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Operational Upgrades 101 - the definitive "how to get one" thread

Operational Upgrades 101 - the definitive "how to get one" thread


Old Jun 9, 04, 12:37 pm
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Join Date: Apr 2002
Posts: 4,108
Operational Upgrades 101 - the definitive "how to get one" thread

There are so many threads on UA operational upgrades, I thought it might be useful to start a definitive thread which is easily searchable for others. While I have had some luck with operationals on UA, I'm by no means an expert so I'm hoping others will chime in.

The most referenced post from searching is one by PremEx which I can't find on new FT for love nor money. There is, however, a Google cache of it here.

I'm a 1K and I get several of them a year on International flights.
For some reason I very rarely get one on a Domestic U.S. route (probably a combination of fewer 3-Class aircraft in the domestic market and also perhaps they don't overbook Economy as much Domestically as Internationally).

You can never count on them, but if you are savvy enough on the routes you take and the average loads, you can use a small bit of strategy to increase your chances (booking flights that you know from experience have light Business loads yet historically overbooked in Economy).

In the absence of such first-hand knowledge or ability to obtain it from a friendly agent or fellow frequent flyer, I would offer these tips for International Economy to Business Operational Upgrades:

First, there are 3 types of Operational Upgrades:

1. Advance Operational Upgrades. This is when they evaluate the load a few hours in advance of the flight and make immediate Operational Upgrades up to a certain point in order to not have to do them all at the last minute at the gate, and therefore face possible delays and gate chaos as they play musical chairs. This also allows them to free up your Economy seat in advance and have it ready for assignment when other passengers check in.

If you've been given one, when you check-in, you will find you have already been upgraded Operationally.

2. Gate Operational Upgrade. This is a more or less last minute version of the above, or a final continuation of the above, often releasing any holds that were hanging in there for last minute full fare Business passengers, or possible reaccommodations from canceled/delayed flights.

Usually you are paged over the Public Address System to approach the podium and see the agent. There you are given your Operational.

3. On-board Operational Upgrade Very rare. These are usually done if say someone never showed up for their Business seat, and they still have pax waiting for Economy. They may come on board and move you up. But because this type of thing is done at the last moment, some gate agents just put one of those waiting passengers in Business because it's quicker and they can get the plane off in time.

Knowing the above, here's some advise:

- Don't check in too early. Reason? If you've already checked-in before they start doing Advance Operational Upgrades you may get skipped over because you're already holding your Economy Boarding Pass and they don't want or can't track you down. No sooner than 2 Hours should be fine and most Advance Operational Upgrades have been done (if any) by that time. If you are checking in for a connecting International flight in another city, if you haven't already been given an Advance Operational Upgrade, ask them not to check you in for the International segment yet. Tell them you'll do that at the next airport (this may mean reclaiming luggage at the connecting point and rechecking it, if you should have some). Then when you finally arrive at your connecting airport where you depart to your International destination, check-in and hope you got an Advance Operational Upgrade assigned while you were in the air.

- "The Speech" If you didn't get an Advance Operational Upgrade when you checked-in, there is still hope for a Gate Operational Upgrade. You can just sit and hope they call your name, or you might improve your chances by giving "The Speech." Wait until the gate agents are not busy or helping other passengers, try to identify who the head or senior Gate Agent is, walk up, smile and greet them placing your Economy boarding pass on the counter and say something like:

Hi. I'm Mark Love. I'm traveling with you in Economy today [insert mention of Full Fare if applicable] and I've got a nice aisle seat which I'm very happy with. But if at any time, you should need my seat for any reason, I'd be more than happy if you wanted to move me up. I'll be sitting right over there. I've got an easy name to remember...Love. Thanks!

No need to flaunt your status and accidentally give a bad impression of entitlement. They can see your status for themselves on the Boarding Pass you placed in front of them.
Even if they say no, it's checked-in full, say "Well Thanks anyway. Please feel free to call on me if anything changes." Sometimes folks who have checked in for their Business seats in another city miss their connections or are late and those seats could free up at the last minute. Many times I've been told no and to take my Economy seat, only to hear my name being called a short time later!

Other Things:

- If you are hoping for a Gate Operational Upgrade stick around the gate area. Don't go off shopping or to the Red Carpet Club. If you don't answer a page, they may move to the next person on the list.

- If you must visit the Red Carpet Club, ask the Club receptionist to note your current location in your record. There have been instances where Gate Agents call the Club to have you paged.

- Traveling solos have a better chance of Operational Upgrades. Not having 2 or more seats available next to each other may deter an agent from upgrading you and they may look for solos.

- I've heard that ordering a Special Meal can reduce your chances as well, as they may not want to have to mess with getting you the Business Class version of your Special Meal.

- Dress nice. When giving "The Speech" you are basically doing a sales job. They are more likely to upgrade you if we don't look like the slobs we all know we are.

