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Old Aug 12, 12, 10:23 pm   #1
 
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A bit of a bait-and-switch with R inventory (ticketing delay dooms upgrade)

A recent experience with a series of Reservations glitches and long phone calls has made me realize that some of the magic is gone; managing my own travel post 3/3 is not as much fun as it used to be.

Here is what I was trying to do that led to "R8" becoming "R0" and my wife and I being seated in separate cabins on the same flight:

I wanted to fly with my wife LHR-LAX, SFO-IAH-LHR, about a month from now.

I wanted to use two electronic travel certificates (CO-style, "12TCVA") to pay for most of each trip. This meant having two separate reservations, one for me and one for my wife, since you can't combine travel certs.

I wanted to upgrade only one direction of travel with a GPU. Since the trip booked entirely into K, this meant holding a reservation online with the "book by phone" button, then calling UA and asking them to up-fare from K to W.

In a perfect world I would have liked the trip to be fared with sales city LON (total price $1070) instead of sales city LAX (total price $1090), although I'm not picky and have no idea why the fares work out that way.

Here is what happened:

My wife's trip's return segment was changed to W, repriced at $1090 (sales city in the U.S.), and ticketed online about 20 minutes after I hit the "purchase online" button, with some amount being paid by e-certificate and the balance being paid by my credit card. Upgrade went through just fine, flight went from R8 to R7.

My trip's return segment was changed to W, priced at 688 (sales city in London, about $1070), and never ticketed online after I hit the "purchase online" button. The root-cause problem was that united.com was unable to bill my credit card, although it took many agents a long time to realize this and try to fix it and submit a new successful "ticketing request". Meanwhile I watched upgrade inventory drop down to R3, then R2, then R0. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

My wife's trip took one call and about twenty minutes. My trip took about five calls, a little bit over two hours on the phone, and about twelve real-time hours before it ticketed. Worst of all, none of this surprised me even a little! I was totally okay waiting tens of minutes for reservations and ticketing to have back-and-forth discussions; this doesn't surprise me at all. Expectations are really, really low.

During those calls, I got to hear cool systems-internals things like
  • "This isn't auto-pricing, I need to call our rate desk";
  • "OK, your billing address is in the UK, so we've re-priced this ticket in pounds, but my ticketing desk says you pretty much have to book it with us right now or it will never work." ["Can I use my e-certificate?" ] "No." ["Can I just try online and call you guys back if anything goes wrong?"] "Ha, good luck." [He actually snickered. I should have known something was wrong.];
  • "Yes, I see that you haven't ticketed…This says you don't owe us any money at all! … [20 minutes on hold] … OK, you were right, you owe us money";
  • "Everything you've given me is fine, but our credit card processing system must be down right now, so please give me your full credit card number and I'll write it down and try to run it later";
  • "Yes, I see that there's currently R availability and there may not be any inventory left by the time this tickets. I'll try to upgrade you with your GPU after I ticket this for you [she didn't ticket it for me]. And I'll make a note in your record and you can follow up with a supervisor in the morning. [This did not happen]";
  • "No, that ticketing last night never happened. Okay, can you give us your full credit card number from scratch again?";
  • "Yes, you're all ticketed." ["Great, I see that I have an e-ticket number … but, umm, can you explain why the return segment is in K? The whole reason I called you guys in the first place was to make that a W fare.."] "We have fixed it." [they manually changed the fare to W and reissued the ticket?!];
  • "I see you're on the priority upgrade waitlist. There's nothing else we can do. Don't worry, this cabin is just over half full [28/50], you should be fine."
  • "Ha ha, a supervisor? What? That's ridiculous. No, we don't oversell R. No, no one has put any notes about anything like that in your record."

The upgrade inventory that was shown online when I hit the "buy" button was gone, gone, gone by the time I could try for it. A layman would surely call this "bait and switch".

Obviously what really happened was more complicated — I made two identical bookings, one "just worked" and one broke disastrously — but one should not need an expert-level understanding of an archaic distributed system to understand why things are not going their way!

