Friendly Skies reported earlier today that United has asked Expert Flyer to stop displaying upgrade and award space beginning Friday, October 30, 2013. United responded this evening, blaming Expert Flyer for accessing space in an unauthorized manner and promising there would still be other avenues to check this space.
Currently, Expert Flyer provides an easy way to check upgrade and special elite-only award space across one week intervals between an origin and destination. Multiple connections are searched and in just seconds you can gauge whether a flight or routing will have any confirmed upgrade or award space available. Even better, Expert Flyer has an automated system that will send you an e-mail alert should space open at a later time on your desired flight.
All that will be history on Friday, with United placing the blame on Expert Flyer (bolding mine):
We recognize the importance and value to you of accessible and transparent information about United flights. It’s a meaningful part of your travel planning, and we are committed to providing useful information that is both accurate and preserves the integrity of United’s data and systems.
While we are committed to data transparency, Expert Flyer has been accessing united.com in an unauthorized fashion to retrieve UA availability. In addition, these activities have consumed significant united.com bandwidth that could otherwise be used by regular consumers. As a result, we had to take this action to protect the security and integrity of United’s systems.
Thank you for your understanding as to why we had to take this action. We continue to look at ways in which we can provide you with timely and useful information (some of which you will see in new releases of our own digital channels) as well as with partners that have authorized access to our data.
Sr. Manager – Customer Experience Planning
My hunch is that Expert Flyer would not pony up for access any longer, but this statement from United casts doubts on Expert Flyer’s claims that they did not screen scrape from united.com.
This is not the first time United has moved with an iron fist–United removed this info from united.com about a year ago only to bring it back quickly after much protest.
United claims Expert Flyer is pilfering significant bandwidth from “regular consumers” but I do not think bandwidth has anything to do with it. Furthermore, what is a regular customer? The only reason customers like me use Expert Flyer on a daily basis is because united.com makes it so incredibly difficult to search for upgrade space compared to the ease of Expert Flyer. Now, instead of “clogging” United’s bandwidth with upgrade search inquiries, customers will be clogging United’s telephone lines with requests for agents to do the work for them. I do not see that as a smart policy choice. But I also do not think that was United’s primary consideration in cutting Expert Flyer off.
The real reason for this change is that United’s upgrade system is broken. At about 24 hours before a flight, any unsold premium class seats convert to both upgrade (R) and award (I) or (O) class space, meaning anyone can call in an “jump the queue” on the upgrade waitlist to confirm an upgrade using miles, RPUs, or GPUs. I sense this has something to do with United’s systematic attempt to sell upgrades to customers checking in before upgrading elites, but the end result has become increasingly unsavory for those who play by the rules and wind up in coach due to line-jumpers (and lucrative for those who know that R will open and take advantage).
So SFOTurtle on Flyertalk sums up United’s true concern in a pithy way: “We’re tired of admitting that our upgrade waitlist system doesn’t function and people still are not being cleared automatically and our agents are having to spend countless hours manually processing upgrades that should have been done without any human involvement, so if we shut down one avenue of information that our top fliers used to determine that they were potentially getting screwed by not clearing a waitlisted upgrade when R space opens up, and covering up (albeit poorly) that our IT systems are so bad that this seemingly easy fix is irremediable, then perhaps a fair number of our most loyal customers whose upgrades should have cleared will never know they didn’t and perhaps they will just give up calling agents to have their upgrades cleared manually.”
So wry, but so true in my mind. This folks, is the real reason behind the policy change.
But United, be warned. txp provides a hypothetical phone call to see how snarled the call centers could soon become:
Hi, I am looking for upgrade space for an upcoming transatlantic travel. I have some flexibility with travel dates, and also I don’t mind connecting at one of your gateways if this can guarantee an upgrade. So, what I would like to do is check all possible TATL routes, one by one. My travel window is the five-day period from xx/xx/2014 to xx/yy/2014. Are you ready? Let’s get started.
First, could you please check IAH-FRA for these five days?
What about IAH-AMS, same five days?
What about EWR-CDG, same five days? What about EWR-AMS? And, EWR-FRA? Wait, there is a EWR-BRU also. Also, EWR-DUS could work.
OK, let’s try ORD now. Same gateways in Europe, one-by-one please, same five-day window.
Wait, I’m not done. Let’s try IAD, same gateways.
Just when you thought I would be done — let’s try DEN and the west coast also…
OK, now that I found upgrade space from EWR to DUS, let me book the domestic flight. What is available from IAH to EWR? What about AUS to EWR? And DFW to EWR?
OK, now, let’s try the return flight. Here is my five-day window for the return, and I would like to search for all trans-Atlantic flights from either FRA, AMS, BRU, LHR or CDG into any of your major US gateways.
And then, of course, I would want to check domestic upgrade availability as well…
* * *
One piece of good news is that at least for now, upgrade space can still be searched on united.com:
Expert mode/visibility in UA channels is unaffected by this.
The KVS search tool will also continue to offer searches for United upgrade and elite award space, though its ugly, Windows-only platform makes it a much less desirable tool than Expert Flyer.
But unless United is willing to develop its own method for allowing customers to rapidly check upgrade space and make purchasing decisions based on that, United will soon find that it has only made the matter worse. All those flyers who use Expert Flyer now to track award and upgrade space are not suddenly going to say, oh well–I guess I’ll just leave it to chance.
Not a chance…