United is Introducing a New Confirmed Upgrade Program December 4th

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

use pluspoints to upgrade to united polaris

PlusPoints Create More Ways to Use Upgrades

This PlusPoints system allows United to break apart and combine upgrades more flexibly than before.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. More complexity but also enables more flexibility. I think it’s overall positive, and definitely puts to shame Air Canada’s eUpgrade scheme.

  2. “It also wouldn’t surprise me in the future to see PlusPoints as something members can earn via co-brand credit card spend.”

    Interesting, I don’t foresee myself hitting 1k or platinum, but I would like to sit in a better seat on longhaul sometime.

    That might actually influence me to try and earn some points, and prem econ might be a good sweetspot, what kind of recline is that? Good for sleeping?

  3. I think this is good overall, but converting it to points allows them to devalue these later on the same way they have with miles. There’s no alternative reason for the 20/40/80 stepping used otherwise. Eventually 20 will get bumped to 25, and suddenly the math gets blown to hell on your earn/redeem abilities.

  4. How refreshing to see United do something positive, rather than just copying the latest Delta devaluation. This is a creative way to give members more options for upgrades. I also think it opens an avenue to make their cobranded credit card valuable to 1K members (who already get free bags, priority boarding, etc) by creating ways to earn upgrade points. I hope something like this develops.

  5. Wow, as an AA Executive Platinum, I love this schema. It’s creative and enables flexibility without devaluing the program at all.

    I’d love to see AA mirror this.

  6. Confirmed — PlusPoints can still be used to upgrade others’ the same way that certificates could.

    However the new option to spend more points to confirm upgrades immediately when upgrade inventory is not available (“Skip the Waitlist”) is only available when a 1K member is on the reservation.

  7. Right now if a domestic segment clears on a GPU but not on into leg, you still get the GPU back.

    Going forward you won’t. So that is a downgrade.

  8. Before everyone gets too excited, remember– this program will only be as good as the seat inventory United releases for upgrade.

    Currently, seats available for upgrade are more scarce than scarce. As a 1K I have been unable to use most of my upgrades for several years running because the seats weren’t there.

    There will have to be a very significant improvement in the number of seats released for upgrade if this change is to have any value at all.

  9. When I look at pictures of UA’s F seats, they always look fantastic. Must be the international F cabin.

    A friend and her mother were recently upgraded to F (or is it Business) for a West Coast > Hawaii flight and United’s slimline seats were just a tad larger than Y. Which meant they were hard and uncomfortable.

    The mother forgot that they were in the F cabin because there was no difference to her except the food.

    So what’s the purpose of having an F class if there’s barely any difference in quality from the Economy class?

  10. @UA-NYC

    That kills my enthusiasm a bit.

    When my route is

    $home->hub->PEK->dest

    the first and last legs are less than hours apiece.

    I couldn’t care less about 1st class on some embrarer to ORD or EWR, if I were spending points I’d want

    “upgrade me on hub->pek or don’t upgrade me at all” Or give me all the points back

  11. “I couldn’t care less about 1st class on some embrarer to ORD or EWR, if I were spending points I’d want

    “upgrade me on hub->pek or don’t upgrade me at all” Or give me all the points back”

    You’ll be able to do that (apply upgrades to select segments). Indeed that used to be available online and it’s coning back (and you could do it today by phone). I do that already by phone when applying RPUs to long leg/short leg connecting trips.

    I’ll be very watchful of that as my long hauls invariably include a PDX-SFO segment.

    Overall for me (1K) this is very positive. My current strategy of buy P+ and GPU from there is working great. And that will be cheaper, netting me a few more domestic upgrades.

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