My next favorite United Airlines flight out of LAX after any of the premium service departures to JFK is the morning 777 to Washington Dulles. I’ve never missed an upgrade on it and the flight is perfectly timed for a great array of connection opportunities at IAD.
I flew it again this past week, but I didn’t clear the upgrade at the 100-hour 1K window. I assumed I would the next day, though, as I’ve noticed lately that my complimentary upgrades rarely confirm right at the window on heavily booked flights. It didn’t clear the next day, however, or the day after that.
At 100-hours out, the business cabin showed availability as C9 D9 Z9 with oodles of seats unassigned, so I wasn’t worried. When Premier Exec’s usually clear at 72-hours out, availability again showed C9 D9 Z9, so I assumed they were just holding off upgrade space, possibly due to an aircraft swap. At 48-hours out, availability went to C2 D0 Z0. Wow, this would be a first for me to miss an upgrade if it really remained a 777, even if it did swap to a new configuration aircraft with fewer business class seats.
When I checked in for the flight, I noticed via United’s mobile iPhone app (love the transparency it provides) that I was number two on the upgrade list of about 20 or so passengers. I didn’t like my chances, though, since I knew more 1Ks or Global Service passengers would check-in and likely be on higher fares than my ridiculously cheap G-fare.
The aircraft did end up switching to a new configuration lie-flat International Premium Travel Experience 777 after I checked in, so I assumed that’s why United’s Inventory Management held off on releasing space. Later that day (since I obsessively check and re-check my flights), I noticed my name was gone from the upgrade list on the mobile app. I had to call three times until I finally got an agent that was able to get me back on the list, and again I was number two for a business class seat. I resigned myself to accepting it was going to be a battlefield upgrade at the gate.
When I got to the airport, I inquired with an agent at the United Club what my position was on the list. I was still number two, but it looked good with three seats open an hour before departure. I headed to the gate and took a seat close to the counter.
A fellow mileage runner with whom I’ve flown with previously noticed me and came over to say hello. He mentioned his upgrade cleared right at the window and that he, too, was on a G-fare. Ack! Why didn’t I clear? In the end, I did end up getting my upgrade and survived a middle seat in the business class cabin, but I realized a mistake I made and wanted to share it here.
When my upgrade didn’t clear at the 100-hour window, a new segment did appear in my itinerary showing the waitlisted segment, so I just assumed NC (upgrade) space was indeed zero. Each time I checked availability, I simply looked at standard flight availability and didn’t go deeper into the “Book with miles” (advanced mode) option to view NC space. Big mistake.
Had I gone in and viewed the total picture of availability, I would have likely seen that NC space was available and then called in to confirm my upgrade. In the grand scheme of things it really wasn’t a big deal, of course, but when I saw availability drop to C2, I have to admit I was sort of panicked.
So… this post is a friendly reminder to investigate deeper if your upgrade doesn’t clear as expected since automation does sometimes fail and human intervention is required. I’ll certainly be more vigilant my next waitlisted upgrade.