United.com Restores "Expert" Mode

After intense pressure from frequent flyers, United Airlines backed down and agreed to restore the ability to view upgrade availability online last week. Today, that functionality is back. Similar to the way it was for the pre-merger united.com, however, you must opt-in to view the fare buckets--including upgrade and award buckets.

Login to your MileagePlus account, click on "Manage Profile" in the Profile box where your address and username are, then you can check a box to enable "Expert" mode. You'll encounter the following warning/instructions:


Expert Mode is a fare class availability feature designed to help our most experienced travelers with the planning process. This feature is intended for informational purposes only, and may not always match our exact availability or reflect the stages of our upgrade processes.

Please keep the following considerations in mind when using Expert Mode:

  • This is not a forecasting tool. Availability levels in certain fare classes should not be interpreted as indicating that we will make other fare classes available.
  • The presence of a particular fare class does not mean that there is a fare associated with it. For example, we may offer availability in a discounted fare class, but that does not necessarily mean we have published a fare that corresponds to it.
  • Not all upgrades are cleared in real time. Our process of clearing upgrades varies based on the type of upgrade and when the upgrade inventory becomes available. Upgrades that are not able to be cleared in advance will be managed at the departure gate, subject to availability and in priority order.
    • Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPUs): As a Premier member awaiting a CPU, you may see upgrade availability and still not be cleared. This is because the process for clearing CPUs runs at 24-hour intervals before the departure date based on the eligibility window for your Premier status. Inside of 24 hours, the process will run more frequently. When these processes run, they take into consideration all customers awaiting an upgrade at that time and clear them in priority order.
    • All other MileagePlus upgrades: For all other MileagePlus upgrades, waitlists are cleared in real time except during the 24-hour period before trip departure. Inside this 24-hour window, upgrades requested for flights in CPU-eligible regions will be cleared using the same automated system that processes CPUs. For all other flights, upgrade clearance inside of 24 hours will be managed at the departure gate in priority order.
  • Our phone agents will not clear pending upgrades. Our representatives do not have complete visibility into the upgrade priority order for a given flight. Because we would not want to potentially clear customers in the wrong order, upgrades are only processed by our automated system, or at the gate prior to departure. You can view the status of your pending upgrade through Manage Reservations on united.com
  • Availability changes frequently. Availability for specific fare classes changes frequently, and sometimes the fare class information we provide in Expert Mode may not be completely up to date. While this is rare for United- and United Express-operated flights, it is not uncommon with flights operated by our codeshare partners and other airlines. Due to these potential discrepancies, we are not able to honor availability based on what is displayed in Expert Mode.

United Airlines reserves the right to limit access to this feature at its sole discretion.

This is nothing short of a confirmation that their upgrade system is broken. While United's new upgrade "pending" status was a welcome addition, it does nothing to address the core problem of the upgrade system--which both Damian and I have recently addressed.

Despite the "warning" above, if you find yourself waitlisted for a mileage or instrument-supported upgrade--even within 24 hours before travel--and you find R space, do not wait for the system to work--call United immediately to clear yourself into business or first.


United won't like to hear that, but upgrade clearance of these RPU, GPU, and mileage supported upgrades should clear in real-time and any lag in the system means someone else--perhaps a once-a-year traveler checking into his flight and being offered a $99 upgrade--will likely take the seat before you get it. Better safe than sorry.


DanR September 25, 2012 at 09:27 am

I click on "manage profile" but there is no box to tick after that for an "expert mode"

@DanR, did you scroll all the way down to the bottom?

steve64 September 25, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Matthew, I enjoy your blog but must respectfully disagree with you on this post. Nowhere do I see anything "short of a confirmation that their upgrade system is broken". What I do see is specific confirmation of what I've thought all along; their upgrade system runs in batch mode, not realtime.

