United and Continental, though merged as a corporate entity, are still operating as two separate airlines, with two separate licenses from the federal government. And of more immediate importance to the frequent traveler, they still maintain two distinct frequent flier programs for now. So it is of some interest when the merged company announces that elite-level members of both airlines now have upgrade privileges on both airlines.

But much as merging airlines face internal strife over the seniority lists of pilots and flight attendants, who has the “seniority” among customers with similarly-fat elite-qualifying mileage balances? As of late yesterday, that’s been clarified.

For travel on Continental:

When seats are available, upgrades are automatically confirmed by elite level*. The chart below details when an upgrade may be confirmed, and if your benefit can be shared with one guest traveling with you on the same reservation.

Status

CO Presidential Platinum

CO Platinum

UA Global Services

UA Premier Executive 1K

CO Gold

UA Premier Executive

CO Silver

UA Premier

Prior to departure, confirmed as early as

144 hours

120 hours

120 hours

120 hours

72 hours

72 hours

24 hours

24 hours

Extend benefit to a guest?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

N/A

N/A



* Premier Associate® members are not eligible for Elite upgrades on Continental.

For travel on United:

This is an adaptation of what I’ve been able to glean from the United and Continental sites:

Status

UA Global Services

UA Premier Executive 1K

UA Premier Executive

CO Presidential Platinum

CO Platinum

CO Gold

UA Premier

CO Silver

Prior to departure, confirmed as early as

120 hours

100 hours

72 hours

72 hours

72 hours

72 hours

48 hours

48 hours

Extend benefit to a guest?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

It’s interesting that United is lumping all Continental elites with Star Alliance Gold status together in the same basket, while Continental is differentiating within the United-internal hierarchy. I suppose this indicates that Continental’s IT systems are more nimble than United’s which comes as no surprise. The end effect: Those on the very top of the United food chain come out slightly ahead of those on the Continental scheme.

In any case, United elites will still be favored on United aircraft, and Continental elites will be favored on Continental aircraft.

And best of luck clearing those upgrades, regardless of the color and design of your card…

22
Jul
2010

lets make a deal Want an upgrade? Whats your best offer?
Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, has a column that makes a number of suggestions for snagging an upgrade if you’ve got no status. You’ve heard most of them before — buy an upgrade at check-in or at the kiosk, participate in an elite challenge, or throw in the towel and fly Southwest. Wait, what? Yeah, he really suggests “upgrading” on Southwest by boarding early. Sorry, Rick, but if the seat isn’t wider and has more legroom, that’s not an upgrade…

Also missing from the list: the “ghetto upgrade” of sleeping across an empty row of seats.

Anyway, this post isn’t about sleeping in coach or opting for an all-economy carrier. There’s one suggestion for an actual, genuine, bona fide upgrade that struck me as a little offbeat. Make the gate agent an offer:

Be Alert for Desperate-Looking Gate Agents

Next time you’re sitting around the gate area waiting for your international flight, take a good long look at the gate agent — does he or she look a little anxious? Do you see a pad of paper and a pencil with the agent? You could be in luck.

My friend and co-founder of FareCompare noticed just such a scenario right before he took off from Scotland for the U.S., and he quickly figured what was going on: agents were offering passengers “extreme” last minute upgrade deals. It worked this way: an agent would briefly confer with a passenger, then write a number on his pad — a monetary figure –show it to the individual, and wait for a “yes” or “no.”

My partner was waved over, but he didn’t like the price he was shown, so he suggested his own, lower figure, and it was accepted. In other words, he and his son each got an upgrade to business class worth thousands, for pennies on the dollar. Sweet.

I’ll admit, I’ve never tried doing this myself. But as long as the price isn’t entirely absurd, why wouldn’t this work? After all, this is a perishable commodity, so if the airline wants to fill the seats, they’ll take what they can.

But then again, how likely is it really that you’ll be able to pull off this kind of dealmaking? If the airline has empty seats to begin with, they’ll likely push upgrades-for-sale way earlier than the gate, such as via the online check-in channel.

So the question goes to you: Have you ever actually tried this and made an offer for an upgrade at the gate? Successfully? What kinds of deals have they taken, and what have they rejected?

Categorized in: upgrades

virgin atlantic upstairs Upgrades and Downgrades: Virgin Atlantic, mistake fares, TSA SOPs, Continental upgradesDowngraded: Upper Class, upstairs, on Virgin Atlantic
Upgraded: Economy Class, upstairs, on Virgin Atlantic

Like many airlines, Virgin Atlantic has been cutting seats in business class, in response to the economy’s woes. But the upstairs section of the 747 has always been sacred space for the premium-cabin travelers. Until now. The airline will slowly roll out “configuration 4,” which moves some regular economy seats to the back of the upstairs cabin. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class loyalists will object to the lack of exclusivity. Which, in turn, should be an improvement for economy customers who get the service boost of a small cabin.

Upgraded: Consumer rights for “mistake” fares
As I’ve argued in the past, it’s sometimes impossible to know if a low fare is an error, or just a deal. (1 cent fares, anyone?) So I’m pleased to read that, in the U.S., the federal government is warning airlines that they’re (at least partially) on the hook for mistake fares. The DOT ruled: “We believe that all airlines should accept some responsibility for even the erroneous fares they publish.” Customers with canceled tickets must now be “made whole,” though this doesn’t mean that tickets will be honored. Still, a good move.

Downgraded: TSA’s mad redacting skillz
Seth, over at the Wandering Aramean has been digging through a document detailing the TSA’s standard operating procedures. The document was redacted, but Adobe Acrobat doesn’t delete the text hidden behind the black boxes. Oops. Now the TSA says the policies were never implemented, after all. (Then why were they posted, and redacted?) Seth has links to the original documents on his site.

