Did I Screw Up the Upgrade Queue on My LAX-DEN United Flight?

After posting about the intrigue surrounding United Airline's complimentary upgrade process yesterday, reader Dan left this insightful comment:

It's very simple -- there is someone ahead of you in the CPU queue who has a ticket 'out of sync' issue. This prevents the entire CPU process from running at the pre-determined times. You are correct that R>0 does not automatically equal a CPU being awarded, but R>=2 is just about a guarantee of it. R=9 and no CPUs means there is a certain problem.

This is yet another example of the terribad IT fail of COdbaUA. I know you've decided to stay loyal to UA despite these rediculous failings, but this is the price you pay. All 9+ of these upgrades may be sold for $69 tomorrow to non-status pax tomorrow -- good luck to you!

His comments concerned me and moments after reading them, I picked up the phone and dialed the United Premier Line. I was determined not to get stuck in economy class on my Denver flight tomorrow.

Rather rudely, the first question I asked when I reached an agent was "are you in the Honolulu call center?" I get sick of speaking to mostly ex-Cons, who are mired in "the computer is always right" mentality. Legacy United agents are able to think outside the box, and I reached a wonderful agent in Honolulu on my first try.

I explained the issue to her, saying nearly verbatim what Dan had written above. She agreed that there was something wrong and put me on hold, saying she would try to get to the bottom of it.

15 minutes later she came back on, sheepishly apologizing and saying she and her supervisor had been doing their best to override the system and manually upgrade me, but because my LAX-DEN-PHL flights were married segments, she had ultimately failed.

I thanked her for her efforts and hung up. Next up--United web support. Perhaps if the res. agents could not fix the problem, a supervisor at web support could.

I reached a nice lady in Tampa and again recited the spiel from Dan above. Her answer surprised me.

"Yes sir, that's a known problem. Let me see if I can fix this for you." She then put me on hold, coming back five minutes later with a triumphant proclomation that I had been upgraded to first class.

She blamed UA's SHARES system, stating this type of upgrade problem happens often when there are married segments on an itinerary and that it was MY reservation that was holding up the queue. Oops.

So now I am confirmed in first class tomorrow, though I am not sure anymore it was my itinerary that was the problem. The flight dropped to R8 after my upgrade was cleared, but one day later (and less than 24 hour before departure) is back up to R9. Surely, a hub-hub 757-200 must have more elites on it?


In any case, I got my seat. Thank you Dan!


Dan August 26, 2012 at 10:47 pm

That's pretty funny that it was YOUR reservation which was the problem!!! I'm glad you called and got the upgrade -- I would have suggested it, but I had heard they were cracking down on manually processed CPUs -- good call on using web support!

I understand their desire to crack down on manually processed upgrades in such situations (and others who will tell you it is wrong to call and 'jump' the queue), but I disagree. The fundamental issue (beyond the bad IT) is the selling of upgrades at check-in. In an ideal world, a problem with the CPU process would just mean that 9+ upgrades are processed in the proper order at the gate. However, once that T-24h hits and the computer sees R>9, it kicks into high gear trying to sell upgrades to any and everyone at check-in. Net-net: I have and will call in such egregious situations.

In terms of some additional thoughts on how the system currently works, here is how I understand it:

-- PmUA's system was a dynamic waitlist where there is actually a constantly updated, prioritized list of people in line for upgrades. People were added to the list in the appropriate order at their windows, and any moment after that when a NC/NF seat opened up, the next in line received it.

-- Under SHARES, at any given point in time, there is no list at all. That's why most pmCO agents throw up their hands and tell you that the computer has to take care of it -- as far as they are concerned, that is the only option. The priority for CPU upgrades under SHARES is computed at specific 'sweeps'. A process runs around 120/96/72/48/24 hours out and computes the current priority for all eligible passengers.

-- This runs into trouble, however, when even a single passenger has an issue with their ticket (like your married segment). The computer doesn't know where to prioritize this passenger, so it simply gives up and upgrades no one.

-- Back to when the system is working properly, the 'sweeps' look at the available 'R' inventory, the people on the list, the load factor, what Jeff Smisek ate for breakfast that morning, the current lunar phase, and who knows what else, and decides how many people to upgrade. R inventory is the upper bound here (nothing can happen when R=0), but the system rarely uses up all inventory. If R=4 when the sweep happens, it would not be uncommon for the system to upgrade 2 people or even 3, but rarely all 4. That being said, if R>2 and no one gets upgraded within a couple hours of the window (sweeps are not always exactly at 96h), then there is a good chance someone is clogging up the queue, and if it is an important upgrade, it's worth trying to find a phone agent who will force it.

-- Upgrade sweeps also happen between around T-3h (can't remember the exact cutoff), and T-24h, EVERY time a person checks in for the flight. This is pmCO's kludge/hack to make upgrades within 24 hours seem like real dynamic waitlisting, but it has a couple of side effects:

1) If you check in, it seems the actual sweep for your checkin happens sometime after you are presented with upsell options. This means you could check in, be presented with a cheap upgrade offer, decide against it, and then be CPU upgraded as soon as the sweep happens when you complete your check in. Quite the game of chicken.

2) If you are checking in at T>24h since you are connecting from another flight, the 24h sweep and <24h every checkin sweep will not occur. Also keep this in mind when evaluating any upsell offers.

The end result is a very unfortunate situation. I know I feel like I need to be twice as vigilant to make sure things are working as expected. It's twice as bad with CR1s/SWUs/Miles with the waitlists not always processing when R inventory shows up, and the waitlists expiring at 24hours out.

In any case, glad you are in F tomorrow!


ptahcha August 28, 2012 at 09:11 am

Very interesting - did not know this is a known issue. Had a similar situation where R=>9 and I'm within upgrade window, yet they didn't do any upgrade for more than 36 hours. Ultimately it cleared 48 hours out - me and another passenger, but it still left 12 empty seats in F.

colpuck August 28, 2012 at 11:17 am

At least you admitted to being rude.

jdb783 August 29, 2012 at 12:53 am

I was curious to know how you can see whether there are R seats available. Which site is this information visible on.


Charles August 29, 2012 at 11:40 am

me too.. I would like to know if it is possible for the public to access the site to see the R number...?? It would be most useful! [or someone that we can contact to find this out...?] Thank you

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