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My (Near Epic!) Fail With the United Airlines Waitlist Trick

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My (Near Epic!) Fail With the United Airlines Waitlist Trick

Meghan HunterMy (Near Epic!) Fail With the United Airlines Waitlist TrickMillion Mile Secrets Team

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My family and I recently took a trip to Portugal using United Airlines miles to book our tickets.  Neither my daughter or my mom had ever flow international Business Class, so I really wanted to treat them (ok, my daughter is 2.5, I just wanted the cute pictures 😉 ).  And my mom had saved more than enough miles to make that happen.

I started planning the trip ~10 months ago.  I regularly checked for open award seats between Lisbon and Missoula, Montana.  I wasn’t seeing ANY available Business Class seats (on any airline!) for the return flight, so I decided to give the United Airlines waitlist trick a try.

Being Able to Treat the Ones I Love (Like Mom!) to Trips to Amazing Spots Like Lisbon Is the BEST Part of the Miles & Points Hobby

My coworker Keith had success with it for his family of 6 traveling to New Zealand.  So I figured my odds were pretty good.

The United Airlines Business Class Waitlist Trick

In theory, the process for the United Airlines waitlist trick goes like this:

  • Search and book a coach award flight on your desired route on United.com
  • Check the airline seat map for available Business Class award seats on the same flight
  • Call United Airlines to waitlist for a Business Class or First Class Saver award seat
  • Wait (patiently) for the Business Class or First Class award seats to become available
  • Get a confirmed upgrade and fly in style!

My Experience With the United Airlines Waitlist Trick (and How I Narrowly Avoided Disaster!)

I went about booking our 3 tickets following the steps above.

Luckily, my mom has the United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card, that gives her access to more available award seats.  So it was much easier for me to find the saver coach tickets we needed.

I booked 3 one-way coach saver awards from Lisbon to Missoula for 30,000 United Airlines miles each (90,000 United Airlines miles total) online.  Then called United Airlines’ customer service (800-864-8331) to have us waitlisted for Business Class.

Keith advised me to make separate reservations for each of us.  That way, if only 1 Business Class seat became available, at least 1 of us would get to enjoy it.  I ended up booking my mom on her own reservation and me and my daughter on another.  Because I obviously couldn’t fly separated from my 2.5-year-old.

Had I booked us all together on the same reservation, we’d need 3 Business Class saver seats to open up so we could all clear for an upgrade at the same time.

Yep. This Is a Stock Photo of United Airlines’ Polaris Business Class.  So You Can Probably Guess How the Story Ends.

I also made sure that my mom had enough United Airlines miles in her account to cover the cost of the award tickets in Business or First Class.

A Business Class Saver award seat between the Lisbon and the US costs 60,000 United Airlines miles.

Because I had already booked the coach tickets for 30,000 miles a piece, we needed an additional 30,000 miles per ticket (90,000 United Airlines miles total) to waitlist for the Business Class seats.  That was easy to do because my mom always has a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points she earns with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom, that she simply transferred to her United Airlines account.

But back to the phone call to get waitlisted…

I’ve heard horror stories of this being a near-impossible task, so I was thankful to have found a very knowledgeable phone rep on my first call, who knew exactly how to get us on the waitlist.  Although it still ended up being a ~ 30-minute call because each ticket had to be manually processed.

Over the next few weeks, I kept checking and checking, and I kept seeing 7 open Business Class seats, but none of us ever cleared for an upgrade.  I checked again right at ~24 hours prior to the flight, when check-in begins, and I STILL saw all of those open Business Class seats.  But as soon as the 24-hour mark hit, 6 of them disappeared, and still, none of us had confirmed upgrades for the transatlantic portion of the flight between Lisbon and Newark.  Or for the transcontinental portion between Newark and Denver.

Wait…What Happened to the 7 Business Class Seats That Were Showing as Available Just Seconds Before Checkin?

