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

Jan 21, 2022

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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)
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)
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).

Screenshot of United Skip Waitlist option
(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 showing confirmed upgrade to business class between London (LHR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD)
(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

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