An Improvement in Upgrades for US Airways!

I’m often suspicious when I receive emails from airlines about “improvements” to their elite programs.  US Airways seemed to actually come through this time:

US Airways has begun checking more frequently for first class upgrades for those with elite status.  While this is good for platinums, golds, and chairmen, it is not so good for silvers who were abusing the system.

US Airways will be checking whether or not you qualify for an upgrade more frequently throughout the day.

This is good news for elites, especially Golds, Platinums, and Chairmen.  This is not-so good news for Silvers who knew how to get upgraded above even Chairmen sometimes.

I booked a last minute flight somewhat recently.  When I checked, there were 3 or 4 seats available in first class and it was two days into my upgrade window.  I figured the odds of multiple elites buying last minute tickets on this flight were low so I was 95% sure I was getting upgraded once the next wave of upgrades went through.

I wasn’t.

What happened?

There’s two things to know about the current/old system of US Airways upgrades.

1.  You have an upgrade window which is the time period in which you are eligible for upgrades.

2.  You have a system check for upgrades that occurs at certain points of the day.

When your upgrade window begins, that means at the next scheduled check for upgrades, you will be considered for upgrades.  Upgrades are processed in order of status (and within status, miles flown).  But you can technically be upgraded during your window before the system check.

People began realizing that since the system checks so infrequently, it is possible to jump past any last-minute ticket holders who “outrank you” as well as fellow same-status holders who outrank you.  They would call, point out that they are in their upgrade window and their upgrade “never processed”.  The phone agent, trying to be helpful, will process it for the person, taking up the upgrade spot.

To put it into perspective, let’s say you have the following people who just got deemed “upgradable” by the system:

1.  A Chairman with 120,000 miles flown who bought a last minute ticket 48 hours out from his flight.

2.  A platinum with 40,000 miles flown so far this year who failed to get an upgrade the day before, but since then, a seat opened up in first from a flight cancellation.

3.  A silver with 20,000 miles flown so far this year who bought their ticket weeks ahead of time.

4.  A trial silver awaiting their first flight with US Airways who bought their ticket weeks ahead of time.

The order I listed them in is the order they would be considered for upgrades.  Let’s say there is only one seat free in First.  But let’s also say the upgrade window for silvers opened up one hour before the system checks for upgrades.  If #4, the trial silver calls to inquire about their upgrade during this hour, the trial silver will be upgraded to that first class seat over and instead of the other elites waiting for their upgrades.

I understand why the phone agents will upgrade people when they call since the system does glitch from time to time.  But it seems dishonest to intentionally call and complain that your upgrade didn’t process when you understand the system.  The changes to the US Airways upgrade system won’t eradicate this process, but it will at least cut down on the amount of upgrades that are gained this way, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

(In my situation, a seat did open up later on, so I was eventually upgraded.  Yay to happy endings!)


About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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