How to request an elite upgrade with United PlusPoints

Dec 4, 2019

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For years, 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. Both options have now been replaced by a single currency, called PlusPoints.

Earning PlusPoints

Before the conversion, I had a balance of four Regional Premier Upgrades expiring on Jan. 31, 2020; four Regional Premier Upgrades expiring on Jan. 31, 2021; and 10 Global Premier Upgrades expiring on Jan. 31, 2021. Combined, that resulted in a PlusPoints balance of 560, with those four former regional upgrades maintaining their original 2020 expiration date.

Moving forward, Premier Platinum, 1K and Global Services members will earn PlusPoints at the following rates:

  • 40 upon reaching Platinum
  • 280 upon reaching 1K or GS
  • 20 for each subsequent 3,000 PQPs (1K and GS only)

For anyone keeping track, that means those additional 200 PlusPoints I earned with my travels this year will require earning 30,000 PQPs in 2020 (essentially spending $30,000 on United and partner flights, before taxes and fees). That’s certainly not going to happen, so this is likely the final year I’ll see my PlusPoints balance anywhere near that high.

Note that Premier 1K members who earn status based on 24,000 PQPs (rather than 54 PQFs and 18,000 PQPs) will earn 40 additional PlusPoints, for a total of 320.

Searching for availability

After logging into a 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.

From there, flight and upgrade pricing is immediately visible, along with 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.

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

Redeeming (domestic)

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 biz.

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.

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.

Redeeming (international)

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): 40 PlusPoints
  • Business to ANA first (J, C, D): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Copa business: 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): 140 PlusPoints

My friend has an upcoming flight from Tel Aviv (TLV) to Newark, so I pulled that itinerary up. 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 — perhaps a small “silver lining” in this notable devaluation.

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.

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

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.

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

Skip Waitlist

At launch, United’s Skip Waitlist option appears to be limited to flights between North America and South America, with redemptions priced at 70 Plus Points for Premium Plus and 140 Plus Points for Polaris — a significant premium over standard elite upgrades. Learn more about how this redemption works right here.

Bottom line

Ultimately, United’s PlusPoints introduction represents a positive shift — Copa upgrades require double the (equivalent) number of points and it’s a shame that points will be deducted when domestic flights clear even if the long-haul leg does not, but elites should find this new system to be far more flexible overall.

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