United updated its elite status program in 2019 to include the current PlusPoints system. Unlike its previous iteration, which included Global and Regional Upgrade Award certificates that you’d apply to your flight, PlusPoints offer a more flexible option for United elite members looking to upgrade their flight experiences.
One excellent benefit that came out of this was the ability to use your PlusPoints for upgrades on 3 of United’s partner airlines: Lufthansa, Copa, and ANA. This opens up some very interesting ways to use your PlusPoints — but the system isn’t perfect. Although the ability to upgrade is there, the process is far from smooth, and there are a few kinks you’ll need to work out when doing this.
In this guide, we’re going to break down who can use their United PlusPoints for upgrades, when it’s possible, and how to do it.
What Are PlusPoints?
PlusPoints are a benefit that United Platinum and 1K Premier elite members receive after they qualify for status. Status is earned based on Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) earned each year.
|2022 Status||Earn Premier Qualifying Flights ||and Premier Qualifying Points ||…or Meet a Higher PQP Goal|
Premier Platinum elite members receive 40 PlusPoints upon earning status.
Premier 1K members receive a total of 320 PlusPoints, with the ability to earn 20 more PlusPoints for every 2,000 PQPs they fly.
PlusPoints last for a little over a year after you’ve earned them. For flights taken in 2021 that earn elite status for 2022, this means that your points will expire on January 31, 2023.
PlusPoints can be used for long-haul international United flights as shown below:
|Fare Booked||Upgrades To||PlusPoints Required|
|Discounted Economy||United Polaris business||80|
|United Economy||United Polaris business||40|
|United Premium Plus||United Polaris business||30|
|United Economy||United Premium Plus||20|
Otherwise, on partner airlines, PlusPoints upgrades will cost you 40 PlusPoints per segment as long as you’ve booked into an eligible fare class.
Hot Tip: PlusPoints are different from MileagePlus Upgrades that use United miles to upgrade your flight.
Which Flights Can Be Upgraded?
Not all flights are eligible for upgrade. Depending on what kind of fare you’ve booked, you may be able to request an upgrade. Unfortunately, most discount fare classes will not qualify for an upgrade, so you’ll need to be extremely aware of which class you’re booking to make sure your flight is eligible. Note that award flights are not eligible for PlusPoints upgrades.
You can request upgrades whether you’ve booked directly with these airlines or via United codeshare flights.
All Nippon Airways (ANA)
ANA is one of only 11 5 star airlines as ranked by Skytrax — its new business and first class products, combined with its famed service, means its sets a high standard for its passengers. You can use your PlusPoints for an upgrade starting 365 days from departure until 24 hours before departure.
Upgrading on ANA will give you a 1-cabin change. This means if you’re in economy, you’ll move to business, and if you’re in business, you’ll move to first class. The upgrade is not eligible for a move from economy to premium economy — though why would you want to move to premium economy when you could ride in “The Room?”
Flights with ANA must be booked into one of the following fare classes to be upgrade eligible: B, C, D, E, G, J, M, U, or Y.
Lufthansa’s business class isn’t quite as nice as ANA, perhaps, but it’s a solid offering and a good way to get across the Atlantic. You can use your PlusPoints to upgrade on Lufthansa starting 331 days before your flight until 10 hours before departure. Lufthansa is the same in that you can move from economy to business or business to first class, but not from economy to premium economy.
Flights with Lufthansa must be booked into one of the following fare classes to qualify for a PlusPoints upgrade: B, C, D, E, G, H, J, M, Q, U, or Y.
Copa Airlines is Panama’s flag carrier and operates flights from its hub in Panama City (PTY) throughout North, Central, and South America. The airline doesn’t operate a dedicated first class product, so any upgrades you receive will be from economy to business class.
United’s website doesn’t otherwise say much about Copa, just that your fare must be in one of these classes: A, B, E, H, K, L, M, O, Q, S, T, U, V, W, or Y.
When Should You Use PlusPoints To Upgrade?
As a Premier Platinum elite member, you’ll receive only 40 PlusPoints in a year, which means that upgrading just one of these flights will eat up all of your points. If you’re taking, say, a nonstop from New York to Tokyo, that may be worth it, but you’ll really want to consider that versus using the PlusPoints for 2 premium economy upgrades on United.
