Last week I took a spontaneous trip to Barcelona and spent some much-needed girl time with a good friend of mine. I booked the trip using miles, 5 days before departure, and I had a blast exploring a new beautiful European city.
Even after being in “the game” for many years, there’s still always room to learn more. While talking to some of my travel friends, I was introduced to a pretty awesome (but not widely known) United Airlines award trick, which has been given the internet name of a “Plan B” award.
Here’s how it works: If you’re booking a saver award, and the saver portion of a higher cabin class is not available, you have the option of debiting out the difference in miles and “waitlisting” until a seat in the higher cabin opens up. If you don’t end up flying in the cabin that you’re hoping for, you’re still secure in your economy seat, and the difference in miles will be refunded. It’s a no-brainer strategy, and you save yourself the stress of obsessively checking to see if a BusinessFirst seat happens to open up.
Put in simple terms, I wanted to fly in BusinessFirst from EWR-BCN, but there were no saver awards available. Instead, I booked a saver economy ticket for 60,000 miles round trip (I also snuck my free domestic one way in there), and immediately called United to have an agent help me set up the Plan B award by withdrawing the additional miles needed for BusinessFirst.
Here’s where things can get tricky: As I mentioned above, this is not a widely-known practice, even among phone agents. This is an ex-Continental perk that has made its way over to United post-merger. In fact, you’re not very likely to get an agent who can properly understand what you’re trying to do simply by calling United (or even the United Premier Line).
Instead, use this link and have an agent call you. The call back line is often staffed by ex-Contential agents who are very familiar with this practice. I was able to get a fantastic agent within seconds who knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I knew the agent had done it correctly because my ticket showed that I was booked in XN class (economy), but I was waitlisted for I class (business), and that 115,000 miles were taken from my MileagePlus account. I was also told that I should automatically clear if I-class opened up before 24 hours from departure.
Unfortunately for me, I class did not automatically open up before departure, so things got a little tricky. I checked to see if I-space was available at all, and it wasn’t, so then I gave myself some extra time at the airport to get this straightened out.
In person, I had to explain that I was not simply looking to upgrade my seat with miles, but I paid for a BusinessFirst ticket (with miles) and was only seated in coach. For this to work, it’s crucial that the agent understands that you are not a coach passenger trying to upgrade with miles, but instead you are a displaced BusinessFirst passenger.
By doing that, you’re explaining that you are entitled to top priority “PR-1″ status (higher priority on the upgrade list). I immediately jumped from nowhere on the list to #1 on the list and moments later I was handed a new boarding pass and seated in 3K.
The space up front for the return portion of my flight wasn’t looking too promising, and since Barcelona is not a United hub, I decided to play it safe and have my miles refunded before I even got to the airport. I flew in Economy Plus on the way home and it wasn’t too bad.
Here’s how to set up a Plan B award:
- Find an itinerary on United.com that has saver award economy available. Call United, and mention that there’s saver economy, but ticket it at the saver Business or First award price.
- Since the saver Business or First award is not available yet, ask the agent to wait list the economy reservation to the desired higher cabin. If United opens up premium saver award space before your flight, you’ll automatically clear into it (or you’ll have to call an and ask them to manually confirm you).
- If the reservation doesn’t automatically clear, you’ll be put on a wait list at the airport (given you deal with a competent agent) with the very highest priority since you’re a displaced Business/First passenger, and ahead of people using miles to upgrade paid tickets.
- If for some reason you don’t clear, you’ll have to call United before you board your flight to get the difference in miles refunded.
The “Plan B” award works as long as there is United saver coach award availability, and you can be certain that your award was setup correctly if you the higher amount of miles were debited -and- if you see that it says “I class requested”.
Have you ever set up a Plan B award with United before?