I’ve Missed Two Flights in the Last Ten Years.
Today Was One of Them.
I’m the type of traveler who arrives at the airport four hours early – for a domestic flight. I love a leisurely visit to the lounge and unnecessarily long strolls through O’Hare’s opposite-of-chic terminals.
Today, I was that person – the one sprinting from security to the farthest possible gate, C29. There was a glimmer of hope when I saw “Group 5” on the gate monitor, but it was too late. In a dramatic (at least in my head) seemingly slow motion, the gate agent closed the door in a scene that felt like something out of The Matrix.
Last-Minute and Late…Not a Good Combination
I booked a last-minute saver economy award ticket for 12,500 MileagePlus miles: Chicago (ORD) to Denver (DEN) less than 12 hours before departure. Using miles for domestic travel is borderline blasphemous, but the last-minute one-way fare was $504. Nope!
Saver economy award tickets book into the “XN” fare bucket, ineligible for complimentary upgrades with one notable exception: Premier members who carry Chase-issued MileagePlus credit cards. The following cards allow Complimentary Premier Upgrades (CPU) eligibility on award tickets:
- MileagePlus Explorer or Explorer Business Card
- MileagePlus Club or Club Business Card
- MileagePlus Presidential Plus or Presidential Plus Business Card
I felt lucky to score an exit row seat on a last-minute booking for a hub-to-hub flight, always completely full. As a lowly Premier Platinum, I’m typically in the double digits on the upgrade waitlist.
My Lucky Day?
Off to a rough start this morning, I knew I wouldn’t make my original flight so I same-day changed (SDC – a benefit for Premier Gold and higher) to a later departure. The interesting part is all of the flights displayed that were available for a confirmed same-day change were in the “Y” fare bucket, a full-fare economy ticket. Premier members traveling on full-fare economy Y- and B-class fares are eligible for an instant upgrade (paid Y fares are extremely pricey).
That’s exactly what happened: I switched flights, rebooked into Y (or possibly YN) and received an upgrade notification. Sweet!
And Then I Missed My Flight
I had already switched flights and been upgraded on a last-minute award ticket on a hub-to-hub route but my luck had clearly run out. In case you were wondering, they (the airline) never open the aircraft door after it’s closed. Don’t ask.
Luckily I was not in a rush today, so I had no problem waiting for a later flight and catching up on missed airport time. I assumed I would be stuck in 29E on the next flight, but that’s entirely my fault…lesson learned.
I stepped back from the gate podium to let the gate agent finish closing the flight and handle a few unlucky standby passengers who didn’t get seats. Then I approached the counter – calmly – and waited.
“Are You My First Class Passenger?”
I hope so, I thought. A bit puzzled, I gave the agent my last name and said I missed my flight. Rather than ask for an immediate rebooking, standby options, etc. I decided to wait. Patience is not typically my virtue, but I’m learning.
“I Have 2B on the Next Departure, Does That Work for You?”
Thank you, upgrade higher powers 🙌🏽
✅ Booked XN award ticket
✅ Same-day changed > changed to Y ticket
✅ Received CPU (Premier upgrade) > changed to R ticket
❌ Missed flight > changed to…?
✅ Rebooked into first > changed to F ticket (not R, not PN)
Upgraded tickets (CPU, not paid) are booked into “R”. If you decide to switch flights (or miss a flight…) your ticket reverts back to the purchased fare class and it’s back to the upgrade list.
Did I Get Lucky?
Warning: Fare Bucket Alphabet Soup Jargon
I checked my reservation and noticed the change in fare class: “F”, a full-fare first class ticket, earning 300% Premier qualifying miles (PQM). The first class fares on united.com are typically P-, A-, or Z-class fares (“discounted” first) which earn 200% PQMs. I’ve been rebooked in F-class before, but only when my original ticket was P-class (meaning I had a first class ticket and was rebooked into first class, just at a higher fare bucket). It’s a great trick since F-class tickets earn more Premier miles.
Gate agents have superpowers, at least within the context of SHARES, United’s reservation system (adapted from Continental) that dates back to 1968 – not a typo. There were 37 people on the upgrade list for my new flight; one got upgraded… plus me.
A Few Takeaways for Missed Flights
If you arrive at the gate and the door is closed, you missed your flight, end of story. The top mistake people make is immediately asking to be rebooked. If you’re lucky, the next flight is not for at least an hour (maybe six), so take a deep breath, you have time.
▫ Don’t ask the gate agent to open the door – it won’t happen
▫ Take a step back and let the gate agent finish “closing” that flight
▫ Wait patiently, and only approach the podium when the gate agent looks available
▫ Delay asking to be rebooked; instead, wait for your options. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Of course, I wanted to know exactly what happened. Was the agent being nice, or was there some bug in SHARES that just rebooked me in first class? I didn’t want to mess up my reservation, so I waited until I landed to ask. I proceeded to the United Club in Denver, where four agents listened to my story and gave me the why do you care look.
I convinced two sympathetic agents to humor me and pull up my reservation. Their answers,
❝ If I had to guess, the gate agent probably saw Y-class on your ticket and assumed you were on an instant-upgrade fare. They probably looked for available first class seats and rebooked you into the only fare bucket available, F-class. ❞
❝ SHARES is useless, I have no idea. ❞