I recently spent just over a week in Switzerland and although I’d love to talk about that, it’s not really the purpose of this blog. Instead, I wanted to talk about something that I encountered as part of the booking process for both the outbound and the return: I booked a business class award from my home city connecting in Chicago O’Hare to Zurich and the reverse routing for the return.
In it’s eternal crapulance, United often “breaks” business class awards by only offering coach saver awards for most domestic legs, especially when there’s good availability on the route in business class internationally. I consider these mixed-cabin awards broken because it’s frankly punitive to withhold domestic first class seats on international business awards where the business segment is the vast majority of the cost to United, and where the domestic first class cabins are often empty despite the lack of award space. Let me tell you too, there’s nothing quite like flying in a Swiss Throne business class seat only to be followed by a three hour flight in the last row of an E175 with slimline unpadded seats.
How do we fix these awards? You’ve got two options:
- Periodically check the United site leading up to your trip to see if they open saver award space on your domestic first leg, then you can call reservations and have them reticket you in the domestic first class cabin for no additional charge (spoiler alert: United almost never opens first class award availability)
- Call United and ask to be added to the upgrade waitlist for first class on your domestic legs, which you’re entitled to be on as a business class award ticket holder whether or not you hold any status with United. Note that not all reps know how to do this and you may need to hang up and call again, but fortunately it seems that most reps know how in recent memory.
Note that if you use the second option, you’re considered to be on an instrument supported upgrade which puts you ahead of almost all elite complimentary upgrades on the upgrade list. That also means you’ve got a great shot of clearing the first class upgrade and un-breaking your business class award. You can see the wiki on this post at Flyertalk for more detail on upgrade list priorities.
How did this go for me? Well, because I was flying United I was hit by another form of crapulence: They waited until the last minute to clear upgrades, which mattered because the previous flight to my city was delayed by 8 hours because United is United, and essentially all of the confirmed first class passengers on the previous flight switched to my flight. I went from #1 with 8 seats available in first to #1 with 0 seats available in first within the final hours of my flight.
If Jurassic Park taught us anything, it’s that life will always find a way. My corollary is that United will also always find a way (to break your travel).