PlusPoints: Find out all about United Airlines’ new upgrade service

One of the reasons thousands of passengers love the United MileagePlus program so much is the many upgrade vouchers frequent flyers receive here. United have now decided to change the upgrade voucher system and abolish upgrade vouchers altogether at the end of the year. However, upgrade vouchers are being replaced with new United PlusPoints, which allow for future upgrades.

Most loyalty program changes have negative consequences, but in this case it’s fair to say that the new United PlusPoints are a very positive change to the program. This gives frequent flyers more opportunities to redeem PlusPoints and, in the best-case scenario, frequent flyers even get more upgrades.

PlusPoints: Some information on the new United Airlines upgrade service

If you’re unfamiliar with United Airlines’ upgrade system, you’re usually a little surprised at how many upgrade vouchers a United frequent flyer receives each year to make their travels more enjoyable. These are usually so good that you often gave them away.

A Premier 1K member receives the following upgrade vouchers with 100,000 miles (which are much easier to collect than the 100,000 miles for the Senator):

– 4 regional Premier upgrades;

– 2 RPUs with 75,000 miles after achieving/extending Platinum status;

– 2 RPUs with 100,000 miles after reaching/extending 1K status;

– 6 Global Premier upgrades with 100,000 miles after reaching/extending 1K status;

– 1 Global Premier upgrade for every 25,000 additional status miles.

This means that a United MileagePlus 1K frequent flyer will receive at least ten upgrade vouchers each year. Here you can upgrade the following flights with Regional Premier Upgrades (RPU) and Global Premier Upgrades (GPU):

– RPU for short-haul upgrades on flights within North America (to be confirmed at time of booking), including United PS flights between Newark and Los Angeles/San Francisco and continental US flights to Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

– RPUs also allow upgrades with Copa Airlines. GPU for international flights with United Airlines from Economy Class/Premium Economy Class to Business Class or also from Economy Class to Premium Economy Class when Business Class is no longer available.

The GPU can also be used for upgrades at Lufthansa from Economy Class to Business Class and from Business Class to First Class.

GPU can also be used for upgrades at ANA from Economy Class to Business Class and Business Class to First Class.

RPUs can be used in any booking class except Basic Economy Class fares. GPUs can only be used in certain reservation classes, although they can also be used in semi-flex classes and not just the very expensive full flex classes.

This whole upgrade voucher system is unaffected by CPU, Complimentary Premier Upgrades, with which frequent flyers receive a first class seat a few days before departure or at the gate, depending on their status and booking class, if still available.

Conversion of upgrade vouchers to United PlusPoints

United PlusPoints will completely replace United Upgrade Vouchers and vouchers in member accounts will be converted to PlusPoints. The following exchange ratio applies:

– 1 RPU converts into 20 PlusPoints;

– 1GPU converts to 40 PlusPoints.

You will no longer be able to earn upgrade vouchers from now on, but United PlusPoints will be credited from this point on:

– After reaching 75,000 status miles: 40 United Plus points;

– After reaching 100,000 status miles: 280 United PlusPoints;

On reaching every 25,000 additional status miles beyond 100,000 status miles: 40 United PlusPoints.

How many points do you need for an upgrade?

One of the great things about United PlusPoints is that they’re much more flexible than upgrade vouchers. For example, United Airlines now allows upgrading from all booking classes (except Basic Economy) and some upgrades are even cheaper:

– 20 United PlusPoints for upgrading with United Airlines on regional routes in North and Central America, including Hawaii and Alaska;

– 20 United PlusPoints for an upgrade from Economy class to United Premium Plus (Premium Economy);

– 30 United PlusPoints for an upgrade from United Premium Plus to United Polaris Business Class;

– 40 United PlusPoints for upgrading from United Economy (from SEMI Flex fares) to United Polaris Business Class;

– 80 United PlusPoints for an upgrade from United Economy (all fares) to United Polaris Business Class;

– 40 United PlusPoints for a Class upgrade.

A brand new way to redeem United PlusPoints will be the Skip the Waitlist feature, where you can get any available seat in the higher travel class on United Airlines for more PlusPoints. It’s currently unknown how much this point value will be, but it’s safe to assume that you need to redeem PlusPoints at least twice.

Apart from United PlusPoints, there will always be free upgrades on short and medium haul flights with United Airlines, for which you do not need to use PlusPoints.

PlusPoints are only required for a confirmed upgrade

New to PlusPoints is that you can also request an upgrade if you don’t have enough PlusPoints in your account for an upgrade, but assume you’ll collect them anyway. Only if the upgrade has to be confirmed, the PlusPoints must be available and will then be deducted from the frequent flyer account.

This allows you to request as many flights as you wish in the future and thus increase your chances of having confirmed upgrades.

Upgrade vouchers are debited from the account at the time an upgrade was requested and returned after the flight if the upgrade had not been received.

Only the most expensive upgrade has to be paid for

Similar to the Global Premier Voucher, you only have to pay for the most expensive flight in each route, although you get an upgrade on all flights in the direction, so if you are flying from Phoenix to London via Chicago and New York and you request and receive a PlusPoints upgrade on all three flights, it only costs 40 and not 80 PlusPoints added together. Thus, you benefit from the free upgrade on short-haul flights.

What’s new with PlusPoints, however, is that you must pay for the requested short-haul upgrade with 20 PlusPoints, even if the long-haul is not confirmed. In the current system, you would need a GPU for this routing shown above, but this will be refunded if long haul is not confirmed even if you have been upgraded to short haul. Therefore, you need to consider whether you really want to ask for an upgrade for short trips or whether you’d rather be lucky with free CPU upgrades.

Most of the time, changes in frequent flyer programs don’t bode well, but the current change in United Airlines’ Mileage Plus program is actually purely positive. Under the new system with PlusPoints, frequent flyers receive at least as many upgrades as before, if not more.

Moreover, with PlusPoints you have more flexibility and you can also upgrade on flights on which this was not possible before.

PlusPoints can also become a new source of revenue for United. So you can sell PlusPoints to frequent flyers if they run out for upgrades or you can give PlusPoints with bonus credit cards.

It would also be much easier for United Airlines to devalue upgrades quite discreetly by simply increasing upgrade prices slightly, but this currently remains a dream for the future.

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