Upgrade Class Visibility on Delta and United Removed From ExpertFlyer

You will purportedly no longer be able to see the availability of upgrades or award inventory — such as for this seat in the first class cabin on flight 950 which was operated by United Airlines from Washington Dulles to Brussels this past August. Photograph by FlyerTalk member Gberg. Click on the photograph for a trip report written by Gberg.

FlyerTalk members who subscribe to the services of ExpertFlyer.com were not exactly happy about being informed that they can no longer view the upgrade classes of RU and OU on Delta Air Lines as of Friday, October 18, 2013; as well as no longer being able to view the upgrade class of R and elite award inventory on United Airlines as of Thursday, October 31, 2013.
Although no official statement has been announced by Delta Air Lines, FlyerTalk member UA Insider — also known as Aaron Goldberg, who is the senior manager of Customer Experience Planning at United Airlines — announced the following official statement which was posted on FlyerTalk:

“Hi everyone,
“We recognize the importance and value to you of accessible and transparent information about United flights. It’s a meaningful part of your travel planning, and we are committed to providing useful information that is both accurate and preserves the integrity of United’s data and systems.
“While we are committed to data transparency, Expert Flyer has been accessing united.com in an unauthorized fashion to retrieve UA availability. In addition, these activities have consumed significant united.com bandwidth that could otherwise be used by regular consumers. As a result, we had to take this action to protect the security and integrity of United’s systems.
“Thank you for your understanding as to why we had to take this action. We continue to look at ways in which we can provide you with timely and useful information (some of which you will see in new releases of our own digital channels) as well as with partners that have authorized access to our data.”

UA Insider also added that “Expert mode/visibility in UA channels is unaffected by this.”
Responses by Delta Air Lines include the following — in the form of private communications to FlyerTalk members:

Received by FlyerTalk member jamesteroh from a representative of Delta Air Lines: “Thank you for contacting us about Complimentary Upgrades.
“We do not have a business relationship with ExpertFlyer and the organization used unauthorized information to provide Complimentary  Upgrade availability to their subscribers.
“At this time, we do not provide the number of seats available for Complimentary Upgrades. However, you can view whether or not a flight  has Complimentary Upgrade availability when booking at delta.com. Just  look for ‘Upgrade Available’ when searching for a flight.
“We appreciate your feedback and will take it into consideration as we continue to update our technology tools and services.
“For additional questions regarding ExpertFlyer’s Complimentary Upgrade service, please contact ExpertFlyer directly.
“Thank you for your loyalty. As a Diamond Medallion member, you are an integral part of our customer base and we are always interested in your feedback. We look forward to serving you soon.”

“I hope Delta’s next move isn’t to restrict the fare bucket available on EF”, posts jamesteroh. “That will be enough to get me to cancel my EF membership since I use that info if I want to SDC on a different flight.”

Received by FlyerTalk member hoyt from a representative of Delta Air Lines: “We are truly sorry for your disappointment with the decision to remove upgrade availability information from the Expert Flyer website. Unfortunately, we found incorrect information being disseminated, which led to confusion amongst our passengers. Additionally, information was being posted without our prior authorization. For these reasons, we made the decision to have our customers contact us directly with their inquiries. Nevertheless, please know my explanation is not meant to undermine your experience in any way. Feedback like you have provided will help us to improve our overall customer experience. Be assured your comments will be shared with our Corporate Marketing leadership team for internal review.”

“Interesting that they say ‘incorrect information’” is the response by hoyt. “I wonder if that’s because they published incorrect information. And by wonder, I mean, I wonder how their IT department could have possibly published incorrect information when everything else is always correct. I have been confused several times by the incorrect information on delta.com. Would love it if they stopped publishing information there.”

The response received by FlyerTalk member jsmith50 from a representative of Delta Air Lines includes the following: “It’s always frustrating when you don’t receive the service you expected and we recognize that participation this subscription service, not operated by Delta Air Lines, offers certain pieces of information unavailable elsewhere that have been removed.
“For your reference, this change was necessary to maintain a competitive business environment.”

“…because the data is not in the public domain that DL had adequate legal grounds to request the EF stop selling that information”, presumed jsmith50. “As such, EF was faced with a decision to pony up (presuming DL first asked for more money to publish the information) or stop displaying it. EF decided that it was a smaller blow to them corporately to stop displaying it and tick off the DL flyers while maintaining their other airline subscriber base than to risk a long, expensive legal fight that could have bankrupted the company.”

The message received from a representative of Delta Air Lines by FlyerTalk member rylan had this slightly unusual response included in it: “I certainly understand you feel that this service assists you in choosing flights and routes where there is still upgrade inventory. We will sit down and think it over.”

An official announcement posted by FlyerTalk member ExpertFlyer Voice — who is an official company representative of ExpertFlyer.com — contains the following message:

“There is nothing further we can comment on. We suggest that you mention in any correspondence not only the value you derived as an elite traveler from the information that was removed, but how that might affect your loyalty with them. In addition, how those factors determine your overall spend amount with Delta and how that might now change.”

ExpertFlyer Voice also posted the following content:

“To clarify on two points of speculation:
“- ExpertFlyer does not screen scrape any information from Delta.com. We get our DL information directly from the GDS systems, which is what allowed us to uniquely see the upgrade inventory in the first place. Our lack of screen scraping is also why we do not have DL award inventory, as the DL or Air France websites are the only source for that information which is not available in GDSs. This is something that we have explained and posted about many times in the past.
“- The email that the OP references only went out to those subscribers that had active Flight Alerts for the affected classes. We didn’t want anyone that had previously created an alert thinking that it was still working and relying on it.”

