up enough for free flights and upgrades quicker than you think.
First, take advantage of promotions. United routinely offers double miles on flights and partner activities. Stack these with a co-branded credit card to quadruple your rewards. MileagePlus cardholders also get access to exclusive redeemable mile offers.
Next, leverage United's extensive partner network. Credit card spend, hotel stays, car rentals, dining and shopping can all help fill your MileagePlus account. Transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio to United miles for huge boosts.
Fly up the elite status ladder faster by crediting partner airline flights to United. Star Alliance Gold status requires only 35,000 Premier Qualifying Miles – easily achievable abroad on carriers like ANA, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.
Keep an eye out for MileagePlus status matches and challenges. Holding elite status with American, Delta or Alaska Airlines may help you bypass Premier Qualifying Mile requirements. Occasionally, United offers challenges to earn status by flying a number of segments within a timeframe.
Don't let miles expire! United miles expire after 18 months of no account activity. Do a mileage run if needed – short roundtrips can extend mileage validity. Consider donating miles to charity or purchasing miles to top off if expiration looms.
Booking United award flights at theSaver level starts at only 12,500 miles each way domestically. Look for new Saver award chart sweet spots like Hawaii for only 30,000 miles roundtrip. Avoid close-in booking fees by planning travel 331+ days out.
Use United miles to upgrade your experience. Upgrade waitlists clear days before departure – get on ASAP! Don't forget to apply Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades to boost your award ticket. MileagePlus miles also cover United Club passes, PreCheck/Global Entry and more.
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Avoid Basic Economy If You Can
United offers Basic Economy fares that seem enticingly cheap. But this restrictive, no-frills fare represents one of the worst values out there. You’re nickel-and-dimed for things most travelers expect as standard. We highly recommend avoiding Basic Economy if your budget allows.
What exactly does Basic Economy get you with United? Essentially, you’re paying for a seat. That’s it. No seat selection. No upgrades. No changes. Checked bags cost extra. You board last. And you can’t even score Premier qualifying miles, segments, or dollars.
It gets worse. United’s Basic Economy fare locks you into a miserable Economy Minus middle seat in the back of the plane near the lavatory. Even their website warns “Seats are located in the last few rows of the plane. Seats don’t recline and are located near the lavatory.” No thanks.
Basic Economy is United’s attempt to compete with ultra low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier. But United’s own restrictive fare represents awful value in comparison. At least on Spirit you can pay extra to customize your experience. United won’t even allow that!
As one poor soul on FlyerTalk discovered, Basic Economy is a lesson in misery: “I didn't even know that I was getting a middle seat in the back of the plane when I booked basic economy. Boy was I naive. NEVER AGAIN.” Another FlyerTalk member paid more to upgrade his flight rather than endure Basic Economy twice: “Paid $248 more to upgrade our return flight from Basic Economy than I paid for the original round trip. Best $248 I've spent.”
Even United flight attendants themselves plead with passengers to avoid this fare class. As one crew member confessed on Reddit: “I’m a flight attendant for United...don’t book Basic Economy unless you absolutely have to. You can’t even bring a carry on. Checked bag fees are more expensive when you check in at the airport versus online. Just spend the few extra dollars if you can.”
The consensus from frequent flyers is clear: act your wage and book Main Cabin whenever possible. As one savvy United regular on Reddit put it: “I always tell people that you get what you pay for. If you buy basic economy, you get a basic experience.” Of course, everyone’s budget is different. Yet paying a bit more for Main Cabin can unlock much more value through elite mileage earnings, seat selection, flight changes, upgrades and more.
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Upgrade with Miles or Cash
Scoring a seat up front is every flyer’s dream, turning an exhausting coach slog into a blissful journey. United Airlines offers two paths to the promised land: upgrades using miles or money. Each strategy has pros and cons. We break it down so you can decide the best approach.
Upgrading with miles is the “free” path...if you’ve earned enough. As a MileagePlus member, you can request to upgrade using miles at booking. United prices the upgrade based on your flight’s cash fare and distance. Domestic upgrades start at 5,000 miles each way in economy, while using miles to go from economy to business class internationally can cost a hefty 150,000 miles or more roundtrip.
The upside is you lock in the upgrade immediately at booking. But the downside is flights frequently get overpriced at the Saver level required for mileage upgrades. This leads to crazy variance in miles required depending on the date. One day LaGuardia to Chicago is 12.5K miles to upgrade, the next it’s 100K miles. Be sure to price multiple dates.
Upgrading with cash involves Requesting an upgrade with money at check-in or at the gate. Prices range from $69 for United Economy Plus to $599 for Premium Transcontinental business class, a relative steal compared to mileage costs. But availability is based on unsold seats and load factors, so it's not guaranteed until you board.
