United Airlines

United Airlines is rolling out new upgrade benefits for its Premier Platinum and 1K MileagePlus members designed to give the carrier’s most loyal flyers significantly increased opportunities and freedom to arrange seat upgrades.

During a conference call with members of the media, the airline revealed details of the new program, PlusPoints, which is set to go into effect December 4.

“We’re looking to make the Mileage Plus more rewarding specifically for premier program members,” Luc Bondar, president of MileagePlus and Vice President of Loyalty United Airlines, told media on the call, adding that previously rewards program members “thought they only had a moderate chance of successfully using their upgrades.”

“We want to make it easier for them to use upgrades,” he explained.

The new program is focused specifically on Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs) and Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs).

As part of the PlusPoints, top tier members will receive what Bondar described as a “bank” of points. And here’s the key nuance of the new offering – the points can be used to upgrade on all flights across United’s global network.

“The program offers significantly more flexibility by having a bank of points that can be used on any flight,” explained Bondar.

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Previously, such upgrades would have required using RPUs for regional or North American flights and GPUs for international flights. RPUs, for instance, were restricted to upgrades in select regions, while PlusPoints can be used for any United flight.

The new program is meant to give frequent fliers more freedom and flexibility to use their upgrades when and how they want, said Bondar.

“The new PlusPoints program increases the overall number of upgrade opportunities for top tier Premier members, expands the fare classes where they can be used and lets members request upgrades on multiple flights all at once,” Bondar said.

Yet another notable feature of the program touted by Bondar is its self-service feature.

With PlusPoints, members will be able to access all upgrades through united.com or United’s mobile app, features designed to make managing upgrades easier.

“Our goal is to meet customers where they are and that means we need to be online and on mobile,” said Bondar, who added that the self-service, mobile and online access for upgrades are unique to United, meaning United is the only global U.S. airline that lets members request all upgrades without making a phone call.

When the airline rolls out the new program in December, it will completely replace Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades with PlusPoints.

As part of that transition, each RPU will be worth 20 PlusPoints and each GPU will be worth 40 PlusPoints.

Members using one RPU today to upgrade from economy to United First on domestic U.S. and North American flights will use 20 PlusPoints from their banks.

A member using one GPU today to upgrade from economy to United Polaris business class on international long-haul flights will use 40 PlusPoints.

Starting in December, members will be able to use their points to join upgrade waitlists on multiple trips, and points won’t be deducted from their accounts until upgrades are confirmed.

PlusPoints is also designed to make upgrading to and from premium economy more flexible.

Upgrading from economy to United Premium Plus and from United Premium Plus to United Polaris business class will be possible for less than the value of one GPU.

Bondar also noted that under the new program, it will be possible for 1K members who want to buy lowest price economy fare to do that and still request an upgrade via the PlusPoints program.

“It would just require more PlusPoints to upgrade,” Bondar said.

Another notable perk of the new program revealed by Bondar – from time to time, United may also allow 1K members the opportunity to use additional PlusPoints to skip waitlists and receive a confirmed upgrade at booking when traveling on select international long- haul flights, even when upgrade fare classes are closed.

“This is a great option for members who are planning for a special trip,” said Bondar of being able to confirm an upgrade in advance. “It will simply cost more plus points…but it will be really meaningful for those going for special trips, leisure trips, planning trips with family or partners.”

Finally, it’s important to note that PlusPoints does not replace or change United’s Complimentary Premier Upgrades benefit.

All Premier members will continue to be placed on upgrade waitlists for flights operated by United and United Express when available.

Ultimately, Bondar said United’s goal with its new PlusPoints program is to allow Premiere members to achieve success more often when they flying and seeking upgrades.

“We wanted to build an industry-leading benefit for our customers and we’re confident this is the most generous program for customers in the US today,” said Bondar.