United’s ‘Skip Waitlist’ upgrade option now available for elites

Dec 5, 2019

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This week, United Airlines flipped the switch on its new PlusPoints upgrade platform, giving elite flyers more options for moving up a cabin or two — frequent flyers can book economy and fly in Polaris business class by booking with a combination of cash and PlusPoints, for example.

One especially intriguing new redemption option is something United is calling Skip Waitlist, which lets flyers redeem additional PlusPoints to confirm an upgrade at booking, when they would have had to take their chances with the waitlist in the past.

How Skip Waitlist works

We now have an idea of exactly how many PlusPoints a Skip Waitlist booking will require, now that it’s live on select routes.

Skip Waitlist is only available with long-haul international itineraries — if you use the option to confirm your spot in Premium Plus or Polaris, you’ll still be waitlisted for any domestic legs, unless there’s upgrade availability for those segments at booking.

Based on the routes available today — between North American gateways and South America, it seems — Skip Waitlist requires 70 PlusPoints for Premium Plus and 140 PlusPoints for business. That’s an enormous premium, compared to other redemption options:

  • Economy to domestic first/regional business: 20 PlusPoints
  • 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

There’s another big catch — buried in the PlusPoints terms at checkout is an important note: “PlusPoints used for Skip Waitlist upgrades are nonrefundable or reconfirmable on other flights in the event of itinerary changes.” Additionally, you can only use this option to upgrade on your own flights — you can bump up other travelers, too, but they need to be on the same itinerary.

Searching for Skip Waitlist

First, you’ll need to use a special method to identify eligible flights. After logging into a MileagePlus account with a current PlusPoints balance, head over to the “Advanced search” option. From there, scroll down to the “Fare preferences” section and select “PlusPoints upgrades,” then add your origin, destination and dates, and click to search.

If there are eligible flights available, you can identify them easily by selecting the “Available only and Skip Waitlist” option.

Notably, Skip Waitlist availability doesn’t appear to be tied to any specific fare class — the lowest revenue business or premium economy fare classes don’t necessarily need to be available. Additionally, you may also see the Skip Waitlist option on previously booked flights — you’ll be able to select it when viewing your upgrade options.

Sample flights

Currently, I’ve only been able to find the Skip Waitlist option on flights between North America and South America, though it’ll likely roll out to other regions soon. As you can see below, it isn’t available with discounted economy fares — you need to book “W” class or higher.

It’s also available for Premium Plus without any fare class restrictions. Be sure to pay attention to all options, though — with the example below, by buying up to W class you can confirm a Polaris upgrade for just 40 Plus Points, compared with 70 points for premium economy. Additionally, since a standard business upgrade is available here, Plus Points used for business class can be redeposited if your itinerary changes, while the Premium Plus Skip Waitlist points will be gone forever.

Bottom line

Skip Waitlist has the potential to be quite useful to elites with significant PlusPoints balances, but it’s important to note all of the restrictions:

  • Skip Waitlist is not available within 30 days of departure
  • You must book W class or higher for Polaris
  • Domestic flights are not eligible
  • You can only use Skip Waitlist to upgrade your own flights
  • PlusPoints will not be returned if you change your flights

Assuming those terms work for you — and you have the PlusPoints to spare — it may make sense to book.

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