United Tries to Hide its Upgrade and Award Inventory from Customers

Expert Flyer is no longer able to show United upgrade and award availability. Apparently United contacted them and let them know that they weren’t ‘authorized’ to have access to the information, and demanded that they stop making it available.

United previously demanded that Seatcounter remove access to this information as well.

Over the past several months United has gone to great pains to restrict access to advance confirmable upgrades. Over the summer these upgrades became very sparse for cross-country flights. Overseas flights they’re also much harder than in the past. One explanation for difficulty in upgrading internationally is fewer seats as United reconfigures planes with their new business class. I predicted this would be a problem when they first announced the retrofit of their aircraft, since the new business class cabins feature fewer premium seats (and more coach seats) than their predecessors. And when the possibility exists of an aircraft swap — renovated plane for unrenovated plane, United doesn’t want to be caught having given away their limited inventory. But this hardly explains what’s happening, since it’s not limited to international routes (and I still ahve yet to see a 777 with new business class seats.. there aren’t any).

Rather, United seems to be employing a strategy of making it more and more difficult to upgrade in advance, perhaps thinking that this will encourage people to buy their premium cabin tickets to avoid the wait, anticipation, and angst. But as one long-time 100,000-mile flyer on United put it, “If United succeeds at making it impossible for me to find and use upgrades at time of booking, I will indeed be driven to buying a higher class of service…ON A DIFFERENT AIRLINE that either sells discounted business or that provides a superior higher class of service product.”

Of course, it’s still possible to check on United’s hidden upgrade and award inventory buckets yourself.

  • Log into united.com
  • Make sure your profile is set to expert mode.
  • Seard for a standard award for your desired date and route.
  • Move your mouse over “Flight Info” and fare class availability including hidden buckets will appear for the flight
  • NF and NC are upgraded first and business, respectively; XF, XC, and XY are award first, business, and coach; NY is special 100,000-mile flyer coach award inventory.

Personally, I use the KVS Tool, which in the paid version still includes United upgrade and award availability (as well as easy access to Star Alliance award inventory and many other features). At least until United figures out a way to go after it…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Two comments:

    1) You don’t have to search for a std award — it works fine if you just search for Saver Awards.

    2) It appears that you have to have some sort of status: this works from my account (Premier), but not my wife’s (general member). And yes, both profiles were set to “expert” display mode.

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