I’m on my last long-haul trip with United Airlines today, heading to Milan for the weekend. I originally booked the outbound from Seattle to San Francisco to Newark for roughly 1,000 extra miles over traveling to Newark non-stop (the full itinerary earns over 18,000 miles).
But I knew that first segment to San Francisco would be the worst: 678 miles on a CRJ with no first class cabin, a 5:50 AM departure, and an inter-terminal bus transfer upon arrival with less than an hour to make the connection. Adding to my disappointment, my upgrade from San Francisco to Newark did not clear, despite applying a Regional Premier Upgrade over two weeks before departure. It would be a long day in coach.
I had the option to perform a same-day change to the non-stop to Newark, which even had a first class seat available, but I stayed put. The detour through San Francisco was integral to earning the miles necessary for Premier 1K status for another year. Remember, I’m going to end the year with a margin of just 36 PQMs to spare.
Then things got interesting.
I hate that United operates regional jets on roughly 40% of its flights to San Francisco and all but one flight to Los Angeles. It’s one reason I’m leaving them for American Airlines and Alaska Airlines next year. These regional jets also tend to get overbooked. Several passengers on this morning’s flight where heading to Hawaii and had no other alternative routing. I put my name in for a VDB (voluntary denied boarding) even though the offer was for only a $150 travel certificate.
Fortunately gate agents have a lot of leeway in an oversold situation. Just because the offer at check-in was $150 does not mean I (or you) had to accept it. My discussion with the gate agent was:
- I don’t care about the travel certificate.
- I do want my PQMs in order to requalify for elite status.
- If you put me on the direct flight to Newark, I will miss my status goal.
I said I would make the change only if he could re-book me in full Y or F to ensure I could earn the 150% full-fare bonus PQMs. He could only do Y, but as a result I also moved to the front of the upgrade queue and cleared into seat 2A. I’m not sure yet if my RPU was taken from me, but I think I have a case for getting it returned. A comment was also included in my passenger record indicating the importance of receiving the fare bonus — sometimes an upgrade will clear but the passenger only receives credit for the original fare purchased regardless of what the boarding pass says.
A first class seat, a shorter trip, and still all the miles I need? I think that’s worth giving up a $150 travel voucher. The only downside is I’ll now clear Premier 1K status with over 600 miles to spare; I was kind of excited about a narrow victory.
Update: None of this actually worked as planned. I did have to redeem my upgrade voucher, which was fine. But I had to request original routing credit because the fare class bonus wasn’t recognized. It would have been smart to request that my new itinerary be marked as an “involuntary change” to facilitate this, but fortunately the agent I spoke to on the phone was willing to process the request. I also got a travel voucher for the inconvenience, though I never asked for one.
Something else exciting happened when I boarded: The pilot came out and addressed the cabin, thanking us for flying United. With 350,000 butt-in-seat miles on United, I have never seen this happen before. Maybe twice there was an announcement on the PA beyond the usual departure info. Is it part of a broader strategy to improve customer interactions with employees? Maybe. The pilot will get a complimentary letter to 1K Voice, but unfortunately United has made its move too late to change my mind about seeking friendly skies elsewhere.