I procrastinated so much on my recent award booking. My heart said JFK-LAX on a fancy plane, my head said take the crappy plane and waste less time. I found myself going through the booking process online and getting to check out, then bailing out as this conflict ensued. After my final ‘checkout page’ bailout I realized that I should have pulled the trigger, because the flight was no longer showing as available.
However, I held off for a day or two, because I had a feeling that they might be blocking out the seat for ME but I couldn’t see it because it was blocked out for SOMEONE. In other words, all my faffing around meant that I couldn’t get on that flight. Sure enough, after a day or two, the space opened up again. This seat blocking can get you into hot water, as you can see in this post from Road Warriorette on BoardingArea (HT to Janet in the comments). Her friend was searching for space in Business Class and found his account locked, and 60,000 AAdvantage miles removed from it for his troubles.
This blocking action, where they create a PNR for you in order to store the reservation does make some sense, as it means once you get a certain way through a booking you can complete it, VS it being a free for all when you find someone else snagged that last seat while you were booking, but it seems kinda crazy that they penalize you for ‘messing up’. That said, I’ve heard of another case where someone was intentionally doing dummy bookings in order to keep the First class cabin nice and open to increase their upgrade chances!
I can see a desire from behalf of the carrier to penalize people who make dummy bookings in order to check inventory, but it is one of the few ways to see what is happening with the plane. For me, it is a question of intent. If you are deliberately blocking out seats in order to increase a chance of upgrading, then I agree that the airline should throw the book at you, but if you are just looking because you are anxiously excited about the prospect of being in Business class, I think that is unfair.
Calculating value of an upgrade offer
I don’t have status with any airline, so I have no need to look for this upgrade ‘percentage’ when I book flights, plus I only buy award flights which are rarely upgraded anyway… .However I do use this same tactic with Cruises. Currently we cruise for free with NCL via the Casinos at Sea program, but since I stopped gambling in any notable capacity the offers are becoming more spartan, with an Inside Cabin being the only option they will bestow. They allow a cash upgrade at any time prior to sailing, and actually onboard too, where I upgraded our Inside Cabin on the NCL Jade from the Inside Cabin, to the Penthouse (with a massive balcony/terrace and a butler) on day 2 of the cruise.
I’ve found that I want some sort of minimum upgrade on a cruise, I need a balcony on my cabin just for some relaxation when the decks are busy with riff raff. Knowing how many cabins are available allows me to start ballparking the value of the upgrade, as I have found they drop the prices when sail date closes in, and there are still empty slots. As such, if I see only 2 cabins available at a balcony or suite level, I’d jump on a $600 upgrade (the typical upsell charge) but if there are dozens, I’ll just wait it out. A dummy booking every month or so allows me to track inventory, and decide if I think the upgrade should be locked in at the higher rate, or if I should continue to stall until they drop to a fire sale price.
Is it wrong?
I don’t think so. As a consumer I think I should know if the cruise line (or airline) is stiffing me with a price that is at the top rate when there is a lot of unsold inventory. I’m not attempting to block out any space when I do this, I’m simply trying to ‘peek inside the vessel’ to see how much they have sold, and if they are giving me a fair price or not. Unfortunately, we should be aware, per the Road Warriorette article, that because of certain systems in place you can get in a lot of trouble for doing this. A solution might be to use a dummy account (or not log in) for a dummy booking, but if you do elect to do this, please don’t attempt to lock out seats to increase upgrade chances, as that’s a bit crappy.