A good… no, bad… no, good… no, bad start to the year…

In trying to get a head start on elite requalification with United for the year, I’ve done quite a bit of travel this weekend. Since I was returning from my trip on Sunday night, I decided to route through Los Angeles instead of San Francisco when heading back east, since upgrades are usually much easier out of Los Angeles. I booked the Los Angeles to Washington Dulles redeye on United, and figured I had a good shot at the upgrade. Heck, my upgrade percentage was something like 99.4% last year. It was a domestic 767, with 25 empty first class seats before the 1K upgrade window. There can’t possibly be 25 1Ks ahead of me, right? Well, I get to the gate, only to find that I’m number five on the upgrade list with first class checked in full. Guess there were 30+ 1Ks on higher fares than me… and I was even on an “S” fare, which isn’t the lowest fare bucket.

You don’t really appreciate first class until your upgrade doesn’t clear, it seems! On the plus side, the flight was oversold, so I managed to bump and get rebooked on a flight tomorrow. The nice thing about getting bumped isn’t only the $400 in travel credits one receives, but also that the agent will typically rebook you in full fare coach (or sometimes even first class), giving you a great shot at the upgrade, since upgrades are sorted by status, fare class, and then time added to the waitlist.

Let’s just say I had a very by the book agent (which I can’t blame her for), to the point that she called inventory management to open up the original fare class I was booked in. Sure enough, no full fare bonus for me, and I’m waitlisted for upgrades on both segments heading home.

After the agent processed my bump I went to the customer service counter to see where I was on the upgrade list. “Honey, you ain’t on the list,” she said. After pushing the “scroll down” button several more times, she said “oh wait, here you are, you’re number 20 on the upgrade list…. we got a ton of 1Ks lately, it seems.” Not only that, but I have a middle seat in the middle section of five seats on a 777.

Sad to have missed an upgrade so early in the year, happy to have been bumped, and not so happy to be something like number 20 on the upgrade list tomorrow with a center seat in a block of five seats.

There’s no doubt that this time of year is actually among the toughest to get an upgrade,  since there are the most 1Ks out there. Those that were 1K last year but dropped down to a lower status level are still 1K for the remainder of the month, and all the new 1Ks have the status as well.

Wish me luck… or at least an aisle seat! And I’m looking forward to February 1.

Filed Under: Mileage Runs, United
  1. Not sure if UA even did a targeted DEQM promotion in 2010, so you might see an overall reduction of 1Ks on February 1st after all those who qualified during the 2009 DEQM bonanzas and failed to requalify in 2010 revert to a lower status. Of course UA may have grown the program last year, so could be a wash for all we know. And there is fear of the unknown for upgrades in 2012 given the new leadership.

  2. that’s why I ‘ve been stuck to p.s. routes, even coughing up for $600 Z fare (of course redueced with bump vouchers) on UA… waiting it out til february.

  3. an interesting point to note (that I just realized as a DL flier) is that while Feb 1 is the drop off date for elites, March 1 is DLs date.

    Best of luck on another bump 🙂

  4. If UA processed their upgrades normally ahead of time like DL instead of being really stingy/greedy and holding way too many first seats back to sell, things would be so much better for UA elites. The Sat night LAX-IAD flight was oversold by quite a bit, and the gate agent was rebooking everyone on the 777 Sun AM which had no coach left, but “plenty of business”, even though the flights before and after it had Y available! Great for everyone who gets bumped, really sucks for all the elites who didn’t get upgraded because all the non-elite bumps from the weekend are sitting up there. When boarding there were quite a few 1K’s heading back to coach (yeah…I was checking out all their boarding passes). While an upgrade is never a guarantee, it is disheartening to know that if UA cleared more upgrades in advance, people who have “earned” their upgrades will be up front instead of those who happened upon it. Now this would be a “change in the months ahead” that Mr Smisek would be right in thinking that we would like it.

