Skip to content

Why United’s expanded Premium Plus rollout isn’t exclusively good news

Aug. 18, 2022
6 min read
Why United’s expanded Premium Plus rollout isn’t exclusively good news
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.

United Airlines is betting big on the future of premium economy.

The Chicago-based carrier revealed plans this week to outfit the rest of its international wide-body fleet with Premium Plus recliners.

Specifically, select Boeing 767-300 aircraft will soon receive a retrofit that'll install a premium economy cabin on these jets, as first reported by Live and Let's Fly.

TPG reached out to a United spokesperson who confirmed the news, with the full details available below.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free biweekly Aviation newsletter and download the free TPG app.

Currently, United offers two configurations of the Boeing 767-300 aircraft — there's a premium-heavy "high-J" variant, along with the "standard" layout, the "76A," as it's called internally.

The "high-J" configuration was developed specifically for the most premium routes, such as Newark (EWR) and Chicago (ORD) to London Heathrow (LHR), where United could sell a ton of premium seats.

Premium Plus on United's "high-J" Boeing 767 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Of the airline's 38 Boeing 767-300s, 24 of them are in this premium-heavy configuration, with a whopping 46 Polaris business-class pods and 22 Premium Plus recliners, along with 43 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats and 56 standard coach ones.

Meanwhile, United's "standard" 767-300 features 30 Polaris pods, along with 46 Economy Plus seats and 138 standard coach ones.

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The 30-seat Polaris cabin on the 76A variant (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As you can see, these jets don't (yet) feature a Premium Plus cabin. To date, the airline has flown this variant of the 767 on less premium routes, such as the newly launched Newark (EWR) to Palma de Mallorca (PMI) flight.

The coach cabin on the 76A variant (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

But with the latest move, United will add Premium Plus to the 14 Boeing 767-300s that don't currently feature it. Once the retrofits are completed, the updated 767-300, which will be referred to as the "76Q," will feature:

  • 30 Polaris business-class pods (no net change)
  • 24 Premium Plus recliners (new cabin)
  • 32 Economy Plus seats (net decrease of 14)
  • 113 economy seats (net decrease of 25)

United expects the first reconfigured 767-300 to enter service in late fall, with the entire retrofit project completed by next spring.

Along with the premium economy retrofits, United will also add a new aisle at the front of the Polaris cabin to make it easier to get between each side of the cabin, along with new LED reading lights for all passengers.

Once the project is complete, the entire United long-haul wide-body fleet will feature a Premium Plus cabin. You'll find a full aircraft-by-aircraft breakdown at the bottom of this post.

The "purple seats," as they're affectionately called by regular United flyers, officially debuted on long-haul flights in 2019, on select Boeing 777-200, Boeing 777-300 and Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Since then, the airline has been steadily rolling out more planes equipped with Premium Plus recliners.

This comes as premium economy has become an important revenue stream for the big U.S. airlines, especially Delta, which will soon bring the cabin to domestic flights for the first time.

The cabin, which sits between coach and business class, offers a more private experience than economy with some additional amenities that you might typically find in business class. The fares are usually a few hundred dollars more than what you'd find in coach.

For those looking for an upgraded experience without breaking the bank for business class, United's move should come as good news.

But, for Premier elites who like to sit in the Polaris cabin, it might be a different story. That's because United prioritizes business-class upgrades by cabin purchased. Those booking Premium Plus seats and then applying PlusPoints or waitlisting a mileage upgrade award will be prioritized above Premiers who booked in economy, regardless of status tier.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

So, if an entry-level Premier Silver member purchased a Premium Plus ticket and waitlisted an upgrade to Polaris, that traveler would get upgraded before a top-tier Premier 1K who purchased an economy ticket.

To date, some savvy United flyers have specifically chosen to fly the "standard" 767-300 variant, since it didn't offer a Premium Plus cabin, thereby increasing the upgrade odds.

Once the jets get retrofitted, Premier members will need to purchase a more expensive Premium Plus ticket to maximize their chances of an upgrade.

Fleet-by-fleet Premium Plus retrofit update

Boeing 767-300ER

As mentioned in the story, United splits its 38 Boeing 767-300ERs into two different layouts.

The premium-heavy "high-J" version already sports a Premium Plus cabin, while the 14 remaining "standard" 767-300s will be retrofitted with a 24-seat premium economy by next spring.

Boeing 767-400ER

All 16 of these jets will receive the Polaris and Premium Plus retrofits by summer 2023. The first Boeing 767-400ER to receive these cabin upgrades is currently in the hangar and will enter service this fall.

Boeing 777-200

All United Boeing 777-200s that operate long-haul international routes have already been updated with Premium Plus cabins.

The carrier has a subfleet of 777-200s that primarily serve domestic destinations, including Hawaii, and other short-haul markets. These planes have a very outdated 2-4-2 “dorm-style” business-class cabin, and there are no plans to upgrade these cabins with the Polaris or Premium Plus retrofits.

Boeing 777-300

All 22 of United’s Boeing 777-300s are already outfitted with the Premium Plus cabin.

Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

All 12 of United’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners have already been retrofitted with the Premium Plus cabin.

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Thirty-four of United’s 38 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners have already been retrofitted with Premium Plus cabins. The four remaining jets will be complete by the end of summer 2022.

Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner

All United Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners feature Premium Plus cabins.

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.

TPG featured card

Best luxury travel rewards card
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
Go to review

Rewards

5X points
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 Points
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best luxury travel rewards card
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
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees