United Guts Ability of Top Tier Elites to Upgrade on Lufthansa

United is changing the way its systemwide upgrades — the upgrade instruments that are given to 100,000 mile flyers which can be used internationally — (“Global Premier Upgrades” but I can’t quite get myself to call them that with the ‘new’ United) — can be redeemed for a higher class of service on Lufthasna.

Instead of just requesting a paper certificate that can be used by the holder on day of departure, United top elites will now have to request their electronic certificates be issued as paper for a specific flight with name of passenger, city pair, flight number and date of travel, and even confirmation number of the booked tickets.

If the upgrade doesn’t clear, members can either return the paper certificates to United (and once re-deposited, request new ones for other flights) or try to use them on another Lufthansa flight without reissue as long as the name and flight segment stays the same.

This accomplishes two things:

  • It cuts down on transferabiltiy and barter of the certificates, since they get issued in a specific name.
  • It helps them track the certificates, so that Lufthansa can process and present back to United more easily (presumably for payment)

It sounds like Lufthansa may have asked for a change in process. But this clearly makes the certificates harder to use, and it isn’t the first constraint recently placed on these (they’re no longer useful to upgrade discount business class ‘Z’ fares to first class).

One best practice has long been to keep a printed Lufthansa upgrade certificate in your travel wallet in case you’re flying through Frankfurt. You may be connecting to a United flight, but during irregular operations might get put onto a Lufthansa flight. If that happens you have a certificate at the ready. That will no longer be possible, you’d have had to have requested the certificate for the specific flight segments that you weren’t even planning to fly.

Another common technique is to carry a certificate and keep presenting it at the airport until you are able to use it. Maybe you’re flying Lufthansa to Europe and on to India, you try to use it for the first flight segment and if that doesn’t clear you then try for the segment. In order to repeat this technique you would need to have two systemwide upgrades — one for each segment, four for roundtrip — converted to paper. Often folks may only have a single one available.

And redepositing and reissuing is a challenge, they’re processed by mail. For international Mileage Plus members that can take a month or more in each direction.

A better approach would have seemed to be to just print a member name on the certificate, that would cut down on bartering without reducing most of the usefulness (though it would hinder gifting to colleagues).

And one imagines that they have the systems in place to make these electronic, since mileage upgrades can be processed on partners electronically.

Instead they chose to impose new constraints on the ability of members to actually use the certificates. Which is a real shame.

As one traveler mentioned, one imagines that the inconvenience is a feature rather than a bug.

(HT: Lucky)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I guess this is fine for those of us who never pay for travel anyway and just redeem miles in Business class straight away. But Lufthansa is one of the main European Star Alliance airlines so it really cuts down on the attractiveness of booking on Lufthansa.

  2. I’d be curious whether we can charm a UA agent to annotate it for us – for example saying that we can use it for both BOS-FRA and for FRA-BOS return.

    honestly, i’m hoping LH agents will be nice and accept the vouchers if the printed name matched the passenger, even though the exact date/route might not match. they have to have some understanding of the nature of irrops.

    i’m hoping UA FTer complain loud enough that UA drops this change that we’d supposedly like.

  3. These constraints may be a prelude to the certificates’ disappearance. They can claim lack of interest.

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