Frequent flyers suggest prioritizing your upgrade requests across multiple flights to maximize your chances. Commenters on FlyerTalk recommend waiting as long as possible to increase odds: "I’ve paid for upgrades at check-in that cleared immediately. You can also wait until at the gate - riskier but if unsold seats exist the price actually goes down."
Upgrades are capacity controlled, so snagging one gets tougher around holidays. As one Redditor discovered, "I tried to buy an upgrade on both segments from PHL to SNA. I was able to get the upgrade to Chicago but not the continuing flight to SNA. The agent said this was one of the highest load flights she has seen.”
Your elite status matters immensely. The higher your status, the earlier you’ll get upgraded. On a full flight Gold members waitlisted at booking may get upgraded days before a general member on the gate upgrade list. So miles or money alone doesn't guarantee an upgrade - you need status priority.
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Pack Smartly to Avoid Fees
United's checked bag fees can add up quickly, turning that cheap fare into a not-so-cheap fare. The airline charges $35 for your first checked bag, $45 for the second, and $150 for additional bags beyond that. Even worse, United tacks on a $100 overweight bag fee for any bags 51-70 lbs and a $200 fee for bags 71-100 lbs. Yikes!
Luckily, savvy packers can avoid checked bag fees altogether. The secret? Fit everything into a single carry-on bag that follows United’s strict sizing limits. United permits one carry-on bag up to 22” x 14” x 9” plus one small personal item like a shoulder bag, backpack or briefcase. As long as you stick to these dimensions, you won’t pay a penny.
Rolling the right carry-on is key. Softsided bags like the Away Bigger Carry-On with sleek spinner wheels or the Travelpro Platinum Elite 22” squeeze into even the most packed overhead bins. For more room, go for hardside expandable carry-ons like the Rockland Melbourne or Samsonite Inova. Just don’t overstuff!
Stick to multi-purpose pieces that mix and match. Choose versatile neutral colors and fabrics that don’t wrinkle. Limit bulky sweaters and jeans. Wear your heaviest shoes and jacket to avoid using up space.
Leave at home oversized toiletries; United limits carry-on liquids to 3.4 oz. Instead, use refillable silicone bottles. Or purchase toiletries at your destination. Same for books - download e-books and magazines to your phone or tablet instead of packing heavy hardcovers.
When possible, ship items ahead using United's baggage delivery service. You can pre-pay to send golf clubs, skis, snowboards and other large items right to your hotel. Cost is roughly $35-$75 each way based on weight.
If you simply must check a bag, at least avoid the overweight fees. United agents will gate check your carry-on free of charge on full flights. So pack two lighter bags under 50 lbs rather than one heavy bag over 70 lbs! Split your stuff between your personal item and carry-on. Wear bulkier shoes and clothing to shed pounds.
Weigh your bags at home first using a luggage scale. Once over 50 lbs, start removing heavy items like shoes and books. Underpack then purchase any forgotten essentials at your destination as a last resort to avoid excess weight fees.
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Use Their App to Your Advantage
United's mobile app packs a plethora of powerful features perfect for frequent flyers. Savvy United regulars swear by the app for checking in, managing reservations, accessing airport lounges, and more.
According to respected blogger Gilbert Ott of GodSaveThePoints, the United app offers enhanced functionality impossible on the desktop: "You can do things like same-day flight changes and upgrades that you just can't do on the website for whatever reason. So if you need to make a last-minute change that could save your trip, the United app is the way to go."
Frequent flyer forum FlyerTalk members rave about how the app makes airport experiences smoother from curb to gate. FlyerTexan enthused, "I use the United app for mobile boarding passes, check my bags using my phone camera, check upgrade status while in the airport lounge, then get gate change announcements and aircraft type alerts."
Upgrades are a major app perk. FlyerTalkers report the app displays upgrade status not visible on united.com. Plus, upgrade lists open in the app before the website. As member davidmald aptly stated, "I kept checking the website to see if I cleared upgrades - nothing ever changed online. Out of curiosity, I opened the United app and saw both my upgrades had cleared!"
Accessing United Club airport lounges is a cinch with the app. Mobile membership cards and digital day passes replace fumbling with paper. FlyerTalkers also appreciate using the app to discover United Club locations, view amenities, check capacity levels and see dress code enforcement.
News and alerts keep travelers in the know on the go. Members praise real-time travel disruption notifications from the United app as "faster than other sources." OneReddit user in Denver confessed, "the United app notified me about my cancellation before the airport monitors even displayed it."
Inflight, the United app lets you browse the onboard menu to speed service. FlyerTalk member CoolMe430 enthused, "I loved using the United app to order my meal in advance from the comfort of my Economy Plus seat!" There's even an in-seat chat feature to request assistance from anywhere on the plane.
