United overhauls MileagePlus frequent flyer business class upgrades

PlusPoints replace Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades in United's latest frequent flyer revamp

By Chris C., September 25 2019
United overhauls MileagePlus frequent flyer business class upgrades

Elite members of United MileagePlus will have new ways to upgrade to United premium economy, business class and first class from December as the airline replaces upgrade certificates for Platinum and 1K frequent flyers with ‘PlusPoints’.

Unlike regular United miles – akin to frequent flyer points, which any member can spend on flight bookings, upgrades, purchasing merchandise and more – PlusPoints exist solely to facilitate United flight upgrades for those Platinum and 1K frequent flyers, and cannot be used for any other purpose.

Rather than cashing-in one Regional Premier Upgrade or Global Premier Upgrade certificate to bump-up one part of a flight itinerary, elite members will instead spend a certain number of PlusPoints to achieve the same, and will soon receive PlusPoints instead of those upgrade certificates.

“Our goal here is to see our Premier members achieve upgrades more often when they fly,” United Vice President of Loyalty, Luc Bondar, explained to media on a conference call.

Here’s how the new PlusPoints system will work, including the transition process between upgrade certificates and PlusPoints.

Who qualifies for United upgrade certificates?

Currently, United Premier Platinum frequent flyers receive two Regional Premier Upgrade (RPU) certificates per membership year, with one certificate worth one upgrade on a United domestic or shorter-distance international flight, such as from the US to Canada and Mexico.

Higher-tier 1K frequent flyers also earn two RPUs per year – either when passing through the Platinum tier on their way to 1K status, or when their 1K status is renewed – with the addition of six Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs) which can be used to upgrade any United flight worldwide.

Beyond that, 1K members earn one additional GPU for every 25,000 Premier Qualifying Miles earned in a membership year, or 30 Premier Qualifying Sectors.

What will happen to existing upgrade certificates?

On December 4 2019, PlusPoints will replace both Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades, and any existing certificates will be converted into an equivalent value in PlusPoints.

Each outstanding Regional Premier Upgrade certificate will become 20 PlusPoints, while each Global Premier Upgrade certificate translates into 40 PlusPoints.

For example, a member with two unused Regional Premier Upgrades and two Global Premier Upgrades in their account would see these swapped for 120 PlusPoints.

You'll soon be able to use United PlusPoints for a Polaris business class upgrade
You'll soon be able to use United PlusPoints for a Polaris business class upgrade

How will United PlusPoints be earned going forward?

Members who qualify for United Platinum or 1K status from December 4 2019, as well as those continuing members whose status is retained in 2020, will simply earn PlusPoints from that date rather than upgrade certificates.

Platinum members will get 40 PlusPoints per year, while 1K frequent flyers will get 280 PlusPoints. Members transitioning from Platinum to 1K in the one membership year get the best of both worlds, with 40 PlusPoints gained from their Platinum tenure, plus 280 PlusPoints when crossing the threshold between Platinum and 1K.

Beyond that, 1K frequent flyers will earn 40 PlusPoints for every 25,000 Premier Qualifying Miles or 30 Premier Qualifying Segments earned – the same rate at which additional Global Premier Upgrades are earned, which will be ‘worth’ 40 PlusPoints.

How many United PlusPoints will you need for an upgrade?

United breaks the cost of an upgrade using PlusPoints into two categories: “short-haul flights”, and “long-haul flights”.

Short-haul flights include all US domestic routes – covering not only short hops but also premium transcontinental services such as Los Angeles to New York, as well as longer flights from the contiguous United States to Hawaii and Alaska – and flights between the US and Canada.

USA-Mexico flights also fall under the banner of “short-haul”, as do services from the US to Bogota, Colombia, Central America, the Caribbean and Quito, as well as Guam-Honolulu flights (including island hoppers), and intra-Asia flights operated by United.

All other flights are considered long-haul flights, such as United flights to Australia, Europe, and other continents, and on these long-haul flights, the number of PlusPoints varies depending on the type of fare purchased and the cabin being upgraded to.

Here’s the full table:

Upgrade type

Upgrade cost

All short-haul upgrades (economy to business/first class)

20 United PlusPoints

Long-haul discount economy to United Polaris business class

80 United PlusPoints

Long-haul economy to United Polaris business class

40 United PlusPoints

Long-haul premium economy (United Premium Plus) to United Polaris business class

30 United PlusPoints

Long-haul economy to premium economy (United Premium Plus)

20 United PlusPoints

When multiple sectors are upgraded on a connecting flight itinerary – such as from Chicago to New York/Newark and then onward to London – this will be treated as a single upgrade, similar to today’s Global Premier Upgrdades.

For example, a traveller booked to fly from Chicago to London via New York/Newark, who receives a PlusPoints upgrade on both the Chicago-Newark and Newark-London legs, would only have points deducted for the Newark-London segment: 40 PlusPoints if upgrading from regular economy to Polaris business class, with no additional PlusPoints deducted for the US domestic flight.

Alternatively, if the member receives a PlusPoints upgrade on that US domestic leg but cannot be upgraded on the longer international flight, only the lower upgrade cost would be levied, being 20 PlusPoints – akin to using a Regional Premier Upgrade as opposed to a Global Premier Upgrade.

While complex, this system avoids disadvantaging travellers whose journeys require a connection, so that they’re not billed for more PlusPoints than if a non-stop flight were available.

Other advantages of United PlusPoints

As all PlusPoints earned can be used to upgrade on both short- and long-haul flights, this is a significant improvement for the program’s Premier Platinum frequent flyers.

That’s because the Regional Premier Upgrade certificates these members currently receive can only be used to upgrade short-haul flights – not international long-haul journeys, which require Global Premier Upgrade certificates under the current system, as are only provided to top-tier 1K members.

With 40 PlusPoints to spend each membership year, Platinum frequent flyers still have the option to upgrade two short-haul itineraries per year, but could instead use their PlusPoints for a return upgrade from long-haul economy to premium economy anywhere that United flies.

Alternatively, those same 40 PlusPoints could be cashed in for a one-way upgrade from regular economy to Polaris business class on an international long-haul flight.

Premier 1K members who really want to lock-in their complimentary upgrade may be given the option of spending more PlusPoints to secure one instantly, if this was otherwise unavailable. Applicable rates will be shown when requesting an upgrade via the United mobile app or website.

By extension, United Premier complimentary upgrades will remain in place on eligible flights as per the current rules, with these PlusPoints changes affecting only those upgrades that members opt to secure in advance, which would currently require an upgrade certificate.

For more information, visit mileageplusupdates.com.

Also read: United brings Polaris business class to Sydney

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

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