United Airlines switches to point-based upgrade system

United Airlines switches to point-based upgrade system

United PlusPoints upgrade system
Beginning on December 4, United will introduce PlusPoints, its new program designed for Platinum and 1K members of its MileagePlus program, which will replace the current Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs) and Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs). The new points-based system is expected to offer more flexibility in upgrades for such frequent fliers.

Currently, the system awards members with two RPUs (upgrade requests largely for travel within North America) when they reach Platinum status, while 1K members receive two additional RPUs and six GPUs (upgrade requests for flights worldwide). The new program will award members with 40 PlusPoints upon reaching Platinum status, and 1K members will receive an additional 280 points.

According to the airline, RPUs will generally have the value of 20 points and GPUs of 40, and will give Platinum members the ability to use their 40 awarded points towards a GPU (which was not available for them under the previous system). Meanwhile, a 1K member who travels extensively domestically will be able to spread out points to use toward more RPUs than before.

Additionally, under the PlusPoints system, travelers will be able to request upgrades across multiple flights even if the total number of requests exceeds the points they have available, as points won’t be deducted from the account until an upgrade is confirmed. For example, “a traveler with only 40 points and upcoming trips to Tokyo, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong could request upgrades across all three trips and would get whichever was first available. Under the current system, that traveler would be able to request only one of the three trips and then would hope for the best” said Michael B. Baker, a contract reporter for Business Travel News.

United’s VP of loyalty and MileagePlus president, Luc Bondar, said that while the airline looks “to evolve, we heard a couple of the pain points around upgrades loud and clear… First and most important, members felt they only had a moderate chance of getting upgrades and that they were not able to use them as much as they wanted.”

Aside from the changes listed above, the program will also allow members to upgrade from discount economy class to Polaris business class for 80 points. Under the current system, fares are required to be in class W or higher to have a chance of being upgraded. Other levels of upgrades will require different points: an upgrade from United’s new premium economy cabin (Premium Plus) to Polaris will use 30 points, and 20 points from Economy to Premium Plus. Travelers will also be able to use PlusPoints to skip wait lists for immediate upgrades, and manage points through the airline’s mobile app.

Bondar said that “we are very confident that this is the most generous upgrade benefit for premium customers in the U.S. today… Upgrades are a huge benefit. We want to make it easier for customers to use these upgrades.”

Sources: businesstravelnews.com, “United Will Move to Points-Based Upgrade System” by Michael B. Baker. Sep 24, 2019
skift.com, “United Airlines Simplifies Seat Upgrades With Points Incentives” by Brian Sumers. Sep 24, 2019