United is discounting Skip Waitlist, MileagePlus Upgrade Awards

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Demand for leisure travel continues to grow by the week — with more Americans getting vaccinated, and the world opening up to U.S. passport holders, I imagine that’s a trend we’ll continue to see over the next couple of months.

Like other global airlines, United wants to be in the best possible position to capitalize on that renewed travel interest. United has been quick to expand service throughout the pandemic, and now the airline is adding extra incentives to book, in the form of discounted premium-cabin upgrades.

TPG had a chance to chat with Luc Bondar, the head of MileagePlus, who outlined two especially appealing promotions that help make it more cost-effective to lock in a long-haul upgrade.

The first option applies to all MileagePlus members, giving customers an opportunity to redeem their miles to move up to Polaris business class on flights between the U.S. and Europe at a discount. While the mileage co-pay requirement remains the same, cash co-pays have been discounted by 25%, as outlined below.

Some upgrades will be waitlisted — you may clear into Premium Plus or business class before the day of departure, or at the gate — though many flights have availability to confirm an upgrade at booking. See our guide to upgrading your United flight for more.

If you’re looking to grow your United balance quickly, the speediest option is to transfer points instantly from Ultimate Rewards, earned with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

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Meanwhile, Premier 1K and Global Services members can score a discount when confirming a seat in business class using the airline’s “Skip Waitlist” option.

Previously, confirmed Skip Waitlist redemptions required 140 PlusPoints to move from economy to Polaris or 70 PlusPoints to upgrade to Premium Economy — those redemptions currently require 100 and 50 PlusPoints, respectively.

The airline has also expanded Skip Waitlist to include many flights between the U.S. and Europe, along with flights to other destinations. See this detailed post for a closer look at how to take advantage.

Both of these promotions are in place for travel between now and Sept. 15, 2021. It’s possible that United could extend them into the fall and winter, perhaps depending on whether or not business travel demand returns.

What’s clear is that there’s growing demand among leisure travelers — it remains to be seen whether or not that momentum will continue to grow.

“When I look at the award booking activity that we’ve had over the last 30 days, and then the last 14 days and then the last seven days, these are record levels that we’re seeing, Bondar said. “[This Tuesday] alone was our single largest booking day for awards [since the start of the pandemic],” he said.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free. 

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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