United changes upgrades for the better with PlusPoints

Sep 24, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Whenever an airline reaches out with “changes” to a loyalty program, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. United’s recent email was no exception, though my momentary unease was quickly put to rest.

This week, United is introducing an entirely new currency, called PlusPoints. Unlike MileagePlus miles, which can be redeemed for flights, merchandise and other goodies, PlusPoints specifically cover upgrades, both on domestic and international flights, as loyalty chief Luc Bondar explained to Brian Kelly on today’s episode of Talking Points:

This new currency will replace the existing Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs) and Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs), though this change represents an improvement, overall.

PointsPlus replaces United's current upgrade system. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
PointsPlus replaces United’s current upgrade system. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

On Dec. 4, all outstanding GPUs will be converted into 40 PlusPoints, and RPUs will become 20 PlusPoints. Then, moving forward, elites will earn upgrades at the same rate that they do today — in other words, United Premier Platinum, 1K and Global Services (GS) members will all earn PlusPoints as follows:

  • 40 upon reaching Platinum
  • 280 upon reaching 1K or GS
  • 40 for each subsequent 25,000 PQMs (1K and GS only)

Currently, Platinum members receive two RPUs — they can still use 40 PlusPoints to upgrade regional flights in the future, but they can also choose to redeem the same number for one Polaris upgrade.

Redemptions break down as follows:

  • 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

As you’ll notice, upgrade redemptions are largely identical or an improvement; long-haul economy to Premium Plus requires the equivalent of one RPU, as of Dec. 4, rather than a GPU. Additionally, it’ll soon be possible to upgrade discounted long-haul economy fares in the S, T, L, K, G fare buckets — as long as you haven’t purchase a basic economy ticket — enabling elites to apply certificates to waitlist “long-shot” upgrades without the requirement to buy up to a far more expensive “W” fare.

The carrier will also allow customers to waitlist upgrades before redeeming PlusPoints — points won’t be deducted from your account until the waitlist clears, so you can standby for a higher cabin on multiple flights even if you don’t yet have enough PlusPoints in your account to clear all waitlisted upgrades. You will need to have the necessary points in your account before a waitlist will clear, however — the system will skip over your reservation until you do. You’ll also be able to apply an upgrade using United’s mobile app, in addition to via the website and call centers.

Unfortunately, Copa upgrades now require the equivalent of one GPU per segment, representing a 100% jump. With a hub in Panama (PTY), Copa’s flights are considerably shorter than many of those offered by ANA and Lufthansa, so that’s a bit frustrating to see, in my opinion. Personally, I’ll hesitate to burn the equivalent of one GPU for a flight in a Copa recliner seat, but this PlusPoints shift does represent an improvement overall, though.

Savvy flyers will be able to redeem PlusPoints to move up to Lufthansa first class. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
Savvy flyers will be able to redeem PlusPoints to move up to Lufthansa first class. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

You may have also noticed a new option called “Skip Waitlist.” With that redemption, customers will be able to confirm an upgrade even when standard upgrade availability (PN for Global Services or PZ for all other members) is not available. Customers will see eligible flights when booking a flight at least 30 days in advance, along with the number of points required to confirm an upgrade at booking. A Premium Plus Skip Waitlist option will be available as well.

Polaris seats confirmed using the Skip Waitlist option will be entirely unchangeable, with the exception of when United publishes a change fee/fare difference waiver in the case of irregular operations.

Aside from Skip Waitlist and the increase in points required to upgrade with Copa, United’s existing policies will remain in place. That means upgrades will still expire at the end of January one full year after they’re earned. For example, any upgrades earned in 2019 will expire at the end of January 2021. Upgrades can still be applied to any traveler’s flight, as well. However, MileagePlus members using the “skip the waitlist” option may only upgrade their own flights (or those of a companion).

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

The All-New United Quest℠ Card

WELCOME OFFER: Up to 100,000 bonus miles


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X miles on United® purchases

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80K bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 20K bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months
  • $250 Annual Fee
  • Earn 3X miles on United® purchases, 2X miles at restaurants, on select streaming services & all other travel, 1X on all other purchases
  • Earn 3X miles on United Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2X miles at restaurants and on select streaming services
  • Earn 2X miles on all other travel
  • Earn 1X mile on all other purchases
  • Each year, receive a $125 credit on United® purchases and two 5k-mile anniversary award flight credits. Terms apply.
Regular APR
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.