- And does it really need to be said? Your Premier Status and Fare Paid will have an impact on just who gets bumped up.

Using the above, I've been very lucky over the years. Especially with Advance Operational Upgrades by attempting to book a flight that traditionally is oversold in Economy but not quite in Business.

Still, it's always a crap shoot. But if you don't want or can't upgrade in advance using qualifying certs or miles, it's better than doing nothing, IMHO.

[Edited to add]

Update:One thing that may have effected Advance Operational Upgrades and The Speech to some degree recently, is the offering and hard-selling of same-day at-airport upgrades for $$$ at some locations.

But if they don't sell enough of those and they still need Economy seats, they have to do Gate Operational Upgrades still at some point, and anything you can do (in a positive non-entitlement way) to make the agents aware of your willingness and attractive-ness to be Operationally Upgraded, goes in your favor and gives you an edge, IMHO.

If after they've offered to sell you the upgrade and you decline, you can amend The Speech to say,

Well, if you don't sell enough and you still need to do Operationals in the end, please keep me in mind. Thank You.

...that may still help you out (and I'm sure worked for me recently out of LHR).
Anyway, does anyone have anything further to add?

My specific current circumstances are as follows:

LHR-JFK on 12 June.
Currently showing on ITN as F5 C9 D9 Y0 B0 M0 H0 Q0 V0 W0 S0 T0 K0 L0 G0 A5 Z9 E0 U0
Status: *G (not with UA)
Fare basis: V
Travelling alone
Seat already allocated in E+

I'm going to follow Prem Ex's advice.
I'll check in 2 hrs before.
If I'm not upgraded at check-in, I'd prefer to go to the RCC rather than the Gate, but I've read threads which say at LHR they're good at upgrading you in the lounge if they need you.
I was hoping to try the new LHR T3 Star Lounge, but I'm guessing that's not a good idea...
Any other tips? I'm loath to release my seat assignment...

Last edited by Wingnut; Jun 9, 04 at 12:44 pm
Wingnut is offline  
Old Jun 9, 04, 12:43 pm
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All three of mine have come from being friendly with the Gate Agents - especially when other pax have been giving them a hard-time.
SEA_Tigger is offline  
Old Jun 9, 04, 6:06 pm
Join Date: May 2003
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And mine have all come completely unexpectedly.

At LHR transfer desk, was using an expired SWU for a Y-C upgrade (an angel noted in my PNR that a two-week extension should be granted) and the check-in rep said "well, we're just breaking all the rules for you today - we've alse given you a double upgrade to First".

Another time at LHR gate, handed them my C BP and was handed an F BP, no discussion. This had already been processed and was sitting on their counter (along with a few others) waiting for me to get there since I waited at RCC until the boarding announcement.
daslax is offline  
Old Jun 9, 04, 10:09 pm
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 57
Already upgraded but operationals being given out

I have a further op-up question. Anyone have experience getting away without having to hand over an SWU (or have one taken out of the bank) when your upgrade has already come through but you find they are doing extensive op-ups. For example, I am doing IAD-LHR on Friday on the 747. Its been sold out in coach for weeks and my confirmed upgrade just came through -- there are still 30+ unassigned biz seats so I figure they will be doing plenty of op-ups. As a 1k on a B fare I'd have a pretty good chance of getting one, but of course am already upgraded. Anyone ever ask an agent to not pull the miles since they are doing op-ups anyway?

Any experiences would be useful...

NYCflyerUA1k is offline  
Old Jun 9, 04, 11:32 pm
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Germany
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If you are checking in for a connecting International flight in another city, if you haven't already been given an Advance Operational Upgrade, ask them not to check you in for the International segment yet. Tell them you'll do that at the next airport (this may mean reclaiming luggage at the connecting point and rechecking it, if you should have some). Then when you finally arrive at your connecting airport where you depart to your International destination, check-in and hope you got an Advance Operational Upgrade assigned while you were in the air.

Last April my flight was from Germany (DUS on LH) via LHR to ORD on UA in economy. Got both BP in DUS.
When I arrived at the RCC in LHR, they looked at my BP to ORD and told me that I was upgraded to C, because economy was full.
So I got an Advance Operational Upgrade assigned while I was in the air, even a BP was issued in economy to my final destination.
dusordua is offline  
Old Jun 10, 04, 12:57 am
Join Date: Dec 2003
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Couple of things...if the loads look really full, you might try asking for a seat change. This at least gets your boarding pass on the counter when the agents 'close out the flight' and if you have status, even better, they'll try to accomodate you first.

Second, success really is all about showing up--the OUs I've gotten have been 'given' rather than 'gotten', and I've almost missed a couple of them by hanging out in the RCC until the last possible boarding minute and not hearing my name on the PA.
dogmom11 is offline  
Old Jun 10, 04, 1:01 am
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whatabout *G?

I was wondering how far down the chain for op-ups for non-UA *Gs are? My guess is after 1K & 1P?

