Yesterday, I posited three theories seeking to explain why United removed the display of upgrade inventory from united.com. I have a fourth one--and my experience today demonstrates why it is most likely the correct one. The reason is not a discrepancy in space displayed versus space available. Nor is it to sell more upgrades or to crack down on screen-scrapers. No, the primary reason is rather simple--the system is broken in a different way and shielding this problem is a much easier fix than actually getting to the root of it.
When you are waitlisted for an upgrade using miles or an upgrade instrument, you are supposed to clear immediately when "R" space becomes available. In reality, though, this happens much less frequently than it should. Take my trip tomorrow, for example...
Just another trip on United from Los Angeles back to Philadelphia, this time via San Francisco. Cloud Commuting graciously sponsored an upgrade on this itinerary (clearing a SFO-PHL afternoon flight with 12 first class seats is just about impossible any other way) but the confirmed upgrade space (R-Class) was not available so the upgrade remained in a waitlisted status.
Fast-forward to 24-hours before departure, when united.com automatically checked me in and sent me this note along with my boarding passes--
Two problems. First, the Los Angeles-San Francisco flight had already cleared--it was the San Francsico-Philadelphia flight I was waiting on. Second, there was R-space available on the SFO-PHL flight! A quick search on united.com revealed it just moments after the e-mail above arrived.
Now United tends to release R space right at the 24hr mark, so it is possible that my online check-in missed the upgrade by a few nanoseconds, but what happened is another clear indication that the upgrade system is broken and nicely demonstrates why United would choose to hide R-space: why let me know that the system is broken when there is no easy fix for it?
Well, a quick called to United got me confirmed into first class on the flight, but it still required a phone call that should not have been necessary. And who knows? Maybe I jumped in front of a couple Global Service flyers trying to upgrade on the flight by calling--but the United guidelines are quite clear--upgrade clearance is supposed to be instantaneous if you apply for an upgrade using miles or a confirmed instrument and there is R space available.
Yet another example of why upgrades are becoming an increasingly burdensome battle on United. I know how to play the game and you therefore will not see me in coach class on a flight more than an hour long, but it should not be this difficult. And for the majority who do not know the ins and outs of United's archaic upgrade system--well, they are just getting hosed.