Q: I have flown United a lot and have never been offered a last-minute upgrade opportunity at check in to first class while vacationing. However, when my company sent me to Vancouver for a business trip, I got asked at every leg of the flight upon check-in. I happily forked over the $70 to enjoy the privileges, at least on one leg of my journey (and it worth was worth every penny, I might add). The Maple Leaf Lounges in Canada have self serve beer on tap (Molson-how very Canadian)!
My question: did United somehow know I was on business? Are they trying to woo me and turn me into a loyal United flyer? I personally didn’t buy the ticket, rather it was my company’s travel vendor (Carlson-Wagonlit). Did they happen to buy an upgradeable fare code? Maybe it’s a fare that only travel agents can buy? If so, how do I buy the right fare code? Y, B, M, E, U, H Q? It’s all gibberish to me.
A: Airlines are increasingly offering last minute airport upgrades to first class, often for very little money. As long as there are first class seats going begging a few minutes before flight time, why not fill them for whatever the market will bear? It’s possible that the fare your company paid for your business trip was in a higher fare class (such as Y, B, or M which business travelers typically use) and was therefore more eligible for upgrade than fares you paid for your leisure trips. In fact, the more you fly United, the more often you’ll be upgraded to first class automatically, often for free, as long as there are empty seats. Whenever I am offered a cheap upgrade at check in, I jump for it. As you noted, it’s well worth it.