As a Premier 1K, you’ll receive a total of 320 PlusPoints each year, which makes using 40 points a little less painful.
It’s not always a good idea to use these for upgrades, however. Since you’re going to pay per segment, you’ll want to make sure that you’re maximizing the value you receive.
As an example, say you’re flying from California to Dubai on Lufthansa with a stopover in Frankfurt. Upgrading your entire flight will cost 80 PlusPoints. You can choose, however, to upgrade only a single segment. In this case, it may be worth upgrading the California to Germany leg and sitting in economy for the second, shorter leg.
Hot Tip: You’ll want to use your PointsPlus upgrades on long-haul international flights — preferably nonstops, if possible.
Upgrades to Business Class
The option available to most of us is likely the upgrade from economy to business class. Let’s take a look at an ANA flight from New York (JFK) to Tokyo (HND):
As you can see in the above screenshot, the cost of an upgrade-eligible ticket is just $65 more than the cheapest ticket. Booking in U means you can spend 40 PlusPoints to upgrade to ANA’s “The Room” business class product, which would otherwise cost you over $6,000:
Upgrades to First Class
Using your PlusPoints to upgrade from economy to business class is a pretty good proposition, but if you can swing it, flying in either ANA’s or Lufthansa’s first class product is a bucket list experience achievable with PlusPoints.
Of course, you’ll need to pay for an eligible business class fare — which is expensive — but this could still represent a significant discount over paying for a first class fare itself.
As you can see in the above screenshot, the cost for a one-way ticket from New York to Tokyo in an upgrade-eligible fare class going to cost you almost $1,000 more than the lowest-priced business fare class. However, for that rate you’ll also be able to use your PlusPoints to get into first class, and the ticket on the exact same flight is a cool $14,000:
If booking directly with ANA, you’ll also earn 100% more bonus miles on your flight when booking in D compared to Z fare class, as shown on United’s ANA award earning chart:
|Class of Service|| Purchased Fare Class||Aware Mile Earnings (Including Fare Class Bonus)|
|Full-Fare Business||J, C||300%|
|Discount Business||Z, P||150%|
Note that in the case of expensive tickets like this, you’ll want to book directly with United instead of ANA. As a non-elite status holder, you’d earn 36,780 award miles and 7,356 PQPs when booking with United, versus 16,907 award miles and 3,381 PQPs when booking with ANA.
The same case can be made for Lufthansa’s first class tickets. Using your PlusPoints on Lufthansa presents an interesting opportunity to fly the airline’s famed first class, whose availability isn’t released until 14 days prior to departure. Since you can request an upgrade all the way until 10 hours before you leave, this is 1 way to possibly snag a seat.
Finding Upgrade Availability To Use PointsPlus
Most of us are booking specific flights according to whether or not they have upgrade space available, so that means you’re going to want to find availability before you book your ticket. This works if you can be flexible with your dates.
If you need to travel at a specific time, it’s likely that you’ll need to book an eligible fare class and join the waitlist rather than confirming an upgrade when you book.
Searching for upgrade availability isn’t a perfect science. Unfortunately, most airlines don’t release how many seats they have available for upgrades, but a good rule of thumb is that if there is saver award space available on United’s site, there is likely upgrade space available as well.
To quickly search for business class saver awards, you’ll go to United’s website and hit Advanced Search. You need to be logged in to do this, as you’ll be searching via miles.
This will bring up the advanced search. You’ll want to make sure you check both Miles and Flexible Dates.
This will bring up United’s excellent fare calendar, which will show you 2 months’ worth of award availability at a glance:
You can then select dates at will and see which airlines have saver awards for business class flights. In the above example we’re searching Los Angeles (LAX) to Frankfurt (FRA), so we’ll want to find some availability for Lufthansa:
In this case, it is likely that there is availability for you to use your PlusPoints to upgrade to business class on this April 26 Lufthansa flight.
Bottom Line: Finding award availability isn’t an exact science, but if you can find saver award availability via United’s website, you’ll probably be able to use your PlusPoints to upgrade.
