As I mentioned earlier this week, I flew a mileage run on United this past Saturday from Reno to Washington Dulles and back. Having a couple of Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs) that would otherwise have gone unused the remainder of the year, I decided to apply them when I booked the ticket last month.
The RPU I applied for my return IAD-SFO-RNO segments cleared immediately, but the SFO-IAD portion of my outbound RNO-SFO-IAD legs remained waitlisted up until check-in opened at 24 hours prior to departure.
At that time, the waitlist expires and upgrades (no matter if they’re RPUs, Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs), mileage-based or complimentary) technically go to airport control and are supposed to be processed at the gate (or “automatically” within the system, but I rarely have had T-24 hour upgrades clear in a heavily booked cabin before reaching the gate in the post-merger world). United even sends out an email explaining this:
We are not yet able to confirm your request for an upgrade on your flight from San Francisco, CA (SFO) to Washington Dulles (IAD). While your upgrade request will no longer appear in your reservation, you will automatically be added to the upgrade standby list after you complete check-in and receive your boarding pass for this flight.
Rest assured that your position on the upgrade standby list will be preserved, even during the period before you check in and are added to the lists shown online and at the airport.
United’s website further clarifies how upgrades are processed within 24 hours:
Priority within 24 hours
New waitlist requests for MileagePlus Upgrade Awards, Regional Premier Upgrades, and Global Premier Upgrades can be made until 24 hours prior to departure. At 24 hours from departure, waitlists will expire and automatic processing of upgrades, per the priority listed above, will continue. As customers check in, they will be placed on an airport upgrade standby list. This standby list will clear after check-in is closed, and is based on Premier status and fare class.
After getting United’s email and noticing that there were already 20+ people on the upgrade standby list mid-day on Friday, I had planned to call United to remove my RPU request on the outbound and revert to the complimentary upgrade route since RNO-SFO isn’t a flight worthy on which to burn a RPU.
Plus, I knew that my chances of getting an upgrade out of SFO would be slim on a lowball “G” fare. I didn’t check-in to see exactly where I’d fall on the list, but I’m certain I wouldn’t have been near the top in elite-heavy SFO. Anyway, my day got away from me and I didn’t call immediately. Later in the day, I received the following email from an alert I had setup with ExpertFlyer:
And indeed, “R” space was available for the sole first class seat remaining in the cabin.
The online forums are ripe with threads discussing the phenomenon where “R” space shows up within 24 hours of a flight and people don’t clear the upgrade list. It’s supposed to be that way according to United’s “policy” as outlined above (and in United.com’s Expert Mode description), but many end up calling in to persuade an agent to clear their upgrade when this occurs. Hence, “jumping the queue.”
Some agents will clear your upgrade and some won’t. Based on what I’ve read, those waiting for a complimentary (non-instrument supported) upgrade have a more difficult time persuading a reluctant agent to process them manually. And they’ll repeatedly use the HUACA (hang up and call again) strategy to find an agent who will do it.
While I no longer suffer from upgrade phobia and would have been content flying coach, I decided “what the hell” and when I called to have my RPU removed, I first asked if there was any chance to clear my upgrade since R space was available. Without hesitation and even saying, “… we truly appreciate how much you fly,” the agent processed my upgrade and grabbed that last seat.
I felt a little dirty and guilty asking for and getting the seat, quite honestly. And I’m certain I jumped over someone who would have had higher priority at the gate (higher fare, status, etc.). Ah well… this will (likely) be my last year as a Premier 1K, so I might as well go out with a bang.
Have you jumped the queue? If so, do you ever feel guilty doing it?
– Follow Darren Booth on Twitter, @FrequentlyFlyin, for more airline, hotel and travel industry news, reviews and opinions.