PlusPoints is United’s brand ew confirmed upgrade program for Platinum elites and above. United is revamping their confirmed regional and global upgrade certificates that Platinum elites and higher are able to take advantage of effective December 4. They’re introducing a new upgrade points system to replace certificates called PlusPoints, and existing banked certificates will convert to PlusPoints at that time.
Along with some other journalists I received a briefing on the changes from Luc Bondar, United’s Vice President of Loyalty who is in charge of MileagePlus. Here’s how upgrades are changing.
Use PlusPoints Instead of Certificates for Platinum Elites and Above
What United is largely doing is allowing members to spend pieces of an upgrade certificate and to combine certificates in order to avoid ‘overspending’ a confirmed international upgrade for a domestic flight or just to get into premium economy, to allow Platinum elites to upgrade long haul international instead of just domestic, and to spend more to upgrade internationally from the lowest fares which today isn’t permitted with United’s global upgrade certificates.
- United’s basic structure of what elites get when they qualify for status, and when they keep flying beyond what it takes for their status isn’t changing.
- The way fare buckets work for upgrade availability isn’t changing
United’s underlying upgrade policies haven’t changed. Instead, United is first converting upgrade certificates to points.
- Each existing ‘regional’ upgrade is worth 20 PlusPoints
- Each existing ‘global’ upgrade is worth 40 PlusPoints
- Existing certificates convert at this ratio December 4
- Going forward, Platinums who would have earned 2 regional upgrades will instead receive 40 PlusPoints and 1Ks who would have received 2 more regional and 6 global upgrades will instead receive 280 PlusPoints
- Members who continue flying beyond 1K will earn 40 more PlusPoints (instead of one global upgrade) for each incremental 25,000 elite qualifying miles flown.
- PlusPoints will have the same expiration policy as existing upgrade certificates
PlusPoints Create More Ways to Use Upgrades
This PlusPoints system allows United to break apart and combine upgrades more flexibly than before.
- Instead of ‘wasting’ a Global upgrade on a domestic flight, you’ll use half of a Global Upgrade for that domestic flight (20 points instead of 40 points). If you request an upgrade for an international itinerary, but only the domestic part clears, you pay the domestic (20 point) price.
- Instead of being limited to only using regional upgrades for certain flights, Platinums can now use their points towards international flights.
Introducing Premium Economy Upgrades That Don’t Devalue the Business Class Upgrade Benefit
Top elites have been worried about the future of international upgrades – whether they’d still be able to upgrade from economy to business class, with the introduction of premium economy in the middle.
United found a way to introduce different upgrades to premium economy and business class that preserves the business class upgrade benefit (and even potentially expands it to more elite members).
Right now if you upgrade to premium economy, United pulls a global upgrade certificate the same as if you’d upgraded to business. Under the new program there are different prices for premium economy and business upgrades. And the good news is that the current upgrades from coach to business class cost 40 PlusPoints, equivalent to one global upgrade today. That means premium economy upgrades are getting less expensive.
This is good news, by the way, for American flyers worried about the future of their own upgrades – it will make it hard for American to devalue their business class international upgrades given this move.
Introducing International Upgrades on the Lowest Fare
United’s 1K members will be able to upgrade internationally from discounted fares to business class, instead of having to buy a W fare. That means no more playing the lottery, buying a more expensive ticket than what’s otherwise available just for the chance of clearing an upgrade (and not getting a refund of the price difference when the upgrade doesn’t clear).
However that new benefit will come at a cost – instead of spending 40 points for a W fare to business class upgrade, Luc Bondar says the new lower fare upgrade option will be 80 points.
Spend Additional Points to Confirm Business Class When Business Upgrade Inventory Isn’t Available (Sometimes)
United won’t say when this will or will not happen, or how they’ll decide, but “from time to time, United may also allow 1K members the opportunity to use additional PlusPoints to skip the waitlist and receive a confirmed upgrade at booking when traveling on select international longhaul flights, even when upgrade fare classes are closed.”
Waitlist for Upgrades on As Many Flights As You Wish
Currently members have upgrade certificates pulled when they request an upgrade. That meant only being able to waitlist the number of itineraries that can be supported by upgrades in bank.
PlusPoints are only deducted when an upgrade clears. So you’ll be able to request upgrades for as many itineraries as you have at one time, even if total number of upgrade points required is more than you have banked. Upgrades won’t clear, however, if you don’t have points to support them.
Manage Upgrades Via Mobile App
One of my frustrations as an American Airlines Executive Platinum is having to call to request confirmed upgrades. United offers this online today and will offer management of PlusPoints upgrades via their mobile app as well.
No Other Changes for Global Services
Global Services members will earn PlusPoints the same way that upgrade certificates are earned today, including for earning additional upgrades for flying over 100,000 qualifying miles in a year.
United’s revenue-based top tier members will also continue to have greater upgrade inventory to pull from than other elites will.
How the PlusPoints Program Could Change in the Future
This is basically the same program (with a few tweaks) but a new currency that allows members to spend fewer points for less valuable upgrades, more points for more valuable upgrades.
While there’s nothing negative for customers today, if there’s risk it’s in introducing a points system they can more easily devalue upgrades in the future by changing the number of points required for the upgrade.
It also wouldn’t surprise me in the future to see PlusPoints as something members can earn via co-brand credit card spend.