Monday, August 22, 2011

United Airlines & Contintental Frequent Flyer Miles "Upgrades"

So today, I decided that it would be worth quite a bit of cash and 120,000 frequent flyer miles to upgrade our 2 long flights to/from Europe.  These flights were booked through United Airlines, though one is on Continental.

This decision was prompted by email receipt of a "change" to our itinerary from United late last week.  I didn't see any actual change to any of our flights, but whatever.  I did verify that all our connecting flights appeared to have sufficient time for a successful trip.

But then yesterday, I checked one more time to see what had changed.  Ah, our seats, picked 2 months ago, had been removed from our flight from Munich to Newark, an 11 hour + flight.  I got online immediately.  Only seats remaining together were in business class or economy in the last middle row.  I'm familiar with the last row and that booking is not a mistake you make twice.  The seats don't recline.

I called United as that is who I had the reservation with.  I discussed at length the problem with an 11 hour flight in seats that didn't recline after I had carefully selected seats.  I mentioned taking my 70 year old Mom on her first intercontinental trip.  There was nothing the agent could do.  Conceding defeat, I chose 3 from the ~6 remaining seats that would recline, knowing we would now not be sitting together.   When viewing the seating chart, I did notice that business class was practically empty.  I asked about an upgrade, but my question was ignored as the agent found that when she went to book our new crappy seats, our old seats popped into the reservation.  She said she'd email me the new confirmation, that I'd receive it in 5-10 minutes and was there anything else she could help me with.  I got off the phone as quickly as possible.

No email arrived.  I started to call again today, but decided that since I'd obtained a confirmation # for the Continental flight, that I'd explore their website and my ability to upgrade with miles & money.   I transferred miles from my United account (looks like the first decent news out of the United-Continental merger) and typed in the data.  I expected to then get a seating chart, but no, we've been waitlisted.  Waitlisted?  But why, Business Class shows as practically empty.  I read the fine print.  Once waitlisted, the airline can wait until 24 hours before the flight to honor the upgrade.  If anyone with a higher "status" than me wants a seat, I'll get bumped, regardless of how long we've been on the list.  There is no way to identify what the list looks like.  I went ahead with this anyway because, hey, it's my Mom's first trip to Europe. 

I see that Continental not only charged my credit card for the full $s of the waitlisted upgrade, they also charged a mystery $1 pending transaction.  WTF?  So they get to keep my money for 3 weeks while they decide if I'm worthy.  That blows.

So, OK, I know United is better than this.  So after much contemplation, I decided to use the remaining balance of my miles and cash to upgrade the long flight to Europe.  United isn't only not better.  They didn't even tell me I was waitlisted or what that would mean.  I hit upgrade and boom, my miles are gone and I don't get to select my business class seats, because again, they have the honor to see if they get a better offer.  So far, no charge on my credit card, but I have noticed that United is not timely about credit card charges in about 1/2 the cases.

So Continental and United, I have to ask:  what are you thinking?  Now it doesn't matter if you're first to purchase an item with limited availabilty.  You have to wait in the back of the line to see if any people with a higher class want that item.  This doesn't seem like the American way.