Friday will be another travel day for me as I return to Los Angeles for the Easter holiday. My United flight back to LAX, operated by a 757-200 with 24 first class seats, has been zeroed out for about a week now in both first and economy class. I called United this afternoon and found that economy class is “way oversold” but first class is only booked 10/24, as the seat map suggests.
With the flight zeroed out, the option to request an upgrade has disappeared on united.com. I suppose I could call up and waitlist a regional upgrade on the flight, but I am going to hold back–I want to see if I end up getting this complimentary upgrade. Under the old United, I would have absolutely no worries about getting it, but with the new post-merger system that aggressively sells upgrades for relatively little out of pocket, I just wonder how United is going to handle this oversell.
I have a prediction: with economy booked well over capacity and first class lightly filled at the moment, I bet we’ll see buy-ups to first class for cheaper than usual. The problem is United does not always offer these deals to elites. I also cannot do a dummy booking and see what the buy-up price would be for someone with no status because the flight is zeroed out. In other words, I do not have a way to test my theory, but nevertheless, I predict we’ll see $99 upgrades or less offered to passengers at check-in (which admittedly, is a good price but a price still too high for me to justify) while elites remain waitlisted. United has two upgrade systems, but it is not clear when one or the other kicks in. The first is simply the difference between your fare class and the cheapest (Y, B, M) upgradable economy fare class (or full-fare for non-elites) that would confirm you into first class. The second is a flat dollar amount for the upgrade, annoyingly used at times when dozens of elites are still on the waitlist for an upgrade. That’s where we see the really cheap upgrades seemingly selectively offered to non-elite passengers upon check-in.
Just another example of the not-so-transparent world of upgrades at the new United. I trust that as UA develops its new system, dynamic waitlisting of upgrades will return and understanding whether or not we are on the upgrade waitlist will not just be a matter of faith, as it is today until check-in.