Yes, its a tacky euphemism but it certainly has applied lately to what you see on United’s MileagePlus award seat availability as it pertains to First Class seats on Lufthansa flights from the USA.

I have several Lufthansa bookings coming up over the next few months and I approached each booking with the same philosophy: Get what you need at first, then you can go back and get what you want later. Especially since United’s website has a habit of showing inventory that may or may not be real. If you see something, and its “real”, TAKE IT!!

This approach worked last year and so far this year I have had success finding the seats I really want. Two examples come from calls to United last night:

Scenario 1:

My wife and I are flying to Istanbul and London later this week for my Wife’s birthday. I had booked our seats last October starting with the important legs: Anywhere, USA to Anywhere, Germany and Anywhere, Germany to Anywhere, USA. In this case, anywhere turned out to be Chicago to Dusseldorf and Frankfurt to Detroit. At the time it was the easy option to book 2 First Class Seats. Building the rest of the trip to IST then to LHR was the easy piece. Using the concept of putting the big rocks in the jar first, making it easier to fit all the little rocks into the jar later. Ultimately our itinerary was GRR-ORD-DUS-FRA-IST-MUC-LHR-FRA-DTW.

Tonight, I wanted to tweak our itinerary to eliminate the Dusseldorf-Frankfurt leg which would ultimately let us get to Istanbul nearly 4 hours earlier than our original plan. I looked on United’s site for availability and lo and behold a search came back with 2 First Class seats available from Chicago to Frankfurt, in my favorite aircraft, the 747-400 (until next month when I fly on the 747-8i back from FRA!). I call United’s MileagePlus desk and ask for help with switching out our Chicago-Dusseldorf flight, the helpful Honolulu based rep contradicted the website and said that only 1 seat was available. After chatting with him for a minute or 2 about how I found the 2 seats, I asked him if he can help with with a “Long Sell” or “Hard Sell” request and call Lufthansa directly to have them issue United another seat. He was surprised that a civilian would know such terminology but agreed why not, there was nothing to lose. He took my phone number and credit card info (in case taxes changed) and said he would call me as soon as he had an answer. 45 minutes later, the phone rings and he admitted his surprise, Lufthansa released another seat and he was able to swap out our ORD-DUS flight and replace it with ORD-FRA, additionally, he said his Lufthansa counterpart took the liberty to move up our FRA-IST flight to an earlier one, getting us into IST in time for lunch, instead of dinner.

Scenario 2:

On the same phone call, after confirming the details of the changes to our trip, I told him I was having the same problem finding a first class seat for another trip to Germany in late May. After explaining that I needed 1 First Class seat for myself and that the website showed inventory but would not let me book, he suggested he try Lufthansa again to see if they can’t release another. Guess what….45 minutes later, a phone call and another ticket booked that the website had offered, but would not let you book yourself. The United agent went on to say this technique is like having a new toy to play with and he’ll be using it where ever he can. I volunteered another route I needed in the near future, and he’ll call me tomorrow with the result since he was near the end of his shift.

The way I look at it, I just helped all of us have one more person at MileagePlus who is capable of thinking outside the computer screen.

So the moral of the story???

If you see Lufthansa First Class availability, but you can not book it yourself due to a website error during the booking process, dial your MileagePlus Elite phone number late in the day (eastern time) to have a better chance of talking to someone in the Honolulu service center. Why Honolulu? because they’re simply the best that UA has to offer. I have called them several times over the past few months and they have been nothing short of brilliant. They been able to do things that UA’s other call centers could not do.

If you see Lufthansa availability in your search results, it almost is certainly available, but you may need United to give Lufthansa a nudge to release it. Suggest to the agent to speak with his operations area regarding placing a long sell request call to Lufthansa. If the agent is willing (and thats the key), you’ll most likely find yourself in the seat you want. If they’re not willing, politely say good bye and call back in a few minutes. Ultimately you will find someone capable and willing to help you.

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