Meanwhile, I have irrationally lost faith in the upgrade waitlist system and am manually polling united.com for R inventory and mobile.united.com for new "booked" numbers in the front cabin, just to see what's happening. Who can say whether this upgrade will clear eventually? In the meantime, this uncertainty is not contributing to a magical travel experience.

It's wearying. I have invested a fair amount of time in understanding this carrier's GDS and have spent a while communicating with other people who are experts in the system, but lately I seem to be, uh, wasting my talents by spending so much time waiting for people to do simple tasks. Chatting with reservations agents always used to be fun, but when I'm spending 20–30 minutes at a time on hold while they confer with a supervisor and a ticketing expert, things are not great.

Getting travel sorted and booked smoothly has become a chore. Nothing has changed about the people; the people are awesome. But the infrastructure has changed and it is not fun.
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Old Aug 12, 12, 11:39 pm   #2
 
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To work around system limitations in the future I'd make the res with the upgrade from the start online, hold, then call to change the fare class of the return (and possibly the upgrade mechanism).

In semi-related news, I got a very surprised phone agent last week when I called to make some changes to a held reservation (which had some upgraded segments). "We don't do that anymore! You can't do this!" she protested, before ticketing.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 12:00 am   #3
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
Here is what I was trying to do that led to "R8" becoming "R0" and my wife and I being seated in separate cabins on the same flight:
[...]
The upgrade inventory that was shown online when I hit the "buy" button was gone, gone, gone by the time I could try for it. A layman would surely call this "bait and switch".
When is the flight? It seems very unlikely that an international flight would go from R8 to R0 within 12 hours.

And no, this isn't "bait and switch". Not only does "bait and switch" imply malice, but you are/were free to cancel the ticket within 24 hours for no fee if you were unhappy with the outcome - that's not a characteristic of B&S.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 1:40 am   #4
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by docbert View Post
When is the flight? It seems very unlikely that an international flight would go from R8 to R0 within 12 hours.
I just watched an international flight go from R8 to R0 in less than 48 hours for a flight in more than three months time

I just watched another flight go from R7 to R0 in 24 hours three months out.
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Last edited by Aspen; Aug 28, 12 at 4:41 pm. Reason: another example
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Old Aug 13, 12, 4:32 am   #5
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by docbert View Post
When is the flight? It seems very unlikely that an international flight would go from R8 to R0 within 12 hours.
This is UA34 IAH-LHR 12 September, which I variously observed at R8 (at about 11 p.m. on the day I bought the two trips), R7 (at about midnight, after one ticketed and I applied a GPU), R3 (an hour later, while still waiting for it to ticket), R2 (at about 2 a.m.), R1 (at about 3 a.m.), and R0 (by the time I went to bed, and it never came back).

During that same time, load in the front cabin went from 26/50 to 27/50 to 28/50, according to the "Booked:" amount on mobile.united.com.

No idea what inventory management was doing there; this is just what I saw happen.

Less dramatically, availability in that same week on LAX-LHR 9/10–9/14 has been bouncing up and down among [R0, R1, R2, R3] with changes about every four hours.

Quote:
Originally Posted by docbert View Post
And no, this isn't "bait and switch". Not only does "bait and switch" imply malice, but you are/were free to cancel the ticket within 24 hours for no fee if you were unhappy with the outcome - that's not a characteristic of B&S.
My understanding from reservations agents is that if I cancel within 24 hours a ticket booked with a CO-style electronic travel credit, I get a refund in the form of a newly generated electronic travel certificate in the standard refunds time frame (2–3 weeks). With travel 4 weeks away, this didn't seem great.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 12:12 pm   #6
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Use the advanced flight search function, scroll 2/3's down and enter the fare class you want to book - in this case, W.

If the systems returns with a "no flights" error, there is either no W fare on the route in question or W is sold out...just go back and select the next higher fare class above W.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 12:17 pm   #7
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Originally Posted by bocastephen View Post
Use the advanced flight search function, scroll 2/3's down and enter the fare class you want to book - in this case, W.

