United’s new PlusPoints has some benefits to travellers adding flexibility. However, old problems with United’s Global and Regional Premier Upgrades carry over to new situations.
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PlusPoints Add Flexibility
One of my favorite things about the switch from Regional/Global Premier Upgrades (RPUs/GPUs) is the flexibility to use upgrades on routes of your preference without burning higher value upgrades. Most of my domestic flights are three hours or fewer and I cleared upgrades without using an instrument on about 70% of my coach tickets in 2019.
The Problem With Connections
Consider the ultimate flight with which to use an RPU (20 PlusPoints from coach to business) Honolulu-Newark. If you have a connection onward to say… oh I don’t know… Pittsburgh, the whole request costs 20 PlusPoints but will use them if any of the segments are upgraded.
There were 39 business class seats on the 9-hour 20-minute flight from the islands to New Jersey and despite nine unsold seats a week out from the flight, I found myself fourth on the upgrade list and sitting in coach. That’s fine, if I wanted business class I should have bought it. However, after sitting in the back for 5,000 miles I really couldn’t care less about a 45-minute flight to Pittsburgh, especially for the same price.
This is not a new problem, this also happened when redeeming GPUs and RPUs in the past.
The Problem With Dropping Requests
The customer solution is one of two options. The first choice is to call in and drop that individual segment, however, that has a consequence for the flyer. The PointsPlus (GPU/RPU) system places those upgrades above status/fare based Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs.) However, by dropping the request in advance of the flight, if the primary targeted flight does clear the chances that the second flight will clear are lower. That’s particularly disappointing because the second upgrade would be “free.”
If, however, a traveler waits until they fail to clear the first segment to cancel the second, their chances of clearing the second upgrade through a CPU are lower. Why? Because some of the seats will have already been assigned to other travellers.
How Does United Fix This?
Software is already doing some of the heavy lifting on this problem. The system automatically drops the single segment charge if the first higher charge clears so it should be possible to set a parameter that says, “if this one doesn’t clear, drop the entire request.”
At the crudest level, flyers should be able to tick a box online when they book their flight and if there is no other option, simply not select the second flight. In my case, I wouldn’t have selected the second flight at all. In that case, I would have kept my original place on the CPU list for Newark to Pittsburgh regardless of whether I cleared the Honolulu leg. Yes, I would have “wasted” an opportunity to move to the top of the upgrade list but I would have also cleared in advance of the flight with others.
Another option would be to place a simple upgrade toggle in the United app and once a traveller no longer wants to use it they toggle it off. This would also be helpful for those who have submitted upgrades for others though I suspect that would be a lot tougher to code.
Regional and Global Premier Upgrades had the same problems but United missed an opportunity when they rolled out the new system to make it better for flyers. There is a cost to United for inaction as well. When I landed in Newark I called the 1K line and had them drop the segment and then cleared the upgrade anyway. My call may have been brief, but call centers cost money and the fewer the calls the cheaper it gets.
What do you think? Is United making PlusPoints upgrades harder than it has to be?
Didn’t read all of this but I would just call and downgrade. Get my points back if I didn’t want to use them for only a small segment.
Here is another problem. I had 40 points, put them on a roundtrip for myself and my wife. One upgrade happened going, I handed the ticket to my wife. I now have 20 points left, but 2 people on possible upgrade. I figured the software would handle it. I got the upgrade returning, but my wife, who is platinum, got dropped from the upgrade list completely. Talked to United on the phone, in the lounge, at the gate, no one had the power to fix it. Finally, the flight crew just told her to move up without changing the ticket. I think they have a bug in their software.
Don’t know if anyone is aware of this- you cannot redeposit the PlusPoint back once the upgrade is confirmed. Let’s say if you have another trip and want to use the PlusPoint for that trip instead, you are out of luck. Think twice before requesting. Once it is confirmed, it is done deal.
100% false according to UA Insider on Flyertalk. It’s merely that you can’t do it online by clicking cancel. You must call an agent. Not a huge deal for 1Ks as we can get an agent on the line in 15 seconds normally. “We are not taking away your ability to call in and cancel a standard PlusPoints request as you could do with GPU/RPU; we are pointing out that you will not have the ability to self-serve a cancel online once a request has been upgraded. Skip Waitlist upgrades, however, are not refundable or re-confirmable on other flights.”
On a LAX-SFO-LHR leg, I requested a PP upgrade to the SFO-LHR segment. It cleared. When it did, I called desk to apply the instrument to the LAX-SFO which would clear instantly. Was told it couldn’t happen without charging more PPs. The next day, PZ showed up on the SFO-LHR flight in addition to the LAX-SFO. I call 1K line and ask to redeposit my PPs and make a new upgrade request which I knew would instantly clear. Agent spoke to her lead for about 5 minutes and came back to tell me that the only way to redeposit confirmed PP upgrades was to change the flights I’m booked on.
As someone who would only apply an instrument to the longest segment, then when it clears, request it be applied to the rest of my leg, this ia a significant and unwelcome change. But hey, at least I can use 80 PPs to get real Polaris on my $500 RT ticket to London.
@Andy: From the United website, it states very clearly in the “Frequently Ask Questions” that one will not be able to cancel PlusPoints requests that have received upgrades.
I am curious to see if anyone or Kyle can call UA to see if PlusPoints would be refunded/redeposited once it is confirmed. Just to be clear, UA would refund the points if they cancel the flight.
No true. I just had 20 points redeposited after a 15 minute flight from Denver to Colorado Springs. The people at the United 1K Desk are awesome.
You can select to upgrade individual flights. Not sure why you wanted to upgrade EWR-PIT along with the flight to Hawaii.
Easier said than done, especially if you want to stay on the upgrade list for the first long-haul flight. I “lost” the value of 2 RPUs this year when my HNL-LAX flights did not clear at the gate. Somewhere over the the pacific my LAX-SAN connection mysteriously F cleared. Agent in LAX could not downgrade me and reinstate the RPUs. Being locked into using my RPUs for a 20 min UX flight with no tangible benefit, makes me say “why bother”? …and take my biz to HA or AS.
I would request my points back and hope for some compensation. Sometimes I miss heavy flying with AA because they screwed up literally everything and I was getting point bonuses in my account left and right. UA sadly rarely blows it.
Delta has managed to deal with this for their GUCs – the short haul segments only upgrade once the long haul clears, on request. Surprised UA IT hasn’t implemented something similar.
Weren’t you worried thet your EWR-PIT flight would clear with Pluspoints and the HNL-EWR wouldn’t? They charge you the same either way and once the points are taken, they cannot be reinstated without changing/cancelling your flight.
I’ve started looking at TATL flights in the first half of 2020 and am finding next to no PZ space for international upgrades. However, lots of upgrade space from economy to PE. I wonder if one of UA’s goals is to get people to use their points/miles for international economy to PE, not for international economy (or even PE) to business class. This would suggest that the things you are complaining about in the new PP scheme are intentional.
A note – do NOT let someone else sponsor you with PlusPoints if they don’t have the full amount in their account.
I now have 3 different reservations that, even though I cancelled those PlusPoints requests and added new ones w/full point accounts, the initial request “sticks” and has massively screwed up the reservation. Showing Skipped (not enough points), not showing on the future upgrade list, etc.
Have spent hours on the phone w/different (supposedly good 1K agents) and none are able to address the issue. It’s a total CF.