United Polaris

  • United introduced a new system for the free upgrades that its top frequent flyers can earn.
  • The new PlusPoints system replaces the Regional Premier Upgrades (RPU) and Global Premier Upgrades (GPU) that United’s most frequent flyers — Platinum and 1K Premier members — received each year.
  • Upgrades can be used for domestic first class, premium economy, or long-haul business class.
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United is revamping the way that its top frequent flyers can get free upgrades on flights when they purchase economy tickets.

The airline announced its new system, dubbed PlusPoints, on Thursday as a benefit to the top two elite tiers of the MileagePlus frequent flyer program, Premier Platinum and 1K.

Under the new system, elites will receive a bank of points that they can use for upgrades on all flights across United’s network. PlusPoints replaces the airline’s previous system of Regional Premier Upgrade (RPU) and Global Premier Upgrade certificates (GPU).

The change takes effect December 4.

Customers who reach Premier Platinum, typically after flying 75,000 miles in a calendar year, will receive 40 points as a perk. Those who fly a total of 100,000 miles and reach the next tier, 1K, will get another 280 points.

Most upgrades will cost a fixed number of points. Upgrading from economy to first class on a domestic flight or premium economy on an international route will cost 20 points — the equivalent of an RPU. An upgrade from premium economy to business class on a long-haul route will cost 30 points, while the same upgrade from coach will cost 40 points — previously, the traveler would need to use a GPU.

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The airline claims that the new system will make it easier for its most valued customers to use their upgrade benefits. Passengers can redeem points online or through United’s app.

“We’re making it even easier for our Premier members to use upgrades when and how they want,” Luc Bondar, United’s vice president of loyalty and the head of its MileagePlus program, said on Tuesday. “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.”

United elite members will still receive complimentary upgrades on flights, as well. Using PlusPoints will allow passengers to jump to the top of the waitlist.

Although the PlusPoints program expands which ticket fares are eligible to be upgraded, upgrades will still be capacity controlled, so elite flyers will only be able to upgrade when there is space available that United does not expect will be purchased by someone else.

This is the latest in a series of recent tweaks United has made to its overall loyalty program. In August, the airline said that its frequent flyer miles would no longer be subject to expiration dates. 

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