  5. Lucky

    Those who will not re-qualify as 1K post Jan 31, are they dropped down to Premier Exec, or to no status at all??


  6. Congrats on your first bump of the year! Sorry it sounds like you’re going to miss the upgrade to business. I sense an aisle, or at least a window in your future.

  7. I missed out on my first bump of the year because I didn’t dare take the bump on my LAX-SEA last week.. had I known my AC flight to YVR was going from the gate next to the UA gate, I’d have taken my 400 bucks… oh well I’m a European, still learning layouts at some US airports..

    I did also notice the heavy 1K load on my LAX-BOS red-eye last night… luckily I was booked in F so didn’t need to worry about the upgrade (which as a BD *G would never happen anyway)!

    Sorry to hear about your upgrade struggles, but I suppose you can take the bump as a plaster on the wound!

  8. DEN-PHX-DEN over the weekend on 757…I’m just Premiere Exec but no trouble getting first class upgrades in both directions…

  9. This is all CO influence. Waiting till the last minute to process upgrades, therefore losing E+ revenue.

    Also, UA is doing agressive buy ups now, CO style.

    I expect your upgrade percentages to fall, to close to 75%.

    If you’re not happy, move to trAAsh, as long as you don’t mind their antique equipment.

  10. Is there really evidence of UA selling the upgrades CO style? I don’t mind losing out to 1K & partners on higher fare classes, but selling upgrades with 1K’s still in line is treading on thin ice.

  11. I have not seen any evidence of UA selling upgrades “CO style,” either in terms of price, or in terms of sellnig upgrades when NF/NC are zero with 1Ks still in line. I have only seen UA selling upgrades when NF/NC > 0 (meaning all waitlisted upgrades have cleared). I’ve read on FT about one or two GAs manually selling upgrades out of order, but that was way before “CO influence” started, and it’s not clear whether that agent even continued to do so or was stopped.

    The claim that UA is “selling upgrades CO style” is just rumor/allegation at this point, with no documented evidence. As a separate note, some people who claim that CO sells upgrades for “tens of dollars” to anyone who wants them misunderstand or misrepresent CO’s Y/B/M-upfare system in the first place. So it would not too surprisign that they also misunderstand UA’s system and then claim that UA is “selling upgrades CO style.” Sure, on UA, you can buy up to a Y-UP or B-UP fare, but it will cost you as much as if you bought that Y-UP or B-UP fare to begin with ($$$$), plus you’ll have to pay the change fee. :p

  12. @ katey — Members drop down to whatever status they earned for the year. Unlike American, United doesn’t do “soft landings” where they’ll only drop you down a single elite tier.

    @ listen — Given that I cleared 99.4% of my upgrades last year, seems like a bit of a waste to me, not to mention it was a mileage run, so using miles to upgrade would defeat the purpose a bit.

  13. As a CO Plat, I understand that the CO model of offering upgrades at lower cost close to the day of departure is annoying to elites, but it seems incredibly entitled for us elites to complain about it. I mean CO/UA is a for-profit company whose job is to make money. Why should they give a service away for free when they can get people to pay for it?

  14. @Lucky- I’m doing great this month on bumps, so maybe just your routing? I have 4 IAD-LAX routes that I have cleared on, so no complaining from me!!

  15. It might not’ve been 25 1Ks ahead of you on the upgrade list. Longer flights regularly sell paid domestic F inventory well within the upgrade window — remember that quite a few of those business flyers have expense policies which permit them to fly F on long flights, and those same flyers often book last-minute.

    As a CO Plat, I’ve been #2 on the upgrade list (CO lets you check where you are online) with EF showing F6 eight hours prior to departure on SFO-IAH, only to find myself still #2 at the gate because CO sold the seats within the window…

  16. As a premier exec I managed to get upgraded on 10 of 12 domestic flights last year, 6 of those were hub to hub flights.

  17. David, are you sure those F6 that were sold, at least some of them, were not up-selled for “tens of dollars” while you were wait-listed?

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