The Ultimate Guide To United Airlines And Finding Bargain Business Class Flights
United Airlines is one of the United States’ ‘big three’ carriers, along with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines. It has a huge domestic network, working in partnership with its regional brand United Express, and offers connectivity to most of the world via its international routes.
The carrier is a member of the Star Alliance, an international alliance of airlines that allow codeshares and connecting flights to be booked, as well as reciprocal mileage earning and burning across its members. Other airlines in the alliance include Aegean, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, All Nippon (ANA), Asiana, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa, Egyptair, Ethiopian, EVA Air, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Scandinavian (SAS), Shenzhen, South African Airways, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines.
United is one of many Star Alliance airlines. Photo: Star Alliance
United was a founding member of the alliance, alongside Air Canada, SAS, Thai and Lufthansa. As well as being a Star Alliance founder member, United Airlines recently announced a groundbreaking partnership agreement with globetrotting behemoth Emirates. The partnership is in the early stages, but could soon be bringing even more connections and loyalty benefits to United Airlines passengers.
A brief history of United Airlines
The legacy of United goes back all the way to 1926, when Varney Air Lines was founded in Boise, Idaho. That airline was subsumed into the William Boeing-founded Boeing Air Transport, along with Pacific Air Transport, National Air Transport and Stout Air Services.
The new combined company was named United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC), and included a number of equipment manufacturers as well as Pratt & Whitney. In 1931, UTAC former a holding company for its airline subsidiaries which it called United Air Lines.
And so, United was born, although it did not look anything like it did today. Back then, it flew Boeing 247s, Douglas DC-3s and small biplanes including the Boeing 40A and 80A. By the 1950s, it began operating larger airplanes including the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and the DC-7. In 1958, United recurved its first jet aircraft, the Douglas DC-8.
By the turn of the millennium, it was a wholly modern airline, flying 747-400s, 757s, 767s and the 777. But tragedy struck when, on September 11th, 2001, United Airlines had two of its airplanes hijacked. N612UA was flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center, while N591UA was crashed in Pennsylvania. This was the start of a major transition for United.
As the dot-com bubble burst and travel demand plummeted in the aftermath of 9/11, United filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2002. It never stopped flying, but it saw a significant reduction in employee numbers and fleet size before the airline got back on its feet.
Emerging from bankruptcy in 2006, United Airlines’ management were keen to see consolidation, and actively sought a partner airline to share the burden with them. Continental Airlines began discussions, but it wasn’t until 2010 that those discussions finally came to fruition. United and Continental merged in 2011, virtually eliminating the Continental brand and making United Airlines one of the foremost carriers in the world today.
United's merger with Continental greatly grew the airline. Photo: Brian via Wikimedia
The United Airlines fleet
Excluding the United Express brand, which is actually a group of six regional airlines operating short- and medium-haul feeder flights to the airline’s hubs, United presently has a fleet size of 867 airplanes, 749 of which are active (recently flying, not parked or stored).
Traditionally, the airline was a loyal Boeing operator, although it rocked the boat in the late ‘90s with an Airbus narrowbody order, and again in the 2020s with orders for the A321neo and A321XLR. But the fleet today is still very Boeing-heavy.
On the narrowbody side, it has around 180 A320 family airplanes – elderly models that will inevitably be phased out as the neos start to arrive. It also has a large fleet of 737 family jets, spanning the -700, -800 and -900, as well as the MAX 8 and 9. All in, it has over 380 737 family airplanes in the current fleet.
On the widebody side, everything is Boeing. It operates the 757, the 767, the 777 and the 787 Dreamliner. The most prominent type is the 777, of which it flies 74 -200s and 22 -300ERs. It has 50 Dreamliners, mostly -9s but with 12 -8s and 13 -10s. It’s one of the few airlines in the world to remain committed to the Boeing 767, with a new Polaris business class product being rolled out across the fleet, and a premium-heavy variant targeted at transatlantic business travelers.
The airline is keenly eyeing future air mobility too, having placed orders for a bunch of exciting new air transport technologies. It was one of the first airlines to invest in Boom Supersonic’s new Overture aircraft, and has a commitment with Heart Aerospace for its regional ES-19 and ES-30 electric-hybrid aircraft.
