I can't go back to coach! There are trolls down there!
January 3, 2008 2:04 PM   Subscribe

How the *$ did I manage to get a first-class flight at a discount price from an online travel retailer?

Lest it sound like I'm sock-puppeting, I'll refrain from mentioning the exact website.

I just got back from Mexico, having flown on United First for the return leg. I didn't pay anything extra, nor did I request to be placed in first class. How did this happen?

Details: my parents booked the flight for me, and using [#####.com] found a reasonable price for a return flight from Boston to Puerto Vallarta via Chicago. According to them, when the time came to choose seats for the return leg, only four were available, all of them in the single digits, and all first class. At no point were they asked to pay more; if they had, believe me, they wouldn't have booked the flight. I believe the total cost was in the $400 range, though I can find more details if necessary.

Here's the last thing: when I got to the Puerto Vallarta airport and tried to get in the advance checkout line, I was told that I needed to present a K-Card (proof of membership in United's premium club.) What I surmise from this is that somehow my discount flight option gave me first class seats, though I'm completely at a loss over how it came about. I'd love to know how to make it happen again.

I'm happy to provide additional information/proof to speed along this investigation.

Happy 2008, all!
posted by awenner to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Probably Simple: They didn't have anyone paying first-class prices for the first-class seats, and a discount fare is much better than none.

How far in advance did they book the seat for you?
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:07 PM on January 3, 2008

Two more things: I'm not a frequent flyer, and this wasn't an upgrade, at least as I understand the concept. It was clear that this was going to be a coach flight on the way down, and First Class on the way back. Moreover, I received typically terrible service from United all along the line, until the time I got into seat 1A. Then they were all smiles.
posted by awenner at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2008

They booked the ticket around the end of September. Would airlines really opt to put a discount ticket in first just out of pure economics? It was pretty clear to all involved that I was traveler trash, and I thought the whole point of First was that you could avoid riff-raff like me.
posted by awenner at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2008

When the flight is down to four seats, the airline is not going to hold out for full-fare first class passengers, they're going to sell them any way they can. So they made them available to #####.com, and you were lucky enough to get one. It happens in various ways. I've been in the situation where the airline overbooked coach on a transatlantic flight, but had room in first. So they called my name at the gate waiting area and inquired whether I would "mind" being upgraded to first. Hot towels and complementary champagne were handed out while the riffraff filed past us into coach.
posted by beagle at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2008

And the First Class cabin was two-thirds full as well.
posted by awenner at 2:13 PM on January 3, 2008

this has happened to me, and it was glorious

i never looked the gift horse in the mouth, and it never happened again either!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 2:17 PM on January 3, 2008

Probably Simple: They didn't have anyone paying first-class prices for the first-class seats, and a discount fare is much better than none.

The thing is, when that happens the usual procedure (as I've read on FlyerTalk) is to upgrade the premium/high mileage customers to First and then sell off the coach seats they have just vacated.

I'm guessing there was a mistake.
posted by vacapinta at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2008

Also, as long as you look like you can fit in with 1st class customers, they have no problem bumping you up. They don't put the hobo looking types up there, nor family types either.
posted by maxpower at 2:28 PM on January 3, 2008

i wonder if there was simply a weird equipment change? Perhaps you were originally booked in seat 1A of a plane with no first class section, and for some reason United switched equipment and then had no place to put you? They could not have simply bumped you if they had empty seats up front.
posted by ubiquity at 2:32 PM on January 3, 2008

Oh, there have been hobo families in first class. I've seen it with my own eyes.
posted by Pants! at 2:34 PM on January 3, 2008

I'm a frequent flyer on United and I think vacapinta and ubiquity may be on to something. Typically they'll dole out upgrades to frequent flyers based on fare class and status level, which has the added property of opening more economy seats. They want to make sure the pampering is aimed at repeat customers. I'm surprised you got snubbed at the First Class check in line 'cause that's supposed to be for First Class (any fare) or 1K (and sometimes Premium Exec). The weirdness is that your folks apparently picked a 1st class seat at the time of booking. That sounds like a rare (but welcome) glitch in the system. If you were only upgraded on the Chicago to Boston leg it could make sense that your folks booked on what at the time was a single-class puddle jumper which ended up being replaced by a two class plane.

As a Premier Exec who seldom sees my upgrades go through owing to all the 1Ks and full fare flyers I'll just say I'm envious ;-). FLying sucks, but as you discovered, the front of the bus is a much nicer place to have it suck.
posted by donovan at 2:44 PM on January 3, 2008

I'm inclined to think it was a mistake, though I can't imagine how it could have happened, given there were so many people entitled to my seat ahead of me. Even stranger is the fact that the entire return leg was First Class (PV to Chicago to Boston), and I was allowed in to the lounge at O'Hare.

Weird, but wonderful.
posted by awenner at 2:49 PM on January 3, 2008

I had exactly the same thing happen to me, JFK to LAX past May. I paid coach, booked about 3 wks in advance using frequent flyer miles, and I was given the opportunity to choose a first class seat (which I did).
posted by johngumbo at 5:40 PM on January 3, 2008

Maybe your parents belong to the Premium club and used their number to get the upgrade?
posted by fshgrl at 7:05 PM on January 3, 2008

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