Monday, September 10, 2012

United steps in it (again)

The (now) perpetual mess of an airline that is United has made another blunder today, removing from their website the ability to see available upgrade inventory and then offering a weak excuse why they did so.

United's Foolish Attempt to Shield Online Upgrade Inventory, Matthew,

Why would United make this move?
There are three theories. One, United got tired of the screen scrapers (Expert Flyer and KVS being the two primary culprits) who may have overloaded UA’s systems with frequent requests for information from people like me, who check R-space several times daily for myself and my clients.
Alternatively, United’s IT systems—as we all know—leave much to be desired and the availability being displayed did not actually match up to what was really available (I never found this to be the case personally…). Therefore, this space was removed to prevent confusion and cut down on the frequent calls to United checking on upgrade clearance (I wrote about United’s odd upgrade clearance system in a recent post).
A more sinister theory is that United wants to shield the upgrade space from savvier consumers like you and me in order to increase the number of paid upgrades sold at check-in. If we cannot see which flights have upgrade space, we will be less likely to book these flights and therefore more upgrades can be sold rather than given away on a complimentary basis.

I agree with Matthew that the goal here is to make it more difficult for MileagePlus members with status to see upgradable inventory in an attempt to increase upgrade sales instead of providing their most frequent of fliers with complimentary ones.  In the short-term, this seems like a decent idea, as United strives with every move to increase fee-based revenue increasing paid upgrades is a move that won't anger too-many people, in their opinion.  Long term however I'm wondering how much more United's beleaguered frequent flying community is going to stand?

After making all but meaningless (in comparison to credit cards) the lower levels of the program they're now making the first inroads into limiting the ability of their upper-tier elites to gain upgrades that are a reward for a lot of miles flown with the airline.  United's excuse (that the program was causing confusion) is an insult to it's customers intelligence and speaks volumes to how the airline views them.

In short, Smisek & co. have decided that we're all not that bright, and that we're willing to swallow a lot. It almost borders on enmity to the MileagePlus community, who United is now obviously taking for granted.  This might work out OK for a while, but if American and US Airways merge, and the new airline gets it's feet under them, then a new strong airline might be able to take advantage of a staggering airline with deteriorating customer service, an aging fleet, unhappy staff and a terrible IT interface that's now even less usable.

Think about this:  Does United REALLY want to compete on the basis of price and service?  That's a losing proposition for Smisek's toy.  I wonder how long it will be until someone reminds his crew of that?

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