Booking Eligible Fare Classes With PointsPlus
The actual process of getting an upgrade should be simple, but as with all good things, it isn’t. As we mentioned above, you’re going to need to make sure you’re in the right fare class to be eligible for an upgrade. You’ll also hopefully find upgrade availability, though it’s always possible to waitlist and hope an upgrade clears in time for your flight.
Now that we’ve figured out upgrade availability, let’s take a look at how to find available fare classes using 2 different methods:
Method 1: Searching and Booking via United
United’s flight search program is fairly advanced and also fairly user-friendly, all things considered. This means that when you’re trying to find a specific fare class it isn’t too difficult. To do this you’ll head over to United’s webpage and select Advanced Search:
You’ll put in your information, such as airports, date of departure, and number of passengers that will be flying, then scroll down to Fare class:
Depending on whether you’re looking to upgrade from economy to business or business to first class, you’ll search for different fare classes.
Here’s how ANA’s fare classes break down:
- Upgrade eligible economy or premium economy fares: B, E, G, M, U, Y
- Of these, U is the cheapest eligible fare class, according to United’s website
- Upgrade eligible business class fares: D, C, J
- Upgrade eligible economy or premium economy fares: B, E, G, H, M, Q, U, Y
- Of these, Q is the cheapest eligible fare class, according to United’s website
- Upgrade eligible business class fares: C, D, J
- Upgrade eligible economy fares: A, B, E, H, K, L, M, O, Q, S, T, U, V, W, Y
- Of these, A, E, L, and T are the cheapest eligible fare classes, according to United’s website
Let’s take a look at upgrading a Lufthansa economy class flight to business, using the fare codes we’ve identified above.
Hot Tip: If you’re searching for upgrade eligible fare classes from business to first class, don’t forget to switch your United search from economy/premium economy to business/first class cabins.
As you can see, United has given us results for all fare classes, including our requested fare class. In this case, the fare class we need also happens to be the cheapest one overall. That’s great, but not necessarily always the case, so keep that in mind. If you book a fare that does not qualify for an upgrade, you’ll have to change your flight to include an upgrade eligible fare. Depending on when you do this, you can incur some pretty terrible price differences, so it’s better to do it right the first time.
Now that you’re sure you’ve got the right fare, you can simply book the ticket.
Bottom Line: Finding and booking specific fare classes with United is as simple as searching for your fare class.
Method 2: Searching and Booking Directly With an Airline
If you’d rather book with the airline itself instead of a United codeshare flight, you’re going to have to search according to each airline.
Figuring out which fare class you’re booking on Lufthansa is simple. You’ll simply enter your information and hit search. Then, in the bottom right corner you’ll hit Show Booking Classes:
This will bring up the fare class you’re booking:
On this flight, Lufthansa’s cheapest fare also happens to be upgrade eligible. Great! But what about when it isn’t?
In this image we see a much cheaper option, which leads us to believe it probably isn’t upgrade eligible. Let’s check.
No dice. V is definitely not upgradable. On Lufthansa’s website, it looks like the cheapest option is Premium Economy Basic Plus, and it’s ringing in at $1,851.20. But surely there’s some upgrade eligible economy fare somewhere, right? How do we find it?
Enter ITA Matrix. This handy tool is one of the most comprehensive flight search engines available. You can use it to search for individual fare classes on any airline by using the Advanced Controls feature.
You’ll be putting in your fare classes under Extension Codes and it looks like this: f bc=b. In this case, you’re telling the engine to search only for B fare classes.
If you’re wanting to search more than one fare class, it looks like this: f bc=b|bc=e. In this example you’re searching for both B and E fare classes.
Now, if we want to search for all economy or premium economy upgrade eligible fare classes for Lufthansa it’ll look like this: f bc=b|bc=e|bc=g|bc=m|bc=u|bc=y|bc=h|bc=q.
Here’s how it appears on ITA Matrix:
Why are we going through all this hassle? Because lo and behold, ITA Matrix shows us there is an economy fare class that you can upgrade with your PlusPoints. And it costs $300 less than Lufthansa’s premium economy option.