It has also invested in Archer Aviation, with a tentative order for 200 of its ‘flying taxi’ eVTOLs, and recently ordered up 200 of the Embraer-developed EVE eVTOLs as well. It also has a commitment to hydrogen-electric company ZeroAvia for up to 100 of its hydrogen engines to be integrated into aircraft from 2028.
Where can you fly with United Airlines?
United has hubs in Chicago, Denver, Guam, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco and Washington. Much of its network functions by picking up passengers from these hubs and connecting them with the world. United currently flies to more than 210 locations in the United States, as well as more than 120 international destinations.
While it’s impossible to list all the United Airlines routes, some of its most popular international destination countries include:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
The airline plans to launch a new route to Dubai in March 2023, which will cement its new partnership with Emirates. This will open up even more opportunities to connect and will serve to fill in some of the gaps in the United network, particularly in Africa and India.
United offers three classes of travel – economy, Premium Plus and Polaris. Economy is pretty much a standard affair, with around 31 inches of seat pitch and a small 3” recline. For a small upgrade, you can pick an Economy Plus seat, which has a greater pitch (34”) and slightly more recline (4”).
Economy passengers may or may not get a meal service, depending on the ticket they purchase and their destination. Shorter flights booked on the cheapest basic economy ticket are very basic, but on a long-haul, you’ll always get fed and watered. Some flights do not allow carry on, boarding is last in the queue and checked bags will need to be paid for.
On aircraft that have the Premium Plus option, this is basically your premium economy seat. The small cabin tends to be separated from the rest of economy by a bulkhead, offering more privacy and a more attentive service from the assigned cabin crew. Seats have 38” of pitch and a 6” recline, as well as a 19” width – almost 2” wider than standard economy.
Premium Plus also gives passengers free drinks throughout the flight, including alcohol, hot meals, snacks and desserts. These guests also get two free checked bags and power outlets at every seat.
United has one of the best premium onboard products in the world on some of its flights. United Polaris is its flagship business class product, which was launched on its 777-300ER in 2017.
This premium product offers a fully lie-flat bed of 198 cm in length (6’6”) and a width of 20.5”. In most airplane types, it is laid out with alternating private and ‘honeymoon’ seats in the center, so pick an odd row if you want to be close to your seatmate, or an even row for more privacy. At the window seats, odd numbered rows are face-forward and close to the sidewall, offering maximum comfort and privacy for solo travelers.
Although all United international business class is now branded ‘Polaris,’ you don’t get the full experience on every single plane – it depends it if has had the refit or not.
All of its 777-300ER have the full Polaris outfit, as do its 787-10s and 787-8s. Its 787-9s are a mix of old and new, although the fleet refit is ongoing and due to be completed before the end of 2022. The 777-200ERs have the new product, but the 777-200 non-ER won’t be getting it – these typically fly within the mainland US.
Also worth mentioning is the fleet of 767-300s, which are all set to get the new seat. Most of the fleet has now been fitted, but do check the seat map to ensure you get what you’re paying for. There are also a few configured with a premium-heavy outfit, allowing a massive 46-seat, 16 row Polaris cabin. These are usually found on transcon premium routes (think New York to Los Angeles or San Francisco) or on the competitive transatlantic service.
To check if you’re getting the full Polaris experience, the seat map is a dead giveaway. Polaris should be laid out in a 1-2-1 or a 1-1-1 configuration, while the non-retrofitted planes have a 2-2-2 layout.
Onboard, inflight dining is kicked up a notch. On arrival on the plane, a sparkling water or mimosa are served in the early morning, changing to water or sparkling wine later in the day. During the flight, all beverages, including beer, wine, liquor and non-alcoholic drinks, are included throughout.
United recently upgraded its onboard Polaris dining experience to include regionally inspired dishes on certain routes. You can expect a snack on boarding, a full meal with entrée options and dessert and, depending on the length of your flight, potentially a second smaller meal before landing.
Beds are furnished with Saks Fifth Avenue bedding with mattress cushions available on request. Amenity kits are designed by Away, and include premium skincare items from Sunday Riley, ear plugs and eye mask, as well as pajamas on request for flights longer than 12 hours. Noise cancelling headphones are available at every seat.
As well as getting the comfiest seat in the sky, Polaris flyers will get access to United’s lounges around the world. At Chicago O’Hare, Houston Intercontinental, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles, this will be the full Polaris experience – all have recently had a facelift and are truly incredible today. Elsewhere you’ll get access to United Club lounges or partner airline lounges, depending on where you are.