But we HAD been upgraded on the Denver to Missoula flight.  Which was a total bummer, because that’s only a ~ 2-hour flight on a smaller 2 cabin regional jet, where First Class isn’t that big of a deal.

I also noticed we were at the end of the upgrade list, which didn’t make any sense.  Because we were technically displaced Business Class passengers who’d paid (with miles) for a Business Class seat.  And therefore should have been listed above anyone being upgraded for other reasons.

Who Knows.  Maybe the 4 Passengers Ahead of Us Had Also Employed the Waitlist Trick But Had Purchased Their Tickets Earlier Than We Had!

I hadn’t tried the waitlist trick before, so I thought “maybe this means we’ll see the other upgrades once we arrive at the airport?”

What Unfolded at the Airport

We arrived at the airport ~3.5 hours before our flight because:

  1.   We were traveling with a toddler
  2.   I knew I’d likely have to sort out the whole waitlist thing

Sure enough, when we went to check-in, the counter agent couldn’t explain why we hadn’t been upgraded.  Plus, we’d been seated in the very last aisle in the plane.  What?!

I was pretty frustrated, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy a good challenge.  Quickly realizing there was no chance we’d be getting Business Class seats, I asked to be put in Economy Plus.  The agent said “sure,” and then asked that I pay ~$135 per person.

At this point, I’d spent a good 30 minutes talking to the agent, so I asked for a manager.  The manager couldn’t give me an explanation for what had happened either, but he seemed really eager to help figure out a solution.

As you can imagine, my patience was running thin.  I politely explained to the manager that no, I shouldn’t have to pay for the Economy Plus seats because we were displaced Business Class passengers.  And considering the hassle, the least they could do was seat us in Economy Plus.

He apologized for the confusion and said he’d make sure he’d have us all sitting together in Economy Plus in no time, and at no extra cost!

I Must Admit, the Economy Plus Seats We Ended Up With Weren’t Too Shabby. And Honestly, Given We Were Flying Home, Having a Lie-Flat Seat Wasn’t That Crucial After All!

I asked him if he could help get my miles refunded, and he told me I’d have to call United Airlines customer service for that.

We finally made our way to the gate with our Economy Plus boarding passes in hand.  I’d say the whole ordeal took ~1 hour.  I was thankful we’d planned to arrive early.

After getting through customs I immediately called United Airlines MileagePlus customer service.  To my surprise, all it took was a quick 5-minute phone call to get things sorted.

I explained to the phone rep that only the very last (and shortest!) leg of our 3-leg journey had cleared for upgrades and that I’d prefer just to fly in coach for that portion if it meant saving 30,000 miles per ticket (90,000 miles total).

Without hesitation, she said she’d refund our miles.  And sure enough, the miles were back in my mom’s account by the time we landed in Denver.  We even got to keep our First Class seats between Denver and Missoula!

Bottom Line

I used every trick in the book to try and secure my family and myself Business Class seats from London back to the US.  But in the end, the United Airlines waitlist trick failed me.

It was disappointing to know that I’d spent a decent amount of time on the booking process, and more even time trying to explain to various United Airlines representatives why we should’ve been flying up in front.  But it all worked out.

We ended up with super spacious Economy Plus seats for both of the longer legs of our journey.  And we still flew First Class on the last leg of the trip, even though United Airlines refunded the extra miles we’d originally spent for Business Class tickets!

Have you had experience with the United Airlines waitlist trick?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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How exactly were you a “displaced business class traveler”? Do you have status? Uniteds website very clearly details the pecking order of award upgrades. Just because seats were available does not mean it’s an automatic upgrade. Your mom was ahead of you on the list because she has a mileage plus card.

The same United page also clearly states what happens if only a small leg of the journey clears: you get your miles refunded. Kind of crazy you write this blog post when you clearly have no idea how the system works. You weren’t displaced. And there are many scenarios in which someone gets on the upgrade list without using your “trick”. Silly that you argued with the manager to get something just because your status wasn’t high enough.

Ohhhh, douchy McGee here!