FlyerTalk member KVS — a spokesperson for the KVS Availability Tool — has been uncharacteristically quiet about this situation involving its competitor, stating only that “The recently-announced changes ‘on other platforms’ are not applicable to the KVS Tool users.”
In an indirect response to that statement, FlyerTalk member sbm12 posted that “KVS ‘scrapes’ locally rather than from a server. That’s the basic difference. It makes stopping KVS very, very, very difficult.”
FlyerTalk member mgcsinc further opined that “…it’s gonna be an obnoxious game of whack-a-mole for them to disable KVS access, unless they want to chart some uncharted legal waters and sue them.”
While many FlyerTalk members posted their intent to unsubscribe from the service offered by ExpertFlyer.com as a result of this news about no longer being able to view certain information, some also threatened to renounce being a customer any longer of Delta Air Lines or — in the case of some FlyerTalk members such as tryathleteof United Airlines:

“It’s like this. UA sells upgrade inventory undermining the value of my 6 SWU instruments. I pay an additional fee to use them via W fare class limitation. Now you’ve decided to eliminate Expert Flyer’s notification of this inventory. I’ve used EF to work around your archaic system, and if I have to call UA every day or use expert mode on my own to see when this inventory is released, I’m finally going to abandon my 7 year 1k streak for AA.
By the way, you’re surely aware of the fact that UA has no spend requirement, offers 8 SWU instead of 6, and even allows EXP flyers to use the equivalent of First Class Lounges on international travel, even when flying economy.
Either retract this denial of inventory notification or say goodbye to $20,000 per year effective 1/1/2014.”

However, a few FlyerTalk members believe that this is “much ado about nothing.” FlyerTalk member craz posted this response:

“When Hertz and Avis etc etc stopped Auto Slash from being to rebook you at a new lower rate, did everyone simply stop using those companys? I bet not 1 person changed who they rent with.
“EF isnt that old what did everyone do before they came on the scene? You will simply have to go back to what you once did.
“I was never a member of EF either for free or paid. Over the yrs Ive flown on countless award tkts and usually found it all on PMCO or PMUA searching manually. It seems thats what everyone will have to do once again., no more short cuts for those willing to pay for it.
“I find it odd that EF hasnt posted to this thread and informing everyone of the facts as they see it.
“Sorry but its great to know that the playing field is gonna be alot more level going forward.”

FlyerTalk member GBadger posts:

“If we can’t see R inventory, then we can’t complain about it not being allocated correctly for upgrade instruments. My guess is that too many people were jumping on the R space opened within 24 hours, and that instead of getting buy up money as intended, UA was getting a bunch of calls asking for their (rightfully requested) upgrades to be processed.
“This is all about making it harder for people to be alerted to the fact that instrument-supported upgrades are not always processed when R opens up. Keeping more R open means being able to sell more upgrades before the flight.”

FlyerTalk member halls120 suggests:

“If UA wants a “fair and reasonable profit” they should just stop giving out GPUs altogether and go to selling F and C during the last 24 hours before flight. Instead, they entice people to buy more expensive Y fares with the lure that a GPU might clear, and now, they are making UGs seem more like buying a lottery ticket than a business proposition.”

Do you agree with the following analysis posted by FlyerTalk pdx1M member ?

“It’s interesting to see the difference between companies that get their customers and those that don’t. They typical response of a hi tech company (e.g., a Google) when they see small companies that have “added value” to the big company’s customers with new apps has been to either buy the little guy and integrate the function or just build in the function themselves. They use the creation and existence of these other services to show them what their customers want that they aren’t getting in the native product. Microsoft was expert at doing this for years (and got called a monopolist for doing it but that’s a different discussion). UA sees third party added value apps and rather than asking how to absorb that functionality to create more customer satisfaction, rather petulantly shuts them down thus annoying the customer. Looking at related products that your customers are actually willing to pay for is a really great way to do product/marketing research. The existence of such products clearly point to deficiencies in your own product. But instead of taking advantage of such “free” market research UA knows better and cuts off the service. There is one level of arrogance in thinking you understand your customers when there isn’t definitive data available to prove that you don’t but it is a whole different level of arrogance to see definitive proof of what your customer wants and then aggressively ignore it. Brings ever new meaning to “savvy” management.”

Finally, FlyerTalk member zrs70 adds some perspective:

“While I certainly wish things were not changing, UA will hardly see a dent from reaction to this.
“And let’s keep life in perspective: A lump in your oatmeal is an inconvenience. A lump in your breast is a serious problem.
“This is a lump in my oatmeal. So it will take extra time to find the upgrade space. I’m really not all that annoyed. And those who say they are leaving because of this are being kind of petty.”

Although I have met the founder of ExpertFlyer.com, I never subscribed to his service — or any other similar service, for that matter. Does this mean that — according to craz — I may have a better chance of securing upgrades in the future as long as I am an elite member of a frequent flier loyalty program of either Delta Air Lines or United Airlines?
Will other airlines — such as American Airlines, for example — follow the lead of Delta Air Lines and request that availability of upgrade and award inventory be removed from services such as ExpertFlyer.com? Will Delta Air Lines and United Airlines benefit in the long run? Could revenue be lost as a result of FlyerTalk members purchasing the least-expensive airfare and not “buying up” to a more expensive fare class as a result of seeing upgrade inventory in advance using ExpertFlyer.com?
What are your thoughts? How will these developments affect you, if at all?

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