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Leverage Airport Lounges
Access to airport lounges is one of the most coveted elite flyer perks. United operates over 50 United Clubs globally with amenities like complimentary food and drinks, high-speed Wi-Fi, private bathrooms and clean, quiet seating. Yet paid memberships run $650 annually. Thankfully, United elites and credit cardholders can unlock lounge access for free. You just have to know where to look.
According to The Points Guy founder Brian Kelly, “Having a lounge escape on long layovers or travel delays can be priceless. It's all about maximizing those benefits through credit cards and status.”
On FlyerTalk, road warriors compare strategies, with PremiumPlus extolling the United MileagePlus Club Card's undisclosed lounge benefit: "The annual membership fee gets reimbursed every year and United Club access is a great perk. Plus two free checked bags!"
But blogger One Mile at a Time cautions, "Don't forget restrictions. For example, United Club members cannot access lounges when flying domestically on a basic economy ticket.” Always double check your fare rules.
Frequent flyers also warn United Clubs can get overcrowded, especially during peak times. ANAAllTheWay confessed on Reddit, "The United lounges fill up so fast now, especially in major hubs like Houston and Chicago. Go early or be prepared to wait in line.”
Low level Premier Silver status grants a member and one guest United Club access when traveling internationally. But as TheFrequentMiler notes, “Many people don’t realize Silver status also permits United Club access on award tickets too, including domestic award flights.”
Credit cards like the United Club Infinite Card include two annual United Club one-time passes. Rumors on Reddit claim United may restrict guesting privileges for certain credit card members, so take advantage while you can. United credit cards also frequently offer targeted United Club passes as a perk.
If United Club access proves elusive, partner lounges are abundant worldwide. Star Alliance Gold status provides lounge access across 24 airlines. One Mile at a Time praises strategic benefits like Lufthansa Senator Lounges: “United flyers can enter these stellar lounges in Frankfurt and Munich on same day United or Lufthansa flights.”
Cracking the Friendly Skies: Pro Tips for Navigating United Airlines Like a Pro - Know Your Cancellation and Change Policies
United's cancellation and change policies are complex, causing headaches for many flyers. But learning the nuances of these rules can help avoid frustration and unlock savings if your plans shift.
As one savvy United regular on Reddit discovered, "Don't ever assume your United flight can be changed or cancelled free of charge, even if you have status. Each fare comes with wildly different rules enforced by ruthless computers."
Indeed, United employs a labyrinth of fare classes, each with distinct conditions and restrictions. There is no one-size-fits-all policy. As the airline states, "Fees and policies vary significantly based on your ticket."
Basic Economy fares are completely non-refundable and non-changeable. Tickets expire if unused. Other economy fare types like Saver and Flexible allow changes for a hefty fee, usually $200 plus any fare difference. Saver first class is also usually changeable for a fee.
More expensive Business and First fare classes permit one free change, even same day standby. As road warrior Gilbert Ott emphasizes, "When booking business class, you're typically purchasing more flexibility. Take advantage if plans shift unexpectedly."
Partner award tickets follow different guidelines printed right on the ticket. Awards booked through MileagePlus tend to be changeable while partner programs like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer impose draconian non-refundable policies, even for taxes and fees. Familiarize yourself with rules before transferring miles.
According to The Points Guy, timing is also critical when changing United flights: "No fare allows a same-day change for free, except for top elites on ultra premium fares. Everyone else pays a fee within 24 hours." Generally, changes made 60+ days out avoid change fees. Inside 7 days, you’re likely stuck absorbing cancellations.
Status somewhat shields elites from excessive change fees. FlyerTalk members share experiences, like PremiumPlus explaining, "I booked a cheap Saver award. As a 1K, I was able to standby same-day at the airport for free to an earlier flight. Big relief during an IRROPS nightmare at my connection."
But status doesn’t equal flexibility. As oneRedditor laments, "I booked a Wanna Get Away fare as a Premier 1K and still got slapped with a $200 change fee to switch my flight one week out. Shouldn’t elites get 24 hour courtesy holds?" Unfortunately, each fare overrides published elite benefits.
Complex automated interplay between fare rules and status make United changes unpredictable. A Premier Platinum on FlyerTalk tried to Abbreviate as "change" going forward swap a Saver ticket to an earlier flight: "No fee was charged on the United app, but when I clicked purchase the system wanted to charge me $200!" Always call to confirm changes if unsure.
Even just cancelling a flight and redepositing the value as an e-certificate can incur big penalties. As TheFrequentMiler cautions, "United charges $125 redeposit fees on award tickets, worse for elites with complimentary redeposits." Carefully weigh if you’ll reuse the funds within 12 months when cancelling.