Update 4/13/16: Expert Mode was down for weeks, but now it is up and working again. Enjoy!
United has a setting you can activate called Expert Mode that allows you to see how many seats are in each fare bucket on a given flight.
I mentioned it first in “Booking Two Tickets on the Same United Flight” and I got some questions in the comments about what Expert Mode is, how to use it, and why you’d want to use it.
What is a fare bucket?
Every ticket you book with cash or miles has every segment come out of a fare bucket or fare class.
The fare bucket is a one or two letter code that represents what cabin you’re in, whether you got the seat with cash or miles, and how much you paid.
Airlines are willing to book a certain number of tickets in each fare bucket. If the Saver economy award fare bucket has zero seats, you can’t book a Saver economy award on the flight, but if it has six seats, you can book up to six Saver economy award tickets.
Knowing how many seats are in each bucket will let you know whether you can expect an upgrade, whether you can book an award, and whether elites have better award access on a certain flight.
- How can you enable Expert Mode on united.com?
- How can you use Expert Mode on united.com in award bookings and to secure upgrades?
Turning on Expert Mode
To enable Expert Mode in your United account, click this link and sign into your united.com account.
You’re on the Search Preference page, and you can turn on Expert Mode by checking a box saying you “acknowledge these considerations”…
…and then clicking Save at the bottom of the page.
Now any time you are signed into your united.com account and do a flight search, you can use the tools of Expert Mode.
Using Expert Mode
To use Expert Mode, do a standard flight search on united.com, selecting “Search for award travel.”
On any search result, click Details.
Each entry next to “Available fare classes” is a fare bucket and the number of seats available in that bucket.
It’s not just United flights that show fare buckets; even partner flights like Avianca, Swiss, and ANA show their fare buckets.
Key Fare Buckets for Awards & Upgrade
Remember that Saver award space is the cheaper award space that we try to book. Standard award space is the (approximately) double priced award space we try to avoid booking.
Saver Award Space
- O: Saver award space in international three-cabin first class
- I: Saver award space in international three-cabin business class or domestic two-cabin first or business class
- X: Saver award space in economy
Extra Saver Space for Elites
- IN: Extra Saver award space in international three-cabin business class or domestic two-cabin first or business class. Available only to Platinum elites and higher.
- XN: Extra Saver award space in economy. Available to all elites and United credit card holders.
- FN: Standard award space in international three-cabin first class
- ZN: Standard award space in international three-cabin business class or domestic two-cabin first or business class
- HN: Standard award space in economy
Extra Standard Award Space for Elites
- JN: Extra Standard award space in international three-cabin business class or domestic two-cabin first or business class. Available to all elites and United credit card holders.
- YN: Extra Standard award space in economy. Available to all elites and United credit card holders.
- R: economy to the next highest cabin
In this screen shot–for a Washington to Frankfurt flight–we can see that the flight has no zero space in the O bucket (First Class.)
The flight has zero Saver award seats in Business Class (I). There are 9+ Saver award seats in economy (X) and the same number listed for elites and credit card holders (XN).
There are four Standard First Class awards (FN) and nine Standard Business Class awards (ZN).
When to Use Expert Mode
Using Expert Mode quickly tells you exactly how many seats are available for awards and upgrades in every cabin at the Saver and Standard level.
That information would be slower to gather from awards searches as you’d have to change the number of passengers manually and repeat your search many times to figure out this info for a single flight.
If you’re thinking of buying a ticket with the plan to use an upgrade, Expert Mode lets you know which flights have confirmable upgrade space.
If you want to know whether getting the United credit card will open up extra economy Saver award space on a route you’re eying, Expert Mode will show you how much extra space is hiding in the XN bucket.
If you want to see exactly how many Saver award seats are available in each cabin on a flight without having to manually change the number of passengers on your award search over and over, Expert Mode will save you a few clicks.