More on Changing Your Frequent Flyer Number Mid-trip

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Following my recent failure to change my frequent flyer number after a US Airways flight, I decided to try changing my frequent flyer number enroute on my United flights this past weekend to see what was possible and how it worked. To be clear, I was not trying to game the system or get something I didn’t deserve, I just wanted to know what worked.

For the outbound, I arrived at the gate only a little before my flight took off so decided to call a United rep to have them change my number rather than bother the people at the gate who starting the boarding process. I called and the agent had a little difficulty, put me on hold to talk to her supervisor and came back about 2 minutes later having changed it. Cool.

5 minutes later the gate agent came on board with an upgrade for someone in the back, an upgrade to my seat! The agent looked at me in confusion, took my ticket back up to the gate with him and several anxious moments later I was glad to see someone coming back. Apparently I had gotten “unchecked in” and they were working on it, but I should check at the gate of my connecting flight to make sure I still had a seat. YIKES!

Ok, lesson learned, definitely a risk to have your frequent flyer changed via phone even if they had no problem doing it. Fortunately when I landed I still had my original seat on the next flight (a sold out flight to New Orleans) and everything was fine.

The next morning I saw first class seats were still available on my return flight, so I called the United 1K line to apply a Regional Premier Upgrade (RPU) since my US Airways number was now on the reservation. No seats had been released, but she put me on the waitlist for an upgrade.

The morning after that (24 hours before my departure) I saw that first class seats were still available but I hadn’t been upgraded. I also saw that my original seat in Economy plus had been reassigned to regular economy, most likely because of my US Air number being in the record.

So I changed my frequent flyer number back to my United number and called up an agent to see the status of my RPU. Apparently that had not gone through either? But she was willing to apply it and instantly confirm my upgrade, which I preferred to the anxiety of hoping I’d clear at the gate based on status.

The next morning I’m at the airport and realize that since I was upgraded on an RPU instead of just elite status, I should be able to change back to my US Airways number. Regional Premier Upgrades are based on the sponsor’s status, not the traveler. So I would have cleared for it based on my 1K status, even if I’m not traveling as a 1K.

I go up to the gate agent about 20 min before boarding and ask her to change my frequent flyer number to my US Airways number. She does so and then tells me that she can’t do it because I had gotten my upgrades based on status and they’re not supposed to switch after that happens. I nicely mention that my upgrades were based on a Regional Premier Upgrade, but she didn’t seem to understand and just continued to tell me she can’t and look at me disapprovingly.

Ugh. I tell her to just switch it back and spend the rest of time before boarding trying to decide if it’s worth fighting in my connecting city. I look up United’s Terms & Conditions for using Regional Upgrades and I’m pretty sure I’m right that what I wanted to do was not illegal or against the spirit of the system.

(What frustrated me most about that situation was that I was in the right because I’d been upgraded on a cert, not trying to game the system. But a less knowledgeable or confident traveler would easily have been cowed by her disapproving manner and not only been denied the benefits they were eligible for, but made to feel bad. Even now that situation still bothers me…)But back to the flights. We land early, so I stop in the United Club to inquire. This time though I decide not to ask them to switch my number (which apparently makes some people think I’m up to something) and rather just ask them to remove my number, since later I’ll be able to submit my flights to whichever star alliance airline I decide. I explain I was upgraded with an RPU and I wanted my number removed, but only if it wouldn’t impact my reservation and/or change my seat.One person was confused, the other, probably guessing my intention, was telling her why it was ok, but both of them couldn’t believe I wouldn’t want any number on there. After leaving the club I immediately went to a self-service kiosk to print out an updated ticket to make sure that my reservation was, in fact, still intact. It was.

So it was an interesting set of experiences, ones I’m glad I had, but never wish to repeat. It appears that when flying United you can change your number at any point during your itinerary, but that there might be unexpected and even devastating consequences to your seat assignments. If you’re upgrading with a regional or global premier upgrade, I’d recommend not putting in your frequent flyer number at all until after the itinerary is complete, although you then run the risk of not having elite status treatment if anything happens to your flights.  Not for the faint of travel heart. 🙂


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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