Ok, technically they never went away. But when United announced their plan to go to unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades next year, they were going to drop confirmed regional upgrades for 1Ks from the mix.
As I noted at the time,
As speculated yesterday, confirmed regional upgrades go away. Currently 1K members get up to 8 of these a year (promotions aside) and they’re good for confirming a domestic (including Hawaii) upgrade at time of booking from any fare. While there are no more 500 mile upgrades to worry about, there are no more special domestic confirmed upgrades either, there will be far fewer upgrades at booking and more upgrades pushed to the complimentary upgrade window.
Of course any Mileage Plus member can use miles to upgrade domestically, elite or not, but mileage upgrades will have a co-pay next year — and in the case of Hawaii the co-pay is hefty.
The loss of confirmed domestic upgrades for 1Ks was a big one, especially with mileage upgrades requiring a cash co-pay next year.
So bringing these back is a huge benefit for 100,000-mile flyers. As United explained
1K® members will continue to earn Regional Upgrades
Sometimes no change is good news. After our last announcement, we heard from our 1K members how much they value their Regional Upgrades. To thank them for their ongoing loyalty, we’ve decided to continue issuing Regional Upgrades to 1Ks, even after the Unlimited Domestic Upgrades program launches.
Like Lucky, killing confirmed regionals meant that I considered American’s Executive Platinum status to be more valuable than United’s 1K (since Executive Platinums get 8 international confirmed upgrades per year valid on any fare, compared to United’s 6 valid on most fares). Adding back the (up to) 8 confirmed domestic upgrades may just tip the balance back.
Now if they’d only get rid of Starnet blocking (their practice of refusing to book mileage awards on their partners even when the partner airlines are offering them award seats), Mileage Plus would be the clear winner among loyalty programs. No other Star Alliance carrier (including North American partners Continental, Air Canada, US Airways) engages in this practice.