I Missed My Flight – So United Upgraded Me?

by Sam Roecker

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 🙌🏽


Let’s review,

✅ 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.

Note the Fare Class, F!

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.

Earnings for United Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM)

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!

SHARES Mystery 

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. ❞

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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Christian June 13, 2018 - 5:27 pm

Didn’t Continental use SystemOne? I’m dating myself here, but it did back when I was a travel agent. I still know people the work on Amadeus (what SystemOne morphed into) who swear by it.

Sam Roecker June 13, 2018 - 5:38 pm

Very interesting. I had to go back into the archives (thanks, FlyerTalk) and it looks like SystemOne “SODA” was part of Eastern – and the system travel agents used. Continental started with SONIC which ultimately became SHARES a couple of years later. There’s the Frank Lorenzo connection b/w EA and CO, so it seems CO adopted SystemOne/SODA for travel agents, but used SHARES internally. Can any other readers confirm?

mallthus June 13, 2018 - 6:03 pm

When I was traveling on DL a lot (back in the day when I wasn’t semi-retired), I had this happen a lot. On a lot of my routes I was flying, every flight was oversold, there were a lot of flights, and my schedule was pretty flexible, so if there was a call for volunteers, I usually stepped up, mentioned that I was DL Gold and that my schedule was flexible. 9 times of 10, they’d call me up, offer me a voucher and a confirmed seat in F on the next flight. Best part was that my fare bucket always changed to paid F and I scored not only the upgrade and the voucher, but also the F bonus mileage.

Sam Roecker June 13, 2018 - 6:20 pm

Nice! I usually offer too, although never seem to get picked. United now “auctions” off oversell volunteers to the lowest bidder…sigh

Greg June 13, 2018 - 6:17 pm

Asking the agents why was a tactically stupid thing to do.

You get one of them having a bad day (nearly certain odds that at least 1 of 4 club agents is having a bad day at any given moment), and you so easily could have found yourself back in E-

As my dad always taught me “never ask a question you can’t stand the answer ‘no’ to.” You just asked 4 agents if another agent had done everything by the book. And lived I. Af to tell the tale.

You should buy a lottery ticket.

Sam Roecker June 13, 2018 - 6:21 pm

That’s why I waited till after I landed in Denver 😉 hard to downgrade someone post-flight.

Sam June 13, 2018 - 9:22 pm

I am where I am because the agent did open the door again. In 1992, I was applying to medical schools and was offered an interview. I was book on the last flight of the day. They closed the door. They heard me banging and not only opened the door but also re-opened the door to the Saab 340. Thanks to Northwest Airlink, I got on the plane, interviewed successfully, and became a doctor. If I had missed the flight, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into another medical school. Of course, then I would have made more money as Medicare and Medicaid payments are low.

Sam Roecker June 13, 2018 - 9:33 pm

Thanks for sharing! What a cool story. I suppose I should say they almost never open the door.

Mike June 14, 2018 - 9:11 am

On a similar note, lots of people get credited for paid flights when they are actually on an award flight, by changing flights at the airport.

I was transiting LHR and the agent noted I had a 4 hour layover. He asked if I would like an earlier flight. Sure! My flight left 45 minutes later and I got credit for flying in J.

Sadly it was only from LHR-FRA …

Sam Roecker June 14, 2018 - 9:15 am

Still a great credit! Thanks for commenting. You would think they would catch these bugs in SHARES…?

Jordan June 14, 2018 - 9:27 am

What was your other missed flight???!

Sam Roecker June 14, 2018 - 10:22 am

Hi, Jordan! Thanks for commenting. My other missed flight involved a hairless cat and over-entitled Premier… not a good combo! Thanks for reading 🙂

Will June 14, 2018 - 10:06 am

This just supports my thinking that it’s best to arrive at the airport at the last conceivable second!

Taylor June 14, 2018 - 6:11 pm

Is it ever appropriate to ask for upgrade availability at the gate? Or should you wait until it’s just offered? I’m sitting in 7E right now, having changed from a later flight that my CPU was honored on, and am looking at an open 1A….

Sam Roecker June 14, 2018 - 6:17 pm

It never hurts to ask! “What can I get you from Starbucks?” might help too 😉


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