This past Saturday 25 of us flew from San Francisco to Chicago with Captain Denny Flanagan (more on the actual flight is coming shortly). I figured this would be a good opportunity to do a little upgrade priority experiment, given that most of us were 1Ks. While United “experts” (myself included) tend to think we know how United prioritizes upgrades, there’s some mystery factor that goes into it all that I can’t quite figure out. The common wisdom is that the waitlist is prioritized by status, fare class, and then time added to the waitlist, in that order. The waitlist is constantly reprioritized as more people book, and that order holds true days and weeks before departure and also hours before departure, when departure management control kicks in. Actually, common wisdom has it that this is the same order they use for prioritizing standby, the volunteer list (not that competition is usually too fierce there), etc.
But sometimes there’s more to it, and I don’t know what it is. So to test out how upgrade priority really works, I had a friend book an identical fare on the identical flight, but book a few minutes before me. Strangely, my upgrade cleared about three days out, along with several other 1Ks, many of which were even on lower fares. My friend did eventually clear a day out, but that wasn’t the way we know the system to work. He should have cleared before me (since everything else about our tickets was the same), and also before anyone on a lower fare that’s also a 1K.
Interestingly, there was also a 1K on an “M” fare (which is a very high fare class, for those of you not familiar with United), who booked only a few days out. Miraculously, he didn’t clear, even though the original 1K I talked about (that I got my upgrade before) cleared ahead of him a day out, when they both had seats on the flight. By common wisdom, the 1K on an “M” fare should have trumped the 1K on a “V” fare.
On Monday while at O’Hare I decided to try one last trick since I had a couple of hours to spend with my favorite gate agent. He added me to the volunteer list for my flight, and then added a friend on the same flight to the volunteer list, who was on a higher fare than me (and also a 1K). Even after he refreshed the list, I still showed as being number one on the list, despite my friend being a 1K and being on a higher fare. The gate agent could only explain it by suggesting that maybe lifetime miles play a roll in priority, given that he even had more redeemable miles than me.
That’s not to say our previous notions are totally wrong, but clearly there’s a bit more to it… at least sometimes.
Does anyone else feel that maybe lifetime miles play a role? Have any million milers noticed getting upgrades ahead of non-million miler passengers with the same status/fare?
I’m not sure whether to chalk the above up to a fluke or something else.