How to use United Airlines systemwide upgrades on Continental Airlines

There’s not a whole lot of cheering among elites, particularly on the United Airlines side, with the merger, but one thing I am happy about is the new destinations opened to me on Continental Airlines metal. There are many European cities I’ve been wanting to visit and look forward especially to visiting Oslo and Stockholm, and I might have to add Athens, Barcelona and Milan to that list, too.

I have a friend here in Los Angeles who has talked from time to time wanting to go visit his homeland, Ireland. He still has family there and he’s always wanted to go, but refuses to fly coach and I, of course, understand. He’s the once-a-decade type of flyer and thinks flying is just too much to handle given the news reports he watches.

After convincing him just how comfortable and effortless it is to fly up front, and of course mentioning I have United systemwide upgrades – err, Global Premier Upgrades – I said I’d be happy to accompany him if we could find confirmable upgrade space. As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to find several dates with a few seats available on each flight from mid-January to late-May 2012 to either Shannon or Dublin.

This was my first time attempting to use United’s SWUs on Continental metal and I first hit the boards on Flyertalk and MilePoint to get an understanding of the process. I found one linked here and posted below to be most helpful and my thanks to “chitownflyer†for posting it.

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Image courtesy MilePoint

My names match identically on both my Mileage Plus and OnePass accounts, so knew I’d be fine there, and all flights are on Continental metal. Using the always trusty ExpertFlyer, I found dates in May that had upgrade space available for all segments except the last one from Newark to Los Angeles. I told my friend that we’d be waitlisted and we would have the next best seats on the airplane – a pair in the reclinable exit row. He gave the go ahead and I called Continental.

I spoke with an incredibly efficient agent and had our itinerary booked in about five minutes, confirming the upgrade space was exactly as I saw it. Great! I told him I’d call United to have my SWUs transferred over to OnePass to which he replied, “Oh, we can do that from here.†He put me on hold and spoke with what I assume is the Integration Desk mentioned in the steps above.

He came back from time-to-time saying they’re still working on it, but everything looks just fine and he’d be back with me as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I logged into my United account and saw they had already pulled four 2012 SWUs, so felt assured he’d be back soon with the confirmation.

After a while, he did return and confirmed the systemwides were applied and then said, “Now for the tough part. Where would you like to sit?†I chuckled and gave him the seats I saw open on ExpertFlyer, which he then assigned. He reviewed the itinerary and offered the usual car rental and hotel schpeel, but I declined and thanked him for his time.

In all, the call took 25-minutes and even though it did take some time to get the SWUs transferred and applied, I was happy at only having to make the one phone call. When I showed a picture of the BusinessFirst cabin and amenities to my friend, his eyes lit up, so I know he’ll be impressed with the experience, even though it’s not up to par with most foreign flag carriers. He won’t know any better, though.

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