United Airlines has just announced a significant adjustment to how their upgrades work for Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members. On the surface these sound like incredibly positive changes, but is there a catch (United later announced negative changes to their elite status program)?
How United Airlines Upgrades Currently Work
Currently all United MileagePlus elite members receive complimentary upgrades on most domestic and select international flights. These are subject to availability at the upgrade window, which is at most several days before departure.
On top of that, those with Platinum Premier and Premier 1K status (which requires 75,000 and 100,000 elite qualifying miles, respectively) receive further confirmed upgrades:
- Premier Platinum members receive two Regional Premier Upgrades per year
- Premier 1K members receive an additional six Global Premier Upgrades and two Regional Premier Upgrades per year
These upgrades can be confirmed at the time of booking pending upgrade availability, which can be tough to come by. It’s these Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades that are being adjusted with United’s changes.
What Are United Airlines PlusPoints?
Today United Airlines has announced that as of December 4, 2019, they’ll replace Global Premier Upgrades and Regional Premier Upgrades with PlusPoints.
PlusPoints is a new system that’s intended to give members a lot more flexibility, and on the surface it’s actually incredibly positive. Rather than giving Platinum Premier and Premier 1K members a certain number of Global Premier Upgrades and Regional Premier Upgrades, United is instead giving members the flexibility to choose the rewards they value most.
Members will receive a certain number of PlusPoints, and they can redeem them however they want.
United’s VP of Loyalty and President of MileagePlus, Luc Bondar, had the following to say:
“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.”
How Do You Earn United Airlines PlusPoints?
With United Airlines’ new PlusPoints system:
- MileagePlus Platinum members will receive 40 PlusPoints
- MileagePlus 1K members will receive an additional 280 PlusPoints (for a total of 320)
For any existing confirmed upgrade instruments, on December 4, 2019:
- Each Regional Premier Upgrade will be converted into 20 PlusPoints
- Each Global Premier Upgrade will be converted into 40 PlusPoints
Members can choose whether they value domestic or international upgrades more
The expiration policy for PlusPoints will mirror that of GPUs and RPUs. They’ll still expire in January one full year after they’re earned.
How Do You Redeem United Airlines PlusPoints?
With the way PlusPoints upgrades work, no one should be losing out here, at least with how things are currently set up:
- Flights that were previously upgradeable with Regional Premier Upgrades will require at most 20 PlusPoints
- Flights that were previously upgradeable with Global Premier Upgrades will require at most 40 PlusPoints
- PlusPoints can still be used for upgrades on ANA and Lufthansa at the same costs as before, with the same fare class restrictions
You can even use PlusPoints to upgrade on Lufthansa
But members will have even further flexibility. For example, on international flights:
- You can upgrade from economy to premium economy for 20 PlusPoints
- You can upgrade from premium economy to business class for 30 PlusPoints
- You can upgrade from economy to business class for 40 PlusPoints
- You can upgrade from discounted economy (those fares that weren’t previously upgradeable with Global Premier Upgrades) for 80 PlusPoints
So as you can see, members have a lot more flexibility. For example, previously Premier 1K members received four Regional Premier Upgrades and six Global Premier Upgrades, while now they can redeem 320 PlusPoints however they’d like, whether they prefer domestic or international upgrades.
New “Skip Waitlist” Feature
In addition to the published upgrade costs, United is also introducing a “Skip Waitlist” feature exclusively for Premier 1Ks, where members can redeem additional PlusPoints to skip the upgrade waitlist on a flight and confirm an upgrade. The cost of this will vary based on the specific itinerary, and I’d guess that the pricing will be steep. So this won’t be for everyone, but it is a nice option to have nonetheless.
With PlusPoints you can even skip the waitlist by redeeming more points
You Only Pay The Highest Upgrade Cost Of Your Itinerary
Say you’re flying from Aspen to Houston to Newark to Hong Kong. If all the upgrades clear, you’ll only pay the upgrade cost of the longest segment, so the pricing wouldn’t be cumulative, but rather would be based on the most expensive segment only.
Members Can Request Upgrades on Multiple Flights
PlusPoints won’t be deducted until the upgrades are confirmed. This means MileagePlus members can request upgrades across a lot of flights, and then will only have to redeem the points when the upgrade confirms. This gives members a lot more opportunities to confirm upgrades, because it’s always frustrating when you use an upgrade instrument on a flight and it doesn’t clear, and then it goes to waste.
United Allows All Upgrades To Be Requested Online
United is unique in allowing members to request all upgrades directly on their website. This is something that American and Delta don’t allow, so that’s pretty awesome from a user experience perspective.
It’s nice to be able to request upgrades directly on united.com
What’s The Catch With PlusPoints?
PointsPlus seems like a wholly positive change. Members have more flexibility to redeem upgrades how they want, whether they prefer domestic or international upgrades. Furthermore, no costs are going up here, but rather there’s more flexibility to redeem at better rates otherwise.
So for now there’s no catch with PointsPlus. Why would an airline make a seemingly positive change, you ask?
- This is a way they can genuinely improve the program without it costing them much
- Long term this can be devalued more easily than GPUs and RPUs, as they can increase the number of points required for certain upgrades
- With the introduction of premium economy, I’m sure long term this will result in greater pricing differentiation for economy to premium economy upgrades, premium economy to business upgrades, and economy to business upgrades
- This is an interesting currency that United could monetize; could they offer additional PlusPoints as a United credit card perk, as an additional reward for certain activity, or more?
United’s new PlusPoints upgrade system is actually kind of awesome, at least the way it’s implemented now. It’s a bit like the system that Air Canada uses for their Altitude program, except it’s in addition to unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades.
As of now this change is wholly positive, though of course the fear is that this makes it easier for them to devalue upgrade rates in the future.
What do you make of United’s new PlusPoints system?