United Will Move to Points-Based Upgrade System

Business Travel News 9/24/2019

AAA World Article

United Airlines is switching its upgrade system for high-level Premier members to a points-based system that it said would offer more flexibility in upgrade selection.

On Dec. 4, United will introduce a PlusPoints program, which will replace the Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades awarded to Platinum and 1K members of its MileagePlus program. Under its current system, members are awarded two RPUs—upgrade requests largely for travel within North America—upon reaching Platinum status. 1K members receive two additional RPUs and six GPUs, upgrade requests for flights worldwide.

When the new program kicks off, members instead will receive 40 PlusPoints upon reaching Platinum status, and 1K members will receive an additional 280 points.

As RPUs generally will be valued at 20 points and GPUs at 40 points, the basic upgrade rewards are unchanged. However, travelers will have more options in how to use them, United VP of loyalty and MileagePlus President Luc Bondar said. "Think of this as having fewer restrictions and giving our customers more options," he said. For example, Platinum members will be able to use their 40 points for a GPU, which was not accessible to them before. A 1K member who travels extensively domestically, on the other hand, could spread out his or her points for more RPUs than before.

Additionally, the PlusPoints program will change the way a traveler's upgrade bank operates. Currently, if a traveler makes an RPU or GPU request, it is deducted from his or her account immediately upon making the request. PlusPoints will not be not deducted until an upgrade is confirmed, so travelers can request upgrades across multiple flights even if the total number requested exceeds the points in their banks. For example, a traveler with only 40 points and upcoming trips to Tokyo, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong could request upgrades across all three trips and would get whichever was first available. Under the current system, that traveler would be able to request only one of the three trips and then would hope for the best. "As we looked to evolve, we heard a couple of the pain points around upgrades loud and clear," Bondar said. "First and most important, members felt they only had a moderate chance of getting upgrades and that they were not able to use them as much as they wanted."

The new system provides additional options, as well. Travelers will be able to upgrade from discount economy classes to Polaris business class for 80 points. The current system requires a fare to be in class W or higher for such an upgrade, meaning travelers are forced to buy into a higher fare class in the hopes of an upgrade they might not get, Bondar said. There also will be varying points levels for different types of upgrades: 30 points for upgrading from United's new premium economy cabin, Premium Plus, to Polaris, for example, or 20 points for upgrading from Economy to Premium Plus, making certain upgrades on global routes cost effectively less than a GPU.

Travelers also will be able to use PlusPoints to skip wait lists and get immediate upgrades. Travelers also will be able to manage their points through United's mobile app. Not just via the website and call centers, Bondar said.

United's Complimentary Premier Upgrades benefit, in which all tiers of Premier members are automatically waitlisted for upgrades on routes largely within North America, is unchanged under the new program.

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