As I approached United 1K status last year, I began to eye a possible uses of the 6 systemwide upgrades that I would receive for crossing the 100k mile mark. Unlike American’s systemwide upgrades which work on any fare, United requires that travel be booked into the “W” fare bucket (or higher).
To quantify this a bit further, the cheapest round trip fare (without concern for validity dates, minimum stay restrictions, and so forth) on United for NYC-SYD is a “K” fare for $798 plus $620 in fuel surcharges. The absolute cheapest “W” fare is $1698 plus $620 in fuel surcharges. Given that confirmable upgrade space on United’s SFO/LAX-SYD routes is practically nonexistent, using a systemwide amounts to a $350 lottery ticket (each way) for a chance of sitting in business class on a United 747.
In December, I came across a fare sale from New York (and Newark) to Dublin, Ireland for $392 plus taxes roundtrip. Even more importantly, W fares were only running $200 more (plus a small bit of additional tax as well) for the roundtrip. I set off looking for a flight with a confirmable upgrade to business class around MLK weekend to Europe. The routing rules on United’s fares for this route are quite generous, allowing one to connect in nearly any major European city in addition to connecting at a Lufthansa, Swiss, or bmi hub.
I came across United 924, Dulles to London Heathrow, allowing myself 22 hours to connect to a bmi flight onwards to Dublin. Having noticed the early evening departures out of Frankfurt to Dulles operated by United, I arranged to fly from Dublin to Frankfurt for a 20 hour connection, allowing me to meet a friend for breakfast.
For those still following this itinerary, it looks like this when mapped out:
Having decided to tough out 9 hours of coach for my return flight, this itinerary cost $641.50 while earning 9433 EQM (18866 RDM; my miles for my bmi-operated LHR-DUB segment haven’t posted yet). In contrast, a similar award ticket would run 50k miles to Europe (in business class) and 30k miles from Europe (in coach). Factoring in the opportunity cost of not earning miles on an award ticket, this would yield a 0.649cpm valuation for using my miles. Better redemption values can be found in domestic coach by comparison.