Flew UA domestic last year about 20times but nothing....wasn't expecting in any case........am SQ *G and most of my flights are usually either V on visit USA fare or B on RTW tix.
Keithl is offline  
Old Jun 10, 04, 6:07 am
Join Date: May 2003
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Posts: 62
Got myself (no status) and Girlfriend (no status)from Y (heavily discounted via Expedia) to C on a LHR to JFK in April 04.

I guess the flight was overbooked but not too much as there were 4 NRSA's in the C cabin and no-one in F.

Much Kudos from the Missus! Unfortuantly didn't work on the way back and was stuck in the Y cabin all the way home

I guess sometimes your face just fits!


Benjurs is offline  
Old Jun 10, 04, 12:27 pm
Join Date: Nov 2003
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Try the VDB Tactic

Another way to get a gate op-up, similar to the offer to "move up", is to volunteer to take another flight. I had a flight once where they put me on the VDB list, filled my economy seat with standby pax, and then the gate agents decided to put me on the flight anyway. Of course, by that time they had filled all the economy seats, so at the last minute (literally -- the door closed behind me) they gave me the seat in F cabin of someone who checked in online but never showed. My first (and only, so far) time in anything but economy.

Didn't get a VDB voucher ir travel credit, but had a great ride home!
scirel is offline  
Old Jun 10, 04, 4:09 pm
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Originally Posted by scirel
Another way to get a gate op-up, similar to the offer to "move up", is to volunteer to take another flight. I had a flight once where they put me on the VDB list, filled my economy seat with standby pax, and then the gate agents decided to put me on the flight anyway.
I've gotten > 1 op-ups this way, but I worry about this strategy because you can end up with a worse seat in Y instead of an upgrade. Is there a reliable strategy to volunteer without surrendering your (good) Y seat assignment?

Case in point, I'm off to MUC next week on flight 902: F6 C4 D0 Y0 and seated in 16g (exit row). I'd love an op-up to C (or F!) or VDB compensation, but I don't want to do a transatlantic in seat 35D because they gave some late-arriver my exit-row seat.
studentff is offline  
Old Jun 10, 04, 5:03 pm
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nice thread
smumbo123 is offline  
Old Jun 10, 04, 7:07 pm
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i've had the pleasure of having 2 op-ups and as my luck goes, they were both on short hops.

rno-sfo: "would mr. goalie please come to the podium..." (y was a mess and f was so wide open that it was me, a capt., f/o, and 4 f/a's from an earlier "broken" plane and going back to sfo)

lax-las: this was "advanced" and so advanced as i was doing a double hop (sfo-lax-las) and i checked in from home in sf for both segments. when i got to the gate at lax, i went up to the podium "to see what things looked like" and was told, "oh, there you are, i've been waiting for you-here you go" and i was handed an f bp.
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Old Jun 10, 04, 9:02 pm
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It's funny, but I've had 3 Op-Ups in my life and all 3 were before I even joined Mileage Plus (back when it was "illegal" to collect FF miles on gov't tickets). Two of them happened after last minute changes to my schedule. The first was on the 2nd leg of a 2-segment trip. My initial flight arrived really early and I was trying to make an earlier connection. I came racing up to the podium and the only seat left was in F--so that's what they gave me. The second time I made it the the airport early after a meeting ended early and the same thing happened. I'm not sure if this was because gov't tickets have "last seat availability" and they had to give me what they had, or if they would've allowed the same for anyone.

The third instance was when I was flying with a colleague in Y. We were seated apart from each other so we asked at the gate if we could switch to something together. Funny thing was, when the agent finally handed us two new boarding passes, we were so deep in conversation we didn't even bother to look at them till we were on the plane and a row or two into coach. Suddenly it registered that the passes said 1C & 1D and we had to turn around and walk back to the front. People must have thought we were idiots. Of course, now I'd never wait that long to look at my seat assignment--no matter how good the conversation!
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Old Jun 10, 04, 11:35 pm
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Given the OP's original point about LHR, the following might help....

Was on the LHR-SFO flight Dec 26th. Was booked solid. As you may know at LHR, they sometimes have two doors into the gate lounge for checking passports. One is for C/F, the other is Y.

We went through the C door (NC tickets) and they op-uped us to First . The couple behind us (who must have been in Y) walked straight up to the same counter and said something along the lines of "do you need to upgrade anyone today" and they immediately got our 8A&B seats (no curtains meant I could see them from row 2) that the same agent had just freed up seconds earlier.

It's audacious, but if the person in front of you gets upgraded, then perhaps that's the time to ask????
Swiss Tony is offline  
Old Jun 12, 04, 5:03 am
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Sitting in the London Lounge at LHR T3. Had already been upgraded when I checked in, 2 hours before the flight. The agent was very keen to stress that this was on the basis on my *G status and loyalty, blah blah blah.

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