Now that you’ve correctly identified the fare you’d like to book and how much it’ll cost, you’ll need to call Lufthansa at 800-645-3880 to book your ticket. You’ll need to give them all of the information and make sure you let them know the specific fare class you’re looking to book. It should match what you find on ITA Matrix, down to your flight number and the fare cost.
ANA’s website isn’t the easiest to navigate and, like Lufthansa, it doesn’t allow you to search for specific fare classes. You can see the fare class you’re booking after you search, but there aren’t multiple options available:
H is not an upgradable fare and there’s no way to select a different fare that is. You’ll want to head back over to ITA Matrix to search for your flight. Your extension code will look like this when searching for an economy class flight that you can upgrade to business class: f bc=b|bc=e|bc=g|bc=m|bc=u|bc=y.
ITA Matrix comes back with a U fare class that will cost $1,250:
You’ll need to call ANA directly at 800-235-9262 to book.
Copa’s website doesn’t even show your fare class:
You’re going to want to head to ITA Matrix to search for a flight instead. Here is what your extension code will look like: f bc=a|bc=b|bc=e|bc=h|bc=k|bc=l|bc=m|bc=o|bc=q|bc=s|bc=t|bc=u|bc=v|bc=w|bc=y.
ITA Matrix will populate with all matching results, which includes the above flights:
Now, since the cost for your M class economy ticket on ITA Matrix is the same as the one shown on Copa’s website, it’s likely that that ticket bookable online is going to land you in M.
If you’re not willing to take that risk, you can be certain by calling Copa at 800-359-2672 and having the agent book it for you.
Bottom Line: Booking directly with ANA, Lufthansa, and Copa Airlines requires searching via ITA Matrix and calling the airline to confirm your fare class.
Requesting PointsPlus Upgrades
You may be wondering why in the world anyone would book other than United when you have to go through the hassle of searching via ITA Matrix and calling the airline. And you’re right to wonder — booking with United is much simpler — until it’s time to request your upgrade.
Upgrading if You’ve Booked Directly With the Airline
United has 2 different ways of requesting an upgrade based on how you’ve booked your flight. If you’ve booked directly with the airline you’re flying on, you need to fill out an online form.
Once you’ve completed the form, you’ll hit Check Upgrade Availability.
United will then search for upgrade availability and confirm you into your new cabin instantly if there’s room. Ta-da!
If you have instead booked via United’s website on a codeshare flight, you will need to call United’s customer service desk at 800-864-8331 to request an upgrade.
Our First-Hand Experience
Calling United wouldn’t be so bad if its customer service representatives knew about these upgrades, how to apply them, or basically anything regarding PlusPoints for partner airlines.
In trying to use PlusPoints to upgrade a codeshare Lufthansa flight, our experience required 4 different representatives (HUCA), several hours, and a lot of frustration to get the PlusPoints applied in the first place. The agent ended up double-charging PlusPoints and needed to contact a manager to even enable the redemption.
Using PlusPoints in this way can also result in unfortunate confusion between partner airlines. In our case, for whatever reason, Lufthansa couldn’t see the upgrade — worse yet, it couldn’t see the ticket at all. As far as Lufthansa (and its many call center representatives) were concerned, the ticket had not been issued and was not valid for flying on Lufthansa. United’s representatives insisted that the ticket was issued and the airport gate agents would be able to finalize the upgrade upon arrival.
This obviously resulted in a lot of tension, since we weren’t sure that we had an upgrade or even a ticket at all. We couldn’t check in online or choose seats. We just had to show up.
Fortunately, United’s agents were correct and Lufthansa’s gate agents processed everything with ease. This, however, is not the recommended path if you suffer from heart problems or want to have any control over seating.
Bottom Line: It may be a hassle to book upfront directly with the airline, but it can result in a less stressful experience overall.
Using your PlusPoints to upgrade with partner airlines isn’t something that’s talked about often, but the ability to use the upgrade points you receive as a United elite on 3 separate partner airlines (Lufthansa, Copa, and ANA) is a unique and very valuable feature.
Of course, there are several hoops you have to jump through to make these redemptions — from finding available upgrade space to making sure you purchase an eligible fare class — but if you can swing it, you’ll find yourself sipping Champagne in some of the best first and business class cabins in the world.