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United PlusPoints upgrades: Why you should reconsider spending more points to skip the waitlist

Jan. 21, 2022
4 min read
United Boeing 787-9 Polaris business class
United PlusPoints upgrades: Why you should reconsider spending more points to skip the waitlist
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When United overhauled its MileagePlus Premier program in 2019, it introduced PlusPoints as a replacement to Regional and Global Premier Upgrade awards.

"PlusPoints are more flexible, customizable, [and] come with fewer restrictions [than Regional and Global Premier Upgrades]," United says. While this appears to be the case, right now, we're seeing very little confirmed upgrade space before departure.

Looking at United's long-haul flight availability throughout its international network, there is little, if any, "PZ" fare class space on many routes. The "PZ" fare class indicates whether or not there is confirmed business upgrade availability using either PlusPoints (issued to Premier 1K members) or MileagePlus awards.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Historically, United has generally offered confirmed "PZ" upgrades to Polaris business class before departure when business "saver" award space is available.

When it came time to buy a ticket between London (LHR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD) for a spring trip, I was surprised to see plenty of business saver award space ... but no "PZ" availability. This means that I couldn't confirm a seat in business class using my PlusPoints at the time of booking.

In my book, the removal of these desirable "PZ" fares is a letdown, especially after working so hard to maintain Premier 1K status last year.

Award space between London (LHR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD) (Screenshot courtesy of United)
United fare classes between London (LHR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD) (Screenshot courtesy of United)

Essentially, there were two PlusPoint upgrade options:

  • Confirm an upgrade to Premium Plus now and remain on the waitlist for Polaris business class for 40 PlusPoints, or
  • Skip the waitlist using 100 PlusPoints and confirm a seat in Polaris business class now

The latter option was not appealing given that I would have needed to spend 100 PlusPoints for an upgrade that should only require 40 PlusPoints. Premier Platinum members receive 40 PlusPoints each year they qualify, while Premier 1K members receive 320 PlusPoints each year they qualify (40 PlusPoints after meeting the Premier Platinum requirements + 280 PlusPoints after meeting the Premier 1K requirements).

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(Screenshot courtesy of United)

For most 1Ks, 100 PlusPoints would equate to nearly a third of their annual allotment.

While the Skip Waitlist feature could've been an effective tool to confirm a Polaris upgrade (without "PZ" space available), the number of PlusPoints required made it an unappealing option. I could envision someone using so many PlusPoints when there's a very compelling reason to burn them, like an impending expiration.

As a result, I opted to confirm an upgrade to Premium Plus and waitlist an upgrade to Polaris business class.

Related: Still needs work: A review of United Premium Plus on the Boeing 787-10

Within ten minutes of purchasing my ticket, I received this text message from United:

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

I was perplexed on whether I had really gotten this lucky, but yes, after ten minutes of being on the waitlist for Polaris business class, my upgrade cleared using 40 PlusPoints, not the 100 PlusPoints to skip the waitlist. This saved me a ton of PlusPoints and gave me the exact same Polaris business-class seat as if I'd spent 100 PlusPoints.

Except in very rare cases, it often doesn't make sense to skip the waitlist. If your PlusPoints are about to expire, you may consider splurging for the upgrade confirmation, but in my case, the upgrade immediately cleared, even though confirmable seats were not available.

You are not limited to using the skip waitlist feature at booking, so you may consider trying to waitlist your upgrade before opting to skip the waitlist.

Related: Decoding United’s revenue, award and upgrade fare classes

Bottom line

When booking your next United flight, chances are high that you'll see no confirmed upgrades to Polaris business class using PlusPoints or miles. This gives you the impression that in order to secure an upgrade, you will need to burn your awards and go with the Skip Waitlist option. Don't be fooled. If there's enough availability, your upgrade may be confirmed in short order, just like mine, even if you're not seeing "PZ" fare space.

Feature photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy

Featured image by United Boeing 787-9 Polaris business class (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)
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.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023