Compensation Clinic: United Airlines Upgrade Failure Due To “Technical Issues”

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A LoyaltyLobby reader dropped me an email about compensation received after United Airlines failed to process an upgrade due to “technical” issues.


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Here’s the email from the reader:

My husband (cc’ed here), had an upgrade setback with United on a recent flight from SFO to IAD (please see thread below).  He currently flown 210K PQM (all international on business, mostly D, C and J class), except for two domestic flights. I was wondering if you think the compensation below is fair.

Here’s the complaint to the United:

My name is REMOVED, and I am a 1K member (member id REMOVED). I have encountered a flight issue on Sunday November 20 (Flight 1159, from San Fransisco to Washington DC) that left me very dissatisfied.

I was added to the upgrade list on that flight (upgrade to BusinessFirst), since I have redeemed  a Regional upgrade pass when I originally booked my flight. My status on the upgrade list until few minutes before boarding the flight implied that I will be granted an upgrade (given the number of seats available and my ranking on the upgrade list). I am attaching FYI two snapshots from my iPhone United App showing my position on the list (and that of the two persons below me) just before and just after the upgrade list cleared.

However, things turned a bit awkward when the two customers who have consistently ranked lower than me on the upgrade list (right below me on the list) were granted an upgrade each and I was left with no upgrade (again, please see photos attached). When I inquired about the issue, the flight crew informed me that only customer service agents (who are on the flight) can answer this question. After a long wait, I was able to speak to a customer service agent (she introduced herself as “Italy”). She basically informed me that she had to skip my name on the upgrade list and instead upgrade the two persons that were below me on the list. She mentioned that she could not process my upgrade due to  “technical” issues and that she left a note on my account for the 1K desk in that regard. While the agent spoke very respectfully, her answer and the treatment I was provided with were very disrespectful towards a loyal 1K member, to say the least.

1) I am having a hard time understanding what “technical” difficulties prevent the processing of an upgrade for a 1K member with a regional upgrade pass, but still allows the processing of everyone else including the two customers below me on the upgrade list. These “technical” difficulties seem to merely mirror some sort of discrimination against my status in the upgrade list. They effectively removed my name from the list to allow the upgrade of the two other customers on the list that ranked below me. I was effectively denied a business class seat that I was entitled to. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only explanation to what has happened, absent any other convincing explanation by United.

2) Unfortunately, the customer service was mediocre at best. Even if the agent believed that her reason for skipping my name on the upgrade list was convincing enough, she should have at least called my name and/or visit my seat on the plane to inform me about the issue. Instead, I spent nearly 20 minutes standing next to a flight attendant, waiting on the customer service agent to join us and discuss the issue. For a 1K member who chooses to be loyal to the United brand, I felt betrayed and

I trust that you will be able to provide me with a clear explanation of what has actually happened. Thank you.

Here’s the reply from United:

I have retrieved your reservation and do see that the agent did document your reservation in stating that your ticket was not able to be synched and would not process the upgrade through the United Airline system.

It does show the class of service which was purchased was S and it did show you as being waitlisted.  However when the agent tried to upgrade you, the system was showing your ticket not being able to be upgraded when in fact  it should have been.  Unfortunately the agent could not override the system and was not able to manually upgrade you.

I am not sure why your ticket was not able to be upgraded.  Usually if this happens and there is time, the agent will call for a supervisor to come to the gate to assist.

I sincerely apologize that this occurred to you on UA1159 San Francisco to Washington Dulles.

As a goodwill gesture, I have authorized 8500 miles to be added to your MileagePlus account.  Please allow up to 7 business days for the mileage to be reflected in your account balance.

Dr. REMOVED, as a Premier 1K MileagePlus member you have made a significant contribution to our airlines, and I want to thank you for your business and continued loyalty.  We look forward to serving you in the near future and I am confident we will continue to work hard and earn a better report on your next flight with us.


The gate agent should have called the help desk or to get supervisor involved to have the PRN cleaned and the eticket revalidated in order to process the upgrade. “Technical issues” is a very lame excuse for skipping a passenger on the upgrade list.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that United in its current form will provide better compensation than what was offered by the 1K desk.

It is very unfortunate that these system issues are still prevalent and gate agents not authorized to override the system in case of processing an upgrade.

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  • Sean Bailey

    Missing an upgrade is tough especially when you feel you’re entitled to it. I know the feeling. Wow and SFO to Dulles is kind of a long flight.

    Idk. 8500 miles is a lot of miles.. Not much else you can do. Maybe they should proactively go out and upgrade his next flight. One time I was flying United HNL to JFK. When I was purchasing the Y ticket, somehow United charged my card two times! Not some kind of “hold” but I was actually charged twice. They were sincerely apologetic – abviously
    Processing the refund, and upgraded all of my flights to first class as their gesture of good will;-)

    • Chris cross

      Chris cross. Here stop. Being a lil baby so what ua didnt get to sit in 1st class it aint that serious ya see what going on in syria ? Now that serious ok dont worry

  • TravelingJewel

    This is not unusual with United. Several times this year I was unable to use global upgrades (I’m also 1k) on united in a Y class (full fare) ticket, also due to technical issues. No explaination, and no compensation offered, even when I raised the question with the 1k desk. Last year I had a global upgrade expire because I had been unable to use it on two flights at the end of the year due to United “techincal issues.” I was compensated with a $100 voucher. Pretty much useless. I’d take the 8500- you probably won’t get any more help out of them.

  • Gaijinsan

    This would seriously irk me as well. The gate agents would have plenty of time to get a supervisor to fix the PNR if they didn’t so consistently wait until the very last second to process upgrades. There is no reason they can’t do this 10 minutes before they start pre-boarding. I’ve seen them all too many times come on the plane and hand out the last 4-5 upgrades (yes 4-5 on a 738 flight) to passengers already seated in economy. That inconveniences a lot more than just the upgraded passenger.

    I think 8500 miles is insufficient for compensation and I would have gone back for more. It’s not even enough miles to upgrade a domestic itinerary since it’s now quite possible that the OP’s RPU will expire unused.

    It also really gets to me how they still have not fixed the UA system to allow gate upgrades with companions without splitting the PNR. It’s fine if we’re already checked in and on the return part of the trip, but if it’s the outbound half then it screws up luggage allowance for the companion for the remainder of the trip since they inherit my 1K allowance if on my PNR. There have been multiple times I’ve lost upgrades due to this. It’s always been obvious that we should clear but instead of opening R before the flight goes to gate control (therefore upgrading us within the 1K window), UA consistently leaves 6+ seats open on leisure routes until the gate, thereby denying us an upgrade since we need the full luggage allowance returning home.

  • Mike Flores

    My son had a paid first class seat (A class) and was bumped. The compensation was a credit for a few hundred dollars. He never received a satisfactory explanation.

  • William Suarez

    I took a flight on first class from San Juan to Newark with only water serve no movie and a very rude front desk lady that was on July and I still getting all kind of excuses from United that I give up on them .Very bad experience

  • Benjamin Leong

    I just had this issue happen to me from MNL to GUM, I used a regional to ensure the best possibility of upgrading being a 1k I was #1 on the upgrade standby but because there was a technical issue they bounced me off the upgrade list all together. They had to remove me from any type of upgrade even CPU because of the technical issue that prevented upgrades for others and from the agent closing out the flight. They left with 3 open seats in business and me in economy. Gold, Silver, and Non-Rev were upgraded but me being a 1K with an instrument was not.