If the systems returns with a "no flights" error, there is either no W fare on the route in question or W is sold out...just go back and select the next higher fare class above W.
Can you do this to book different fare codes for the outbound and return, though? If so--that's awesome. The OP wanted to do K and W, not W and W, which is what I think necessitated the calls. (That of course assumes that the particular K and W fares are combinable.)
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Old Aug 13, 12, 12:17 pm   #8
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I am confused as to why OP didn't book into W in the first place. He says that "the trip booked into K," but doesn't explain how that happen.

UA gives the advanced option of selecting specific fare classes for this exact reason.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 12:20 pm   #9
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Originally Posted by exerda View Post
Can you do this to book different fare codes for the outbound and return, though? If so--that's awesome. The OP wanted to do K and W, not W and W, which is what I think necessitated the calls. (That of course assumes that the particular K and W fares are combinable.)
Ah, I missed this - no, but I would book W both ways, redeem the upgrade in the direction they want, put the reservation on hold using the method we're familiar with (which I am not going to write out in case it's on UA's list to revoke the functionality), then call and ask for the non-upgrade direction to change to K and then ticket it right there over the phone.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 12:29 pm   #10
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
I am confused as to why OP didn't book into W in the first place. He says that "the trip booked into K," but doesn't explain how that happen.

UA gives the advanced option of selecting specific fare classes for this exact reason.
I believe the OP only wanted to do one of the legs in W, and the other in K. He only wanted to upgrade one direction via GPU, and thus the K for the other leg would have made it price out as a cheaper roundtrip than all-W. I've done this myself as well previously--for example, when I only had one GPU left, but it does require a call in since the only way to book such an itin online is if the site offers you W and K due to K not being available on one of the two.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 1:05 pm   #11
 
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Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
During that same time, load in the front cabin went from 26/50 to 27/50 to 28/50, according to the "Booked:" amount on mobile.united.com.
i thought you could only see the *BOOKED* stat when you were within 2 days and look via flight status. how are you seeing that for flights in september? (this is a trick i need to learn)
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Old Aug 13, 12, 1:51 pm   #12
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by exerda View Post
I believe the OP only wanted to do one of the legs in W, and the other in K. He only wanted to upgrade one direction via GPU, and thus the K for the other leg would have made it price out as a cheaper roundtrip than all-W. I've done this myself as well previously--for example, when I only had one GPU left, but it does require a call in since the only way to book such an itin online is if the site offers you W and K due to K not being available on one of the two.
Sorry for being unclear here, folks! Yes, I was trying to book K outbound, W return, which as far as I know requires calling Reservations. (Unless you deliberately choose a flight whose cheapest inventory is W.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by OMAguy View Post
i thought you could only see the *BOOKED* stat when you were within 2 days and look via flight status. how are you seeing that for flights in september? (this is a trick i need to learn)
You can just change the URL mobile.united.com returns to pick arbitrary dates in the future. Not all future dates have been loaded into the system that mobile.united.com uses near the SHARES transition, only sUA flights in the immediate future were being loaded in.
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Old Sep 5, 12, 4:03 pm   #13
 
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I'm always a little bummed to see threads where people don't say what happened at the end! Promise I will edit this post to include whether or not we ended up clearing.

Just to recap: flight was booked 27/50 in C and R8 at time of booking a month ago. My wife's trip ticketed immediately and upgrade was confirmed. My trip took 12 hours to ticket, by which time the flight was R0. We didn't cancel or change or anything (paid partially with e-certs, didn't want to wait for them to be refunded) and hoped for the best.

Currently: It is now one week out, and the flight is booked 47/50 and is J5 JN5 C4 D4 Z3 ZN3 P2 PN2. (UA34 12 September). Since it went down to R0, it has never shown on united.com as being anything other than R0, or not for very long (I've been checking every ten minutes). I do see a waitlisted R-class upgrade segment online, but it's a bit surprising that it hasn't gotten a chance to clear yet!

Will edit / update the bottom of this post with whether I cleared or something else (for example SDC'ing onto another flight with R availability).

(Edit: now 49/50, six days out. I have to wonder whether being waitlisted worked at all?)

(Final edit: upgrade cleared a little bit under 48 hours out. What a relief! Thanks, United!)

Last edited by mherdeg; Sep 10, 12 at 5:32 pm.
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