United gets rid of “Expert Mode”

United announced this at 5PM on a Friday afternoon, so I think it goes without saying that it’s bad news. Here’s the official announcement:

Hi Everyone,

Later this evening we’ll be making a change on united.com that will remove the ability to see the specific allocation of seat inventory made to each Fare Class (this is the Fare Class hyperlink found in the right-most column when searching for flights or viewing itinerary details). I know that this is a popular feature for many of you here – in fact, we liked it too. But, it wasn’t without issues. Specifically, for many customers who are not as familiar with the ins and outs of fare structures, there was often room for this information to be misinterpreted. It also left the door open for undesired exposure that allowed automated scripts to scrape and re-display information in ways for which it was not intended.

That said, we have great appreciation for the transparency this information offered. For example, having a better understanding of how full a flight is, along with knowing how many other customers want to upgrade on a flight, can be critical in deciding whether to pay to guarantee a seat immediately, use mileage to upgrade, hold out to see if a space-available upgrade will clear or select another flight all together. We are committed to improving transparency around this. But, instead of simply exposing fare class inventory (which is quite confusing to most customers), we are working on better ways to share this more meaningful information. You’ll see one new feature added with this release and even more changes that work toward this effort in future releases.

Shannon Kelly
Director, Customer Insights
United Airlines

United has been ahead of the curve in terms of transparency when it comes to displaying fare classes (including upgrade and award space) on their website.

It’s great to be able to see how much confirmable upgrade and award space there is on a given flight, and also to see all the fare classes without using a paid service. However, it seems they’ll be eliminating this functionality overnight.

Interestingly ExpertFlyer displays the space as well, and if I had to guess I’d say the space will also be removed from there (which for some has huge value, especially since ExpertFlyer allows you to set up availability alerts for when upgrade/award space opens up).

It goes without saying this is awful news and a step backwards. From United’s perspective I suspect this functionality put too much information in the hands of the consumer with no benefit to them, and they didn’t like that. The system that processes upgrades at United has been known to be glitchy since the merger, and often times despite upgrade space being available upgrades haven’t been processed at the upgrade window, causing elite members to call in and manually have the upgrades processed.

Anyway, the decision sucks, though I’m hardly surprised. I wonder if they’ll stop displaying upgrade lists online while they’re at it.


  1. So now how do I find “T” class space (to use my companion voucher) without calling and waiting while the agent searches every flight for me?

  2. @ Mark — ExpertFlyer/KVS and other tools should still display that, since that ultimately is pulled from their GDS and not some website tool.

  3. There is some dispute over on MP if EF and KVS are actually using GDS or not and how they will be affected by this…

  4. United, or, let’s be frank, Continental DBA United, has been on a downward spiral since the anti-elite customer Smisek took the reins.

    Back to the 20th century with Continental!

  5. “I suspect this functionality put too much information in the hands of the consumer with no benefit to them”

    I actually think there is huge benefit to UA. It kept is most loyal flyers happy! 1Ks and GS and other elites use this tool almost daily – I know I do – and it helps me plan my flights, routings and trips without having to call in and have an agent search 2 weeks of fares to Europe to see where R/RN space is avail.

    At a time when UA has lost many 1Ks and GS to AA’s status match, and it seems to be doing everything it can to drive away elites (loss of pillows, odd meal cut off times, expiring GPU’s reduced mileage earning for Golds, “TOD” selling upgrades to general members for $99) United can not afford to be doing something else to tick off it’s best customers.

    I think the benefit to UA was this kept elites happy and booking flights with United.

    As soon as AA gets those a321 transcons I am leaving United for good. They just don’t get it.

  6. I work with someone who’s wife actually works in the IT department for United (I am in Houston). I will ask him to ask her if she knows the rationale behind it.

  7. EF are adamant that they do not screen scrape which would suggest they are using a GDS to get the information they currently provide. If it is the case that they loose access to UA, it will substantially detract from the value proposition that EF provides.

  8. 214 (and counting) posts on FlyerTalk, with everyone on the same side.

    You couldn’t get that level of unanimity from that group if you posted “the sky is blue”…

    How long before the straw/camel images start appearing?

  9. Another 1k flyer that is glad I’ve defected to American. Find me ways to burn my 700k miles on non United metal. Bye bye.

  10. While KVS is a scraping service, EF does utilize the various GDS’, which is why it was able to display X availability on AA before AA stopped publishing it to the Sabre GDS. So I’m pretty sure EF will be spared this time around.

  11. Really dumb customer service move on the part of UA. Humm. You don’t suppose the next step will be to provide this info as part of a new fee-based program.

  12. This is absolute rubbish, but I think the reason UA is doing it so they can sell TODs without their elites knowing and to try and charge higher fares with customers not knowing what fare classes are available. Not being able to see how many upgrades are available is the biggest issue of all.

  13. ExpertFlyer still shows all non upgrade/saver award inventory, meaning the change is obviously so elites aren’t calling in within the upgrade window when they see R/RN>0 and their upgrades haven’t cleared.

  14. UA Insider has posted a followup. I think it’s BS, but for the record:

    Hi Everyone,

    I can certainly appreciate the feedback on this particular topic. I’ve responded to a fair number of PMs tonight and I do want to at least offer a bit of clarification here in the thread as well. I know there’s no explanation that will make the current state better for those of you here. But, at the end of the day, the way in which the information was shared was truly causing issues and confusion for an extremely broad audience. This is what drove the change. This information displays for all customers and there is no ‘expert mode’ setting as there was on the previous site. So, turning it off, as a first step, really is helping mitigate a large volume of issues that our front line co-workers and other customers are experiencing.

    Getting this information back into the hands of the “right” users is our next step. As many of you have suggested, the solution lies somewhere between adding this information as an option in a profile setting to providing even more detail in much smarter ways. I would never couch this as a “change we expect anyone to like”. I can appreciate that it’s seen as a take away. We are committed to making this information more robust and useful though – especially for our expert travelers. I know it can’t happen quickly enough.


  15. Just to inform all here: KVS has come up with a replacement for United’s removal of the upgrade award availability display.

    Here is a link to the KVS update. http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/kvs-tool-ua-upgrade-availability-update.45170/#post-1566098

    This is a link to the KVS UA upgrade booking codes. Scroll down the page to star carriers and view United for the codes. I like the classifications of CU + FU, the FU is an appropriate acronym.

  16. United has announced that one can still see specific fare class availability as before. You just have to opt-in with your MileagePlus account to do so. This will keep the scripts from scraping the feeds, and prevent the uninformed from seeing stuff that would only confuse them. Details on the opt-in process are pending in the next few weeks.

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