Update, 9/25: This new program has now been confirmed as written below. It will begin on 12/4/19.
Additionally, you can use 30 PlusPoints to go from Premium Plus class to business and 20 points to go from economy to Premium Plus class on long-haul flights and you can waitlist for both Premium Plus and business class upgrades. On some flights you will also be able to use extra points to confirm an upgrade immediately.
United currently awards their Platinum members 2 regional premier upgrade certificates and their 1K members with 6 global premier upgrade certificates and 2 regional premier upgrade certificates. Additional certificates can be earned through more flying.
FT member Meckl shared a screenshot that implies that United will switch from a certificate based upgrade system to a points based upgrade system called PlusPoints:
The new system would start in December, shortly after United removes their award charts.
Under the new system, Platinum members would get 40 points and 1K members will get 280 points.
You can redeem 20 points for a regional upgrade (like Newark to Los Angeles to Honolulu), you can redeem 40 points for a global upgrade from economy (W fare or higher as it is now) to business class, or 80 points for a global upgrade from discount economy (S, T, L, K, G fares, but not basic economy fares) to business class.
Under the current system, you can’t upgrade from discount economy to business class on a global upgrade, so the new system would allow you to use double points for that upgrade to be used rather than having to buy a more expensive ticket in order to use an upgrade certificate.
The new system would also allow members to optimize their upgrades according to their preference of regional versus global use instead of the fixed system that currently exists.
One drawback noted is if the domestic portion of a global upgrade is cleared, but the international portion doesn’t clear, you would be charged 20 points, which is the cost of a domestic upgrade. Currently you would get back the full global upgrade certificate if only the domestic portion of a global upgrade clears. However you can request to only upgrade the international segment to avoid paying for the domestic upgrade.
But all in all, this seems like a positive move from United and resolves several pain points that their top-tier elites have long complained about.
United may have leaked this to get feedback before its implemented. It remains to be seen if there will be any catches when it’s officially announced, so stay tuned.