I spend a fair amount of time being critical about United Airlines, even though they’re my airline of choice right now. It’s mostly a marriage of convenience. They have the most nonstop flights from my hometown airport.
If I’m being completely honest, the service is okay, but generally not great. WiFi is intermittent. That creates a huge pain point for me as a business traveler. Flights are generally on-time and planes are generally in good repair. They keep adding seats to planes. Those seats are much less comfortable. Up front, they’re slowly updating domestic first class. The new product is better, but overall disappointing. Like American and Delta, United does a pretty darn good job selling those domestic first class seats.
Some of this is inside baseball. I’ll try to break it down in simple terms where I can. I was trying to help out a friend yesterday. I had a Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) that was expiring. For those unaware, a GPU is an instrument that United hands out to 1K members on an annual basis. A GPU can be applied to a paid reservation to upgrade to the next class of service.
As I mentioned before, the airlines have gotten much better at selling business and first class seats at a discount. This is true both domestically and internationally. Having a GPU clear is not a foregone conclusion. For my travel patterns, it’s far from a certainty (hence the reason I had some left over at the end of the year).
My friend had already applied a GPU to his reservation for a long flight to Asia. He’d been upgraded, but he had used a GPU that wouldn’t expire until 2019. I had one that expired in 2 weeks. I was willing to give him mine so he could save his for some other flight. The key here is to make sure the right inventory is available to make the switch. In this case, “R” is the fare bucket.
He and I were texting back and forth. His assistant was going to call in and remove his GPU from the record. Then, I would call in and apply mine. As long as there was R inventory, all would be fine.
Except, there wasn’t.
But, his assistant had already called in to remove the upgrade. In frequent traveler parlance, this was really bad. My friend had gone from a lie-flat bed on his long flight to Asia back to a regular coach seat.
Just a brief aside. If there’s one thing I think the agent helping her could have done was take some more time to emphasize how unlikely it would be for her boss to clear his upgrade again. Maybe the outcome would have been the same, but I would hope a good agent would try to save the assistant from doing something bad.
While I knew it was a lost cause, I called United to beg them to help. I felt bad. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and neither had his assistant. However, the inventory for the flight was such that the chance he would “re-clear” an upgrade now was virtually zero.
I explained everything to the United 1K agent who answered my call. She was sympathetic but her hands were tied. Crap! My friend was really going to be stuck with 14 hours in coach. Now, my effort to help was indirectly making things much worse for him.
I asked her if I could speak with a supervisor and plead my case. She told me what I already knew, “Sure, I’ll connect you to a supervisor. But, there’s really nothing they can do.”
I was on hold for 5 or 6 minutes. When the agent came back on she said, “Well, it must be your lucky day. The supervisor is taking pity on your friend and putting him back in business class.”
The Final Two Pennies
24 hours later I’m still shaking my head as I type this. And, I’m smiling. There’s plenty of days that United frustrates or underwhelms me. This time, they deserve credit for doing the right thing and going above and beyond. Thanks, United!
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