United Airlines is jettisoning regional and premier upgrades for a new points currency called PlusPoints. Believe it or not, the news is actually quite positive.
On December 04, all your regional or global premier upgrades will vanish from your account. As ominous as that sounds, they will be replaced with a new currency called PlusPoints. This new currency will have distinctive advantages over the old upgrade system. New perks include:
- Applying for upgrades on multiple flights at once
- Bypassing minimum fare class restrictions
- Cheaper upgrades from Economy Class to Premium Plus
- Cheaper upgrades from Premium Plus to Polaris Business Class
PlusPoints: A New Flexible Upgrade Currency For United Platinum and 1K Members
One of the biggest complaints I hear from my Award Expert clients and fellow United flyers is that United’s upgrade instruments are worthless. That’s usually hyperbole, but these are not always easy instruments to use.
Each year, Platinum members receive two regional premier upgrades (RPUs) upon qualifying or re-qualifying for status (75K elite qualifying miles [EQM]). These RPUs are valid for one-way upgrades from economy to first class (what United calls its domestic premium cabin) on flights within North America, Canada, and the Caribbean.
1K passengers (100K EQMs) receive two additional RPUs and six Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs), which are valid to upgrade any one-way longhaul international trip booked in W-Class or above, a mid-range economy class fare.
Starting on December 4th, those upgrades will be converted to PlusPoints at a rate of 20 PlusPoints per RPU or 40 PlusPoints per GPU. Going forward, MileagePlus embers will earn 40 PlusPoints upon surpassing the 75K EQM Platinum threshold and 280K additional points upon surpassing the 100K EQM 1K threshold.
New PlusPoints Award Table
With RPUs and GPUs extinguished, a new upgrade chart will take effect.
Economy (W+ fare) to Polaris
Economy (G,K,L,S,T fare) to Polaris
|Economy (all fares) to Premium Plus||
|Premium Plus to Polaris||
|Economy to United First (“domestic”)||
Note the upside to this new chart. Upgrades will be earned at the same rate as before, but the new upgrade currency has become so much more flexible.
Don’t feel like paying up to W for the gamble of an upgrade? You no longer have to, you’ll just pay the premium via the higher costs of the upgrade. Want to upgrade to Premium Plus? It will cost the same as a domestic upgrade to first class.
PlusPoints Can Be Applied On All United Platforms
Currently, upgrades can be applied over the phone or online (desktop version only). PlusPoints will also be native to the United app, making it even easier to apply upgrades.
As is the case now, upgrades can be applied to reservations for friends, companions, and loved ones, even if the sponsoring member is not traveling with them.
PlusPoints Only Pulled When Upgrade Confirms
Say you have enough points for two upgrades but three trips coming up. You can request upgrades on all three trips at once: points will no longer be deducted until the upgrade confirms. That way, if your upgrade fails to clear for one trip you won’t have (potentially) lost out on another trip. When the upgrade clears, the points will be deducted. In my example above, if your upgrades cleared for the first two trips, your would automatically drop off the waitlist for the third trip.
Special Bonus For 1K Members
From “time to time” United may allow 1K members to use additional PlusPoints to bypass the waitlist and receive a confirmed upgrade at time of booking, even when upgrade fare classes (PN for Global Services members, PZ for everyone else) are not available.
Cutting the queue for a premium will only be offered on longhaul flights and not be available on a consistent basis.
No Change To Complimentary Premier Upgrades
The new PlusPoints program will not alter United’s complimentary premier upgrade program, which confirms upgrades for elite members for free on most North and Central American flights on a space-available basis.
No Change To Upgrades on Lufthansa or ANA
Lufthansa and ANA flights will still be upgradable. 40 PlusPoints will be required per segment upgrade.
It’s a small matter, but currently if a Global Premier Upgrade is applied and only the domestic segment(s) clear, the entire Global Premier Upgrade is returned…the domestic upgrades are essentially free.
Under the new program, if only the domestic part of your international trip clears, you will be charged the price of a domestic upgrade, 20 PlusPoints, instead of the full 40. This is quite fair, though less generous than before.
Where It Could Go Bad
Forgive me for being cynical, but I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop. There is little downside to today’s announcement. In fact, the flexibility is worthy of celebration and will make the upgrade benefit far more valuable for many MileagePlus Platinums and 1Ks.
My concern is that in assigning a points value to these upgrades makes them subject to inflation, like any other award chart devaluation. The one nice thing about GPUs and RPUs was that the value was always fixed.
My concern is that is the 20 PlusPoints domestic / 40 PlusPoints international upgrade pricing may not stick around for years to come, as RPUs and GPUs have.
Hopefully my fear is misplaced.
More info here.
Luc Bondar, United’s Vice President of Loyalty and President of MileagePlus, said:
We’re making it even easier for our Premier members to use upgrades when and how they want. The new PlusPoints program increases the overall number of upgrade opportunities for top tier Premier members, expands the fare classes where they can be used, and lets members request upgrades on multiple flights all at once. We already make it easy for members to manage all of their upgrades online, and the move to PlusPoints is yet another way we are making MileagePlus the best loyalty program in the industry.
The devil is in the details, but Bondar clearly laid out a compelling case in a conference call yesterday that there are no tricks, just treats.
For those who are used to business as usual, the status quo is not changing much at all. You can still use your earned upgrades in the same manner as before. But for those who want more flexibly, PlusPoints represents an upgrade, not downgrade, to the United MileagePlus program. At least for now.