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How to request an elite upgrade with United PlusPoints

Sept. 13, 2021
7 min read
United EWR-JNB inaugural ZH 787-9
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For a long time, United Airlines offered elite members two instruments for upgrading flights: Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs), valid for domestic and shorter international flights, and Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs), which were best used to move to business class or premium economy on long-haul international itineraries.

But in 2019, United replaced both options with a single currency: PlusPoints.

United PlusPoints have more flexibility than RPUs and GPUs in that they can be used in various amounts rather than being tied to certain types of flights. Additionally, you no longer have to 'waste' a global upgrade on a shorter hop because you are out of regional upgrades.

Here's how to earn -- and use -- United PlusPoints.

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Earning United PlusPoints

Premier Platinum, 1K and Global Services (GS) members earn PlusPoints at the following rates:

  • 40 upon reaching Platinum
  • 280 upon reaching 1K or GS
  • 20 for every 2,000 PQPs earned beyond 15,000 (1K and GS only)

United MileagePlus members who meet the requirements for Platinum status and subsequently qualify for 1K will earn a total of 320 PlusPoints.

(Photo courtesy of Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Related: Guide to United elite status

Searching for upgrade availability

You can look for PlusPoints-eligible upgrade availability on United's website, as long as you know where to look.

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After logging into a United MileagePlus account with a current PlusPoints balance, click the “Advanced search” option and scroll down to the “Fare preferences” section to select “PlusPoints upgrades” before beginning a flight search.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

From there, flight and upgrade pricing is immediately visible, along with an indicator noting whether you’ll score an instant upgrade or end up on the waitlist. You’ll also see the fare class breakdown after enabling Expert Mode.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

You can filter flights by departure time, stops, connecting airports, and — most important of all — whether or not an upgrade is confirmable at booking.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Redeeming PlusPoints for domestic flights

United requires 20 PlusPoints for all domestic and regional upgrades, with one exception. Customers purchasing Premium Plus on a domestic premium flight will only need to redeem 10 PlusPoints to move up to business class.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Unfortunately, domestic confirmed upgrade space remains especially difficult to come by, especially on transcon flights. My friend’s Newark (EWR) - San Diego (SAN) flight could be waitlisted for 20 PlusPoints, for example.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

With two passengers on the itinerary, the total came to 40 points — and, since the upgrade is waitlisted, the points won’t be deducted from my account until the request clears.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Related: The best credit cards for earning airline elite status

Redeeming PlusPoints for international flights

While domestic upgrades are fairly straightforward — you’ll need 20 points to move up from economy or 10 points to upgrade from Premium Plus — deciphering international upgrades feels a bit like eating a bowl of alphabet soup:

  • Economy to Premium Plus: 20 PlusPoints
  • Premium Plus to Polaris: 30 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Polaris (Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to ANA business (G, E, Y, B, M, U): 40 PlusPoints
  • Business to ANA first (J, C, D): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Copa business (A, B, E, H, K, L, M, O, Q, S, T, U, V, W, and Y): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Lufthansa business (G, E, Y, B, M, U, H, Q): 40 PlusPoints
  • Business to Lufthansa first (J, C, D): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Premium Plus (Skip Waitlist): 70 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Polaris (S, T, L, K, G): 80 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Polaris (Skip Waitlist): 110 PlusPoints

My friend has an upcoming flight from Tel Aviv (TLV) to Newark, so I pulled that itinerary up as an example. Because the international leg was booked in the “S” fare class, each direction of the trip requires 80 PlusPoints. Additionally, since PlusPoints will be deducted if only the domestic flight clears, you can now choose whether or not to waitlist segments individually.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Be sure to read the upgrade options carefully — you can’t change your request later, though you can cancel it if the upgrade has not yet cleared.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Notably, the domestic segments did not add to the PlusPoints total, which came to 160 points for the round-trip:

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

If the domestic waitlists clear and the international segments do not, however, you will be charged the appropriate number of PlusPoints for a domestic upgrade. If you’re booked from Austin (AUS) to Houston (IAH) to Tokyo (NRT), you probably won’t want to burn 20 PlusPoints on the 40-minute domestic hop when a lie-flat seat on a 14-hour long-haul only requires 40.

Canceling a request

Upgrades waitlisted from your own account — for you or another traveler — will appear on a new tab on your “My trips” page.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

From there, you can simply click “Cancel upgrade” to remove a flight from the waitlist.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Skipping the upgrade waitlist

United’s Skip Waitlist option is now available on many routes, with redemptions starting at 70 Plus Points for Premium Plus and 110 Plus Points for Polaris — a significant premium over standard elite upgrades. Learn more about how this redemption works right here.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Bottom line

PlusPoints are easily the most versatile upgrade currency in the industry. They can be applied with fewer fare restrictions than United’s former Global Premier Upgrades, offer the ability to redeem points for upgrades on select partners and can confirm upgrades even when they aren’t otherwise available via the Skip Waitlist option.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.