Upgraded: Continental systemwide upgrades for top-level elites
In a further alignment of Continental OnePass with United MileagePlus, Continental is systemwide upgrades and a double-secret invitation-only ultra-elite level for high-spend elite frequent fliers.

Upgraded: United’s long-range aircraft… eventually
After slicing and dicing their fleet over the years, and recently killing off their 737s, it’s finally time for United to look at renewing their fleet. They’re ordering 25 Boeing 787s and 25 Airbus A350s, which will replace their 767s and 747s, respectively. …in 6 to 9 years.


In October, United announced that they were moving to an “unlimited” upgrade system from their electronic certificate system. But as readers chimed in, one of the biggest complaints came from top-tier 1K members. The quarterly allotment of confirmed upgrades within North America was going away, and with that, a big perk of upgrade security.

United must have gotten a lot of complaints, as they’re reinstating the so-called “regional” upgrades:

1K® members will continue to earn Regional Upgrades
Sometimes no change is good news. After our last announcement, we heard from our 1K members how much they value their Regional Upgrades. To thank them for their ongoing loyalty, we’ve decided to continue issuing Regional Upgrades to 1Ks, even after the Unlimited Domestic Upgrades program launches.

That gives top-tier elites the best of both worlds: A reserved upgrade if booked in advance (and if United releases seats for upgrade early…) and the top of the free-upgrade list if they’re sweating it out at the gate.

And entry-level elites don’t really lose anything here. The 1Ks would be ahead of them in line, anyway.

Separately, United and Continental announced that reciprocal “unlimited” upgrade privileges will roll out in mid-2010. No word yet on what the hierarchy will be; I assume that, in a tie, UA 1Ks will still outrank CO platinums…

And on the semi-upgrade front: Continental elites will also have free access to the Economy Plus section on United flights — a privilege which United hasn’t been extending to other Star Alliance partner travelers.


BA first class Upgrades and Downgrades: BA miles, track suits, Expedia fees, no show fees

Upgraded: Your ability to earn lots of British Airways miles
Chase and British Airways have launched a pretty amazing airline mileage-earning credit card offer. 50,000 BA miles after one purchase, then 50,000 more after spending $2000 within three months. Gary Leff has thought this through and come up with a scheme for 420,000 miles between two people. That’s a lot of free tickets for a $75 annual fee.

Downgraded: Track suits
A Best Buy executive says that United refused him an upgrade because he was wearing a track suit. “United says there is no passenger dress code, but they cited two rules. Ticketed passengers can not be barefoot and must be clothed.” Standards!

Upgraded: Fees for Expedia phone bookings
Expedia announced that it was dropping the booking fees it charged for booking any flight, car rental, hotel or cruise on the phone. As online agencies compete to attract customers, this is the latest fee to drop. Yay, lower fees! Priceline immediately tweeted that they had never had phone booking fees. Nyahh.

Upgraded: Responsibility for rental car reservations
Avis Budget Group has worked with global booking systems to prepare their networks for an eventual introduction of no-show fees for car rental bookings. Frankly, I’m amazed that this is a fee that hasn’t been enforced more widely already.

(image)


Upgraded: Bad ideas made real
Remember the proposal for sideways seating on commercial airlines? DesignQ, the company that proposed the scheme, is moving toward testing — including crash simulations — by the end of 2009. I am honestly surprised the design is being pursued this aggressively. We’ll see how those tests go. Here’s a reminder of what the designers have in mind:

sideways seats Upgrades and Downgrades: Side by side seating, nationalized hotels, libelous reviews, and more

Downgraded: Hilton hotels in Venezuela
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has nationalized another Hilton-managed property, this one on Margarita Island. It looks like the 154 timeshare owners are out of luck. And yet, the hotel is still in the Hilton system, and maintains the Hilton branding. Huh?!

Downgraded: Hotel reviews… for libel
TripAdvisor contributors, take note: If you’re writing a scathing review of a small Australian hotel or inn, you may find yourself the defendant in a libel suit. Companies with fewer than 10 employees are legally less restricted in suing for libel than larger firms, apparently. But the best defense for libel remains the truth.

Downgraded: USA Today
USA Today’s circulation took a 17% hit, and Gannett’s management placed the blame on a decline in travel. Those papers that show up in front of the hotel door sure do add up!

Downgraded: Pilots’ holsters
Remember the pilot who discharged his pistol in the cockpit and shot a hole through the fuselage, in-flight? He’s been permitted to fly again, 18 months after being fired by US Airways for the incident. In his defense, “the Department of Homeland Security faulted the design of holsters used by pilots who carry their weapons on board planes. The department’s inspector general said the design increased the chance of accidental discharge when pilots inserted their guns in the holsters.” But why a pilot needs a holstered sidearm — behind a locked cockpit door — in the first place isn’t clear to me. The pilot is no longer allowed to carry a weapon aboard.

Upgraded: Peep shows for UK airport security
The US isn’t the only country installing full-body through-the-clothes scanners at airports. The UK is doing so as well. Yes, the systems are designed to show hidden weapons. But “the full body scans will also show up breast enlargements, body piercings and a clear black-and-white outline of passengers’ genitals.” Black-and-white nude silhouettes are already visible to security personnel at Manchester Airport. Passengers have the right opt out of that screen and choose a more traditional scan instead.

Downgraded: Glib descriptions of getting upgrades
Upgraded: Smackdowns

Gary Leff and I got the same e-mail from the folks at TripBase, promoting a post on their blog describing how to “almost always” get upgrades. The post is yet another piece of upgrade disinformation, perpetuating mythologies that may have once held sway but no longer mean anything in today’s airline environment. Gary has a fantastic point-by-point takedown of the piece.