So US Airways has always had what I considered to be a funny upgrade process. It is what they call their “preferred upgrades” process. US Airways has four levels of elite members – from top to bottom: Chairman, Platinum, Gold, and Silver. If there are enough seats available in “upgrade inventory” – Chairman get upgrades 7 days out; Platinums 4 days out; Golds 3 days out; and Silvers 1 day out until First class is sold out. There are many pros and cons of doing it like this. One major con is that as a Chairman or Platinum, if you are buying a last minute flight, or even one 3 days out, there are most likely no upgrade seats left because All the Preferred members have snagged them already, even Golds and Silvers. One pro is that as a Chairman on a fare bought at least a week in advance to make it into the furthest out upgrade window, I rarely miss an upgrade. But I do sometimes.
If you get to 24 hours before your flight and you are not upgraded yet, when you check-in you are put on the upgrade list. Your priority on the upgrade list is set firstly at your level (in my case Chairman), and then I believe time of check-in is the next tie breaker. The earlier you check-in, the higher your priority on the upgrade list. However, if you check in at 23 hours and 59 minutes as a US Airways preferred member of any status – Silver through Chairman, and there is a First Class seat left, it will offer it to you right then and there. This secret many Silver, Gold, and Platinum members have been using for years to snag that upgrade. Even more bizarre, if check-in has begun and there is say 12 hours left until your flight, and there is already a lengthly upgrade list, you can “snag” an upgrade out of torn. And the new US Airways Mobile “Upgrade List” makes it even easier to do so! In fact, I did it today Houston to Charlotte (even though I was 1st on the upgrade list anyway). And I noticed it for Lady Tocqueville and she was able to get upgraded today out of sequence and instantly (without having to wait for it to clear at the gate) on her Birmingham to Charlotte flight.
You see, if there are zero first class seats left at 24 hours then every Preferred member will be put on the upgrade list to potentially be called for an upgrade at the gate if a First Class seat winds up going open because someone missed a flight, changed flights, was re-routed, whatever. That is how the upgrade list works. But the glitch in US Airways IT infrastructure is this. If a first class seat randomly pops up, the next US Airways Preferred member of any level who does check-in (or chooses to change seats on the website if already checked in) will be offered the first class seat, even though there is a whole upgrade list ahead of them. To repeat, the upgrade list is ONLY good for getting the gate to assign you an upgrade should there be first class seats available at the gate just before boarding. However, if one or more first class seats that were not available at check-in become available, the next US Airways Preferred to check-in is offered by the web-site the offer to choose a seat in First Class.
To monitor this – I used to use http://www.flightstats.com/go/FlightAvailability/flightAvailability.do (The FlightStats.com Flight Availability Tool). I would search for my flight and if first class was sold out F, P, and A classes would show a 0. If there were 1 or more First Class seats available, F, P and/or A classes would show a 1 or more. I then knew to quickly re-check in to my flight or change my seat to snag the 1 seat that was still there. Monitoring this has gotten even easier.
The US Airways Mobile Website (http://mobile.usairways.com – NOT the US Air Mobile app) now shows the “Upgrade List” for flights of the same day or next day. This is a new feature US Airways IT has brought online in the last 6 weeks or so. You can still access this feature, which is not available on the normal US Airways website, from a desktop computer by navigating to here: http://mobile.usairways.com/mt/www-mobile.usairways.com/home.aspx . Choose “Flight Status” at the top right and put in the Flight Number, Origin/Destination, and date of the flight you want to monitor. Here is what it looks like from a desktop:
As an example of how this works, let’s use a sample flight. On November 1 at 11:22AM, US Airways has a flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles. This is flight number 1973. Let’s say you were on this flight and your upgrade did not clear at check-in and you are now on the upgrade lost hoping for that first class upgrade on this 4 hour flight.
You would enter an Origin/Destination search for November 1 AM From CLT to LAX. Click “Check flight status” and all the AM US Airways Charlotte to Los Angeles flights come up for November 1.
Then click “Status” for flight number 1973 at 11:22AM.
Once there click on “Upgrade List” at the top right.
This is now the key screen, the upgrade list screen.
In the case of this flight, here is what each field means:
- Capacity: This plane has 16 first class seats
- Checked-In: 8 passengers have already checked-in to first class
- Available: 0 First class seats are available for upgrade (presumably the other 8 are all sold just not checked-in yet)
- Upgrade List: The first 3 letters of the last name, and first initial of each passenger on the upgrade list and their rank. At the gate should a First Class passenger misconnect and miss this flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles, passenger “SHI, M” would get the first class seat (if they have not already boarded).
What I discovered today
I had this screen up for my Houston to Charlotte flight today and was monitoring my upgrade. Even as a Chairman, I was not upgrade on today’s Houston Charlotte 5:30PM flight even though I booked more than 7 days out. Yesterday, at 23 hours and 58 minutes before the flight, I checked-in hoping to snag any First Class seats that had become available before anyone else did (none did). Today on my computer I kept this screen open, and the “Available” field always showed 0. I was first on the upgrade list out of about 14 people. Every hour or so, I would refresh the screen in my computer’s web browser (presumably you could keep refreshing it from your mobile device as well). Sure enough – with luck, at around 1PM today “Available” showed “1” instead of “0”. I immediatley went to US Airways’s website and checked-in again. Once at the check-in screen I was told I had already checked in but an option was there to “Just Change Seats”. I chose the “Just Change Seats” option and sure enough the seatmap showed one seat available in first class, and offered it to me for $0. I clicked through, finished the seat selection, and my new boarding pass reflected my new first class seat. Woo-hoo! (sorry I did not do screenprints of this). I had been monitoring Lady Tocqueville’s Birmingham to Charlotte flight (she, also a Chairman, was not upgraded, although she only booked her flight 2 days ago when first class was already sold out). Well just her luck, “Available” showed “1” instead of “0” for her flight about the 3rd or 4th time I refreshed the screen to check it. I quickly logged-on to US Airways’s website as her and checked-in again. Boom, Baby! There it was a First Class seat was now suddenly available. I snagged it for her.
The big news here is that even as a Silver member – you can use this trick and snag your upgrades ahead of everyone else due to US Airways IT Infrastructure. People may criticize me for posting this because the “word may get out”. But I don’t think this applies to very many people. And while I could be negatively affected by those lowly Silvers getting upgrades ahead of me for checking-in before me (or once they realize a first class seat that wasn’t there is now there), I don’t think it will happen much. And I am usually on my game to check in 24 hours out with regular check-backs on days when I’m not upgraded. Thanks to US Airways mobile site, doing this has gotten much easier. Now if there was a way to automate something to look at the “Available” field for your flight and e-mail or text you when it went from “0” to “1”