Finding the best United Airlines deals with Mighty Travels Premium
Mighty Travels Premium is a great way to find some incredible deals on United Airlines flights, particularly if you enjoy traveling in luxury. Start by creating a Mighty Travels Premium account – you can take out a free trial to check out the benefits of this site before committing to a subscription.
You’ll arrive at a page where you can set up your preferences. Choosing your local airport ensures you get the best deals for your region sent to your email. From there, let’s head to ‘flights’ to find some cracking deals with United Airlines.
You’ll see your preferred departure airports are already prefilled in the ‘traveling from’ field. If you’re set on departing from these locations, leave them there, but it can be beneficial to remove all airports from the selections to get an overview of all the United Airlines deals available right now.
Next, let us introduce you to something very cool – the ‘more filters’ button. Clicking this brings up a whole bunch of additional options, including the ability to select the specific airline you want to travel with. You can also choose airlines to exclude, preferences for lie-flat seating, the temperature of the destination and much more.
The more you leave blank, the more deals you’ll be shown, but these options really help you narrow down the specifics of the flight you’re looking for.
Narrowing down your search for United Airlines bargain flights
Straight away, you can see there are some incredible deals to be had. Mighty Travels arranges the offers in order of the hottest deals, so the biggest savings will be at the top of the list. Top of the shop when we searched today is a roundtrip from Bogota to San Francisco at just $1,076 in business class.
Some of the things to check on this search result include the airplane type, the seating type and the deal slider. Here, we can see the trip will be flown with a narrow body Boeing 737 with recliner seats in business class, and that the cost of the trip is around $1,700 cheaper than the average fare.
But perhaps we’re not in Bogota already, and perhaps we wanted lie-flat comfort. Let’s go ahead and change some parameters to find a better ticket offer.
In the lie-flat seating options, let’s choose ‘over 50% lie-flat seating,’ which should show us all the flights where most of it is in lie-flat comfort. It might mean we have a regional connection on a smaller plane without such comfort, but should ensure the bulk of the trip is fully flat.
Our top trip now is a roundtrip from Honolulu to Vancouver in January. 67% of the trip is in fully lie-flat seating, onboard a Boeing 777, for just over $1,300. Clicking through via the ‘book now’ button shows us the actual itinerary. Don’t forget – when clicking through to Google Flights, you’ll need to change the date, cabin class and check the destination is correct in order to see the price shown on Mighty Travels.
So we can see, in this case, the trip from Honolulu to San Francisco is on the 777 with United, with fully flat seats. The 2-hour and 31-minute hop up to Vancouver is on a Boeing 737 with recliner seats.
Finding your perfect United Airlines cut-price flight
Not everyone is in the market for a roundtrip from Honolulu to Vancouver. Chances are, you’d prefer to depart from somewhere that is easily reachable from your home. But, depending on where you live, there could be two, five, or even ten airports within acceptable driving distance, so how can you ensure you’re not missing a deal?
Thankfully, Mighty Travels can help you with this too. Keeping your preferred airline as United, go ahead and enter your nearest airport into the ‘Traveling from’ field. We’ve chosen New York JFK as our closest. Now head up to the ‘common settings’ field and select how far you’d be willing to travel around that airport to see all the deals from all the airports in that radius. We’ve picked 250 miles – we’re not concerned about a long drive!
Leaving our lie-flat preference at ‘at least 50%’, we now have some great deals for premium travel to a bunch of places from our home region. Top of the list is a transcontinental flight from Washington (IAD) to Las Vegas in October for just over $1,000. This is around $1,300 lower than the typical price. We’re looking at three hours in a fully flat seat on the Boeing 767 to Houston, followed by a hop from Houston to Las Vegas in a recliner on a 737. Not bad for a comfortable transcon.
There are a couple more sweet deals out of Washington that will take us to more exotic destinations than Vegas, though. Departing in September is a trip to Lima in Peru, 66% lie-flat seating, for $1,591. And in October, Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt can be reached in 65% lie flat comfort for just under $2,300.
You can up your lie-flat seating option to 75% or even 100% to get more premium offers. You can also select the outbound flight (and inbound flight) by region or country to see even more offers. Have a play with the filters to see what you can dig up!