Upgrading to International Business Class on American & United for Cheap!

Ever wonder how all those travelers are in Business or First Class as you walk to the back of the plane to sit in your Economy seat? There is a trick that someone who doesn’t fly frequently can take advantage of to fly International Business Class after buying an Economy Class ticket. I’ll show you how I did it for USD $250 each way from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD)!

At the end of each year, there are some frequent flyers who’ve flown more than 100,000 miles the year prior with some upgrade certificates expiring in January or February. Currently, United’s expire on Jan 31, 2017 and American’s expire on February 28th, 2017. You must fly by those dates for the certificate to work. Most flights are very hard to confirm the certificate upgrade at booking so you’ll have to go on a waitlist. Some sellers will refund 100% of the “consultation fee” but others will penalize you if they have to refund you the money. The “consultation fee” is how they get around the T&C’s stating you can’t sell your upgrades to others. You are legally able to gift (sponsor) the upgrades to friends and family. One major benefit on the waitlist is that you are ranked based on the sponsoring member’s status so try to buy from the most elite member. The highest tier status on United is Global Services (GS) and on American it’s Concierge Key (CK).

How to Find Upgrade Certificates for Sale?

      1. Go to Craigslist
      2. Search Major Cities and Airline Hubs for “AA SWU or American SWU” or “UA GPU or United GPU”

        United: SFO, LAX, DEN, ORD, JFK, IAH

        American: SFO, LAX, DEN, ORD, JFK, DFW, CLT, PHL

      3. Find 2-3 of the cheapest listings
      4. Email the sellers to see if the certificates are still available
      5. Check availability of upgrading your ticket with the airline *Hardest Step, details below*
      6. Pay the seller via PayPal
      7. Send the seller your confirmation # and full name


  • Giving a stranger your full name and confirmation # allows them to modify or cancel your ticket.
  • They will have access to any information on the ticket such as the address you used, your known traveler #, phone #, etc. Given you have to travel 100,000+ miles a year to achieve top tier status most individuals are going to be trustworthy. Do a background check (LinkedIn, Google search) based on their email address and full name.

Example: I paid $250 per SWU (each way) to an AA Executive Platinum member on Craigslist and upgraded to Business Class both ways on my recent LAX<->SYD trip. It’s an amazing value given Business Class sells for $7,000 and I paid $1,500 for a Coach ticket. $2,000 vs $7,000 for the same seat is worth the hassle and gamble if the upgrade clears. The pricing for SWU’s vary but I’ve found they are negotiable especially if you need more than 1.

American Airlines: SWU (Systemwide Upgrade)

Craigslist ($0 but be aware of scams)
ExpertFlyer Premium Subscription ($99/yr)

To assist with the search without having SWU’s in your AA account, you can use ExpertFlyer to find “C” class availability. Most flights I’ve search for show C0 (zero seats in C class). You can set alerts for ExpertFlyer to email or SMS you once availability is released. I did this for my flight from LAX to SYD and the email showed C1 meaning there was 1 seat with a SWU availability. Even though I was on the waitlist it didn’t clear automatically so I had to call in to force the upgrade. It’s well worth the call to confirm in advance of the airport waitlist!

The route you are trying to use a SWU on matters. DFW<->HKG is hardest. LAX<->SYD is easiest (I’ve cleared 8 times using SWU’s this year). Do some research on FlyerTalk.

Premium seats per plane varies based on equipment so try to select flights with the 777-300ER which is designated by 77W for American as they have the most Business Class seats.

*Any Coach class ticket on American metal (AA planes) is eligible for a SWU upgrade which is the most generous policy I’ve seen with any airline*

AA SWU Listing on Craigslist

AA SWU Listing on Craigslist

United Airlines: GPU (Global Premier Upgrade)

Craigslist ($0 but be aware of scams)
United Expert Mode

You’ll need to enable Expert Mode on your United MileagePlus account to show Fare Class Codes while searching flights by going here: Search Preferences

In order to use a GPU you’ll need to find availability in R Class to upgrade from Coach to Business or you can try waitlisting the flight.

*Qualifying Economy Fare Class codes: Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W. If you are booked in the cheaper classes you can’t upgrade. You must be flying United metal (UA planes)*

I did recently fly Economy Class to Europe roundtrip so I don’t always fly Business or First despite what you see on my blog.

Have you used this method to upgrade to International Business Class? Give it a try as it does work!

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2 Responses

  1. January 5, 2017

    […] plane. The Main Cabin Extra seats make Economy class not too bad for a 13hr flight (SYD-LAX). Using Systemwide Upgrades for Business Class on the LAX-SYD leg made these longhauls […]

  2. January 30, 2022

    […] outside of North America since February 2020 when COVID-19 started was to Argentina. I was able to find “C” class availability using ExpertFlyer on the DFW-EZE segment which allowed me to upgrade my Premium Economy ticket to Business Class for […]

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