Upgrading with Points or Dollars on United

August 25th, 2014

File this post under First World Problems. Often, after buying a fare on United, I will receive an instant option to pay cash to upgrade to Business Class. The cost can be as low as $75, usually somewhere between $100 and $200, and sometimes as high as $700. Sometimes, especially on an early morning or late-night flight, I’ll pay the fee, but usually if it is less than $200. But, if I pass on that instant option, and try to upgrade at a later time, it usually costs more. For example, on a recent ticket I bought to Sacramento, it gave me the instant option to upgrade for $200. A few days later, it was $240.

The other option would be to upgrade with points. For the Sacramento ticket, it cost 15,000 points. What’s better? To spend 15,000 points, or spend $240. I have lots of points to burn, so I used points. But assuming I didn’t. You can buy 1,000 miles for $35. 15,000 miles costs $564. Granted, it is not a direct comparison, but in this case it would probably be better to pay the $240 in cash, rather than burn 15,000 miles, which equates to roughly $564. It may even be possible to buy a one-way ticket for under 15,000 miles, and the cost of that ticket would probably be more than $240.