First of all, it’s not a “waitlist trick” and you were never a displaced business class passenger. You paid for economy which is why you were seated in economy. United had every right to charge you for economy plus and did you a favor by not charging you. When you paid the additional 90,000 miles to upgrade you were simply requesting an upgrade to business class and because there was no immediate upgrade space available you were waitlisted. If you’re upgrade clears on the long-haul segment United keeps your miles. If it doesn’t clear then they redeposit them to you. The pro move here would’ve been to search ahead of time for any available upgrade space before you booked. You’re looking for the PZ fare class on a paid ticket. Had you found a flight with PZ being 3 or greater, your upgrades would’ve cleared at the time of booking. That’s the real waitlist trick… by avoiding being waitlisted in the first place.

You should work for an evil corporation. You probably already do.

How to Look for PZ status? i cannot see that in my account and have no option (does not show) to look in “expert mode: under my profile.

Stop flying United. I am a 1K member and tired of United upgrade scam. If you want to fly business class to Europe then buy a business class airfare with Air Lingus or TAP, it is reasonably priced. To fly business to Asia, fly Air China. Avoid the United upgrade scam.

You guys a pretty rough on Darius. Although correct I believe, being correctly coded ( stratus, etc.) on the waitlist is crucial. I believe being displaced is when there is an equipment change and you lose you sears due to fewer business class seats, etc. I am new to UA and have had enough bad treatment, waiting for AA to finally have a majority of excellent people on the exp desk. Sadly, years after the merger this still is not happening, even after 15k of retirement spend and 100,000+ miles. I could go on and on about the rude and unprofessional treatment from American, their 3rd place out of 3 legacy airlines in waiving the $ requirement for non us citizens, again making 3rd of 3rd on million mile status. So far, I am finding the reservation process much better at the 1k desk, but I tried the “waitlist trick” on a non available Hong Kong to say Paulo flight and have yet to clear a month out ( I am upgraded on both segments on the way out so it will really suck if at least one of the two do not clear.) Also waitlisted on a 777 ewr-lax on one of 2 tickets for my 35 k challenge. Anyways, hoping for the best, there are a lot of seats on all 3 long hauls, but time will tell. I had better luck as a silver than 1k with the waitlist, but they were short domestic flights, not high revenue long hauls like these 3. Be a bit kinder to Darius, I have spoke with him on several occasions and found him to be very intelligent and a person with a good heart. Best , RR

Should have status to have the upgrade list trick to work. Those 4 people that were ahead of you had status. The reason why 6 seats disappear like that is because a gs person had six people in the group if they use miles on economy tickets on any flight they are automatically put into business. If they are presidential circle auto upgrade no matter what they pay. I am United 1k for 3 years now and I keep seeing less and less upgrades to first and almost 0 saver awards. But the upgrade trick has worked for me multiple times because they clear me 96 hours before. If I pay I always try to pay for an m class economy ticket which is an instant upgrade.

Some issues with the facts that the OP is operating from.

1). You aren’t a displaced business class passenger if you paid for coach and then wait list with miles to upgrade. If you pay with miles and then also try to use miles to upgrade, you are actually on the lowest rung of ladder for upgrades. I have platinum status with United and know how this upgrade game works!

2) after reading the entire story, I see how crisis that was avoided. No one was without a seat, it is just that the seats originally assigned were back of the plane (because you are the lowest rung of customer if you’re pay with miles- because it isn’t real money). The title is misleading. Not getting business class when you are wait listed isn’t a fail or crisis. It’s exactly what the name implies. You are put on a list and you wait to see if you can get business class seats.

3). You actually ended up in premier plus, United’s new seat that is not quite business but way better than economy plus. It’s a less expensive option to polaris but still not cheap. If they were willing to have you pay $135 for that seat, it’s a steal! Sounds like a strong case of entitlement to me!

Is an XN – “I requested” higher or lower prioritized than a paid fare with a mileage upgrade request?

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