The whole “dress up nice” or “flirt” to get an upgrade scheme is a fool’s errand, but being seated in an oversold cabin greatly increases your odds of a “free” upgrade to the next higher cabin. But why did a spouse with (lower) Premier Silver elite status get upgraded on a United Airlines flight instead of the Premier Platinum hubby? I have a theory.
United Premier Silver Upgraded. Premier Platinum Skipped Over. Why?
I enjoy the United Airlines subreddit on Reddit, which brings together a lot of experts while also occasionally offering an interesting question. Like this one:
“Hi, wondering if there was some random algorithm that upgraded my husband (Premier Silver) to Polaris ten minutes before our flight (free upgrade) and I was not upgraded (Premier Platinum). We were on separate reservations, so I can see how we were not upgraded together, but does it make sense that he is Premier Silver and I am Premier Platinum but did not get upgraded? We are flying EWR-GVA. Our tickets were also booked in Premium Plus seats.”
It’s an interesting question. The couple was flying in Premium Plus, which is United’s premium economy cabin, from Newark to Geneva. Complimentary upgrades are not offered on this route. Unless you use PlusPoints or miles to upgrade, you’re not going to receive an upgrade.
That is, unless you receive an operational upgrade. The traveler who asked the question also noted that United overbooked the cabin by two seats. In fact, United often greatly overbooks its PremiumPlus cabin, knowing that most of the passengers who book PremiumPlus are on the waitlist for an upgrade to Polaris business class.
But sometimes it does not work out and everyone checks in for the cabin, resulting in an oversell situation. In that case, United (and this is true for other airlines too) will generally upgrade to business class a passenger, or in this case two passengers, at no cost.
The rules and pecking order for this are opaque, but generally higher-tier elite status members would get the upgrade before lower tier members. But that does not always occur and that is my theory for what occurred here. United needed the seat where the Premier Silver was sitting. So rather than play musical chairs, he got the upgrade, even though his spouse did not and had a higher elite status.
That’s the nature of these upgrades…they are not always fair and inherent in the concept of operational is that they are given at the discretion of the airline due to operational needs.
While this upgrade story would have been a technical glitch had it occurred on a domestic flight with complimentary upgrades prioritized by premier status, here the upgrade occurred on an international flight in which both the Premier Silver and Premier Platinum had no expectation of an upgrade.
If you want to maximize your chances for a “free” upgrade your smartest move is to book a seat in an oversold cabin. But even that guarantees nothing. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to who gets the upgrade in an oversold cabin. But it’s unlikely to be the one who is best dressed…
image: United Airlines