Do These Upgrades Ever Work?
As a recent US Airways Chairman, I am adjusting to their system. My general rule of thumb is that I add my frequent flyer account to whichever airline I am flying. For example, this week I am flights to Tulsa (on American) and to Omaha (on US Airways) and have put my respective numbers on each. The reason for this is the upgrade window. When flying as a Chairman on American Airlines flights I have access to first-class but only within 24 hours of travel, at which time I have essentially come in behind all other AA EXPs and any Platinums or Golds that have used stickers and there are rarely seats left, the same goes for US Airways, however, any seats that have been assigned to Chairmen (/Chairwomen) AND comped upgrades to Platinums while I am equally competing against their Gold and Silvers all while typically having a smaller first-class cabin. Additionally, I have found that a mis-matched IT system makes things tough if you are from the other program. It’s more like an oneworld+ recognition than the start of a merged airline.
One area where US Airways trumps American is that they automatically upgrade their Chairman if first class upgrades are available as early as 7 days out. American (oddly) does the same but at 100 hours or 4 days and 4 hours prior to departure. My Tulsa flight on American is two days before my US flight to Omaha which means I should still get my upgrade a day before on US over American.
Seven days prior, this is the email I received from US Airways.
Separately from that, let me add that if you are not going to upgrade me as a Chairman the last thing I want to see is a thumbs down greeting. One more time for dramatic effect.
I subscribe to Expertflyer for $10/month and I think it is one of the best tools a frequent flyer can have. If you have status and fly regularly, this will take the mystery out of the upgrade process and show you other flights that you might want to switch to because there are more seats or upgrades available. When using Expertflyer you can show either upgrades or all fare classes which include those for sale and upgrades. I always search for revenue seats because I want to know how many unsold seats there are left despite the upgrades they have allowed.
Though I only chose flights with lots of first class seats available, it is certainly possible that they sold those first class seats and may have none left or just very few. I pulled up Expertflyer to see how many were left unsold, here’s what I saw.
This may look like gibberish to you so let me explain. My flights are listed here (details redacted) and the second to last column on the right has a series of letters then numbers. Each of those letters is a fare class and the corresponding number of available seats in the fare class. They are ordered from paid first class (F) to the cheapest economy seats (R). The maximum number of seats displayed is 9, so when you see that many 9s across the board, the flight is wide open. Notice that the “O” class is zeroed out. This is first class upgrades, but notice that there are at least 9 available seats in first on a wide open flight.
This is a real frustration for me because there is no reason not to upgrade some of those open seats. I can understand holding some back for sales, airlines need to make money, they are a business and I bought a coach seat. If there are less than 4-5 seats for sale in first class, then by all means upgrade closer to the day, maybe even at the gate if there are less than 3 seats available. But with at least 9 available and a nearly empty plane there is no reason not to upgrade.
Let’s put that to the side for a moment, because of course it’s time for my American upgrade window.
Now I can fully understand why American waits to upgrade until 4 days out. I might be the only EXP to say this but I want American to sell as many first class seats as they can at a good price (not $100 more at the gate, but a higher price in advance of the flight). The reason why is because as a business, the more seats they sell, the more likely they are to keep lots of first class seats available. If American can sell those seats that works for both of us, and is fair as I only paid for coach.
But my question is this, “What is the point of confirming first class upgrades 7 days out if despite having 9 or more seats available, you won’t upgrade them anyway?”