In today's world, batch mode really isn't optimum for this process. But not being "optimum" is far away from being "broken". This gap between the time that Yield Management programs will open R inventory and the time that upgrade logic will use that inventory, is the root of the problem. If left alone, the "broken" upgrade logic will process passengers in the correct priority order. To circumvent the downside of this gap, there needs to be a policy that Agents do NOT manually upgrade into R inventory. Optimum ?? Absolutely not. Frustrating to the waitlisted passenger who sees R available ? You bet it is ! Does that frustrated passenger think that R seat should be his ? He/she may think "yes", but the truth is that they don't know. Neither do the Agents that the passenger keeps calling.

So what's broken here are ... 1) the passengers who've learned about the gap and call in to jump the queue 2) the Agents who bypass the circumvention (thus proper prioritization) by manually processing R upgrades.

To address #1, UACO decided to stop displaying inventory. To address #2, I'll assume UACO has sent out a memo re-stating the policy NOT to upgrade into R. Perhaps they've also restricted the ability to Supervisors.

The 1st fix to address #1 didn't go over so well. So they restricted inventory access to passengers that opt-in. To opt-in, you must agree to the disclaimer you copied in your post. To repeat, the disclaimer specifically states (admits that) upgrades are not processed realtime and that Agents are not to upgrade into R.

So your advice, when we see the "R upgrade gap" in action, is to call and get our upgrade processed manually. Did you not read the disclaimer (are you not a Law Student) ? Calling in puts the issue back to square one. If we all followed your advice, it leaves UACO no choice but to remove "expert mode" again.

Rather than fighting the airline, would it not be better for everyone if we accepted that things have changed with the merger so maybe we need to adapt (or move to another airline). Shouldn't we read the disclaimer as useful insight into (good or bad) how the system works; what some of its limitations are and what to expect when we personally are experiencing the limitation ?

To your final point, I'll just have to assume the gap exists. But it's such a small window, that I doubt it happens often. You're really talking only about R inventory that opens up around the 24 hour (before departure) mark, while your advice seems to be talking in general. The previous removal of inventory display was in general and not specific to the 24 hour mark. Transferring into "check-in" mode opens up many other gaps and challenges. I have theories but this reply is too long as it is.

Happy Travels :) Steve

steve64 September 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm

@DanR : For me, I had an extra step in between. From "Manage Profile", I had to scroll to the bottom to "Preferences" then click "View All Flight Search Preferences". Scroll down that screen and you'll see the disclaimer that Matthew copied. The "check box" is at the end of the disclaimer.

Steve, I appreciate your comments, but must respectfully disagree. In the last month, as both Damian and I have blogged about, R space has been released at the 24hr mark, but the sweep has missed it--probably by seconds. This is unacceptable and frankly broken, because when R space is available within the 24hr window, it triggers TOD upgrades. I cannot blame UA for not fixing it--it leads to more revenue--but I must advise people to continue to call if R space is available and your instrument-supported upgrade has not cleared. Of course I am not telling people to call if they are waiting for a complimentary upgrade and see R space. Note the rules say agents will not clear pending upgrades which are different than waitlisted upgrades (when using miles or confirmed upgrades). CPUs never are waitlisted.

DanR September 25, 2012 at 04:24 pm

@Matthew and @Steve64: I had to do that extra step "View All Flight Search Preferences" and found expert mode! Thanks :-)

Damian September 25, 2012 at 05:38 pm

@ Steve, here is the major reason for why this system is broken. My co-worker was booked and wait listed on a flight from FRA-IAD. I was traveling the same day but on a different flight out of FRA. I noticed that "R" space was open on a the 5pm flight, so I had my booking changed and cleared right away at booking. My co-worker who was on the 5pm and wait listed is still wait listed and he booked weeks ahead of me. This is for a flight in a week. So because I was a new booking I got that R space and who ever was wait listed is still waiting. Your telling me that is not broken. I had no idea at the time the my co-worker did not clear until I went in to work telling him I was now on the same flight in C. He pulled his booking up, still waiting. ;( That's broken.

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