Here's a little happy story for you - My trip last week to California bumped me up into the "1K premier exec" status on United. That's like the gold card for gold card holders. Whoopee. I struggled, but couldn't figure out exactly what that did for me, other than signify I've spent too much damn time in an airplane.
So on the way back, I used some miles and upgrade my seat to business class for the SFO -> London trip. I get on the plane just fine, get my crap pulled out and am playing with my new iGo power supply (which lets me plug my laptop into the plane - cool, in a geeky kind of way, huh?) before take off, and here comes a flight attendant.
Oh crap. She's holding a new boarding pass. I'm probably sitting in some schmuck's seat who actually purchased it vs. cheating with miles, and I'm on my way back to the cheap seats and a semi-warmed slice of in-flight chicken loaf.
"Here's your new seat. Merry Christmas."
Holy Seat 1F, Batman! First Class! They had an empty space up there and more people clamoring to squeeze into the back of the flying bus. So they pushed the single-seat-traveler with the most seniority up for free!
Ok, so other than the fact that the normally upright uncomfortable airplane seat could become a horizontal uncomfortable airplane bed, not much was different between business class and first class. But I was there. I had arrived. And - most importantly - I was first off the plane when it landed.
I consider this just United's way of righting the balance for losing ALL of our luggage on the last flight out to the states...