I suppose it is rather sad that it has taken me so long to figure this out, but my flight to Denver on Monday has finally helped me to understand how Continental’s United’s complimentary elite upgrade system works. In a nutshell: it’s a mystery.
My assumption–clearly wrong–was that when your upgrade window hits, if there is space in “R” class you will be automatically upgraded. Here’s the chart for status-based complimentary upgrade clearance:
|Confirmation (as early as)|
|Global ServicesSM||120 hours / 5 days|
|Premier® 1K®||96 hours / 4 days|
|Premier® Platinum||72 hours / 3 days|
|Premier® Gold||48 hours / 2 days|
|Premier® Silver||Day of departure|
My flight to Denver on Monday has been showing R9 (meaning at least nine upgrade seats are available) since I booked the ticket a week ago. We are now less than 48 hours from the flight, but my upgrade has not cleared, despite a cabin showing most of the first class seats unassigned.
I’ve called United a few times, just to make sure there was nothing wrong with my reservation (because my Denver-Philadelpiha flight cleared right at the 96hr window), but have been assured that everything is fine, the “computer” determines when an upgrade is available even though there is R space available, and I just need to be patient.
It is good to understand a bit better how the system works, but I cannot accept that the system is working as it should or at least the logic of it–if United is hoping to sell more first class seats or paid upgrades, why don’t they just zero out R space? If they are willing to accommodate more upgrades using confirmed instruments or miles, why not have those in a separate fare class like American Airlines does?
That’s the problem with the current complimentary upgrade system. United has hinted they will introduce a more dynamic upgrade system in the future (similar to what legacy United had), where your upgrade status will show pending, waitlisted, or confirmed. I look forward to that day and hope the solution will mark an end to the cloak of secrecy that currently shrouds the complimentary upgrade process. For as we’ve seen multiple times with post-merger United, the computer does not always know best…