7 Common Problems Many People Encounter When Trying To Book Award Tickets on United.com

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Part of the “fun” of working with mileage is constantly having to deal with the quirky nature of the various airline websites. One of the easiest websites to use is actually United.com, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its own issues. I’ve listed a whole bunch of them down below, and some easy solutions and workarounds:

Scenario 1: You can find availability on both ends, but for some reason, can’t book it as a round-trip.

Take a look at this. When I do a search for NYC-PVG as a round-trip from 3/31 to 4/11, and select the following Lufthansa flight in economy for 3/31:

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Here’s what happens on the return:

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There is no option for the non-stop return with United on saver or standard. This occurs even if I log in to my Chase United Explorer card linked account. However, when I search for PVG-EWR as a one-way on 4/9, I do get that flight in saver:

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So an obvious point here is that it’s always important to search both legs as one-ways when using United.com. Sometimes the results will be the same, but you never know. The solution is to book both flights as a one-way, but that’s not ideal, because you may have to pay two “close-in” fees and you won’t be able to take advantage of United’s free stopover policy. Therefore, I would recommend calling them. If you’re worried about waiting on hold, use this amazing link for a callback. You’ll never wait more than 5 minutes to talk to someone.

Scenario 2: Trying to make a flight change online will not show you all available options. When you try to make a change to an award flight on United.com, you will often not get all available options, especially partner options. Do a search as you normally would on the website, write down the flights you want, and call customer service with the change.

Scenario 3: The new award chart, which differentiates partners and United metal, is confusing.Yeah, it is. I know. There’s really not much to be done about this. One tip is that given the new chart, it behooves you to try to fly United metal for at least part of the trip. It could save you a ton of mileage, even 60,000 in some cases. Also, there are some interesting opportunities to throw in a First Class flight for the same price as an all-business ticket. Take a look at the below:

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As you can see, flying First Class on the leg from PVG-TPE is actually the same price as business! So keep an eye out for odd opportunities like that. It’s a great way to be able to sample different seat products without having to overpay.

Scenario 4: You know the flight you’re looking for is available, but you can’t find it. This is one that I see a lot. Take the below, for example, when I search LAX-NYC on 4/8:

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There are a bunch of red-eyes to Newark , but nothing to JFK. But when I change the search to LAX-JFK on 4/8, look at what happens:

United 325 6So the lesson here is that when a metropolitan area has multiple airports, always make sure to search for the exact airport you want to see all available options.

Another common problem under this same scenario is that the flight won’t be available because you need “last seat availability” privileges to book it. All elite members and Chase United Explorer Cards have this, so if you find yourself running into this problem constantly, you definitely should strongly consider signing up for the card. It’s got plenty of other good benefits, like free first checked bag, plus a nice signup bonus.

Scenario 5: You want to book a multi-destination award, and you know the routing is legal, but United.com tells you is not. This happens constantly. The website is barely functional for multi-destination awards, and often mis-prices even the ones that it can process. What’ll happen is you’ll input all the information correctly, check all the rules, and you’ll still get this error:

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Don’t worry. It doesn’t necessarily mean the routing is invalid or anything like that. In this scenario, find your flights using one-way searches, write them down, and call United.

Scenario 6: The award calendar shows that there’s no availability on your dates. Don’t trust that calendar. It’s wrong constantly. Take a look at this for example:

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The way the calendar is supposed to work, ideally, is that dates in green have coach and business availability, dates in blue have business availability, and dates in white have no availability at all. As you can see in the screenshot, this does not always work. Moral of the story, when doing a search for award space, always scroll down to the bottom of the page, even if the calendar shows that the date is “white”.

Scenario 7: You booked an award with a partner, and you don’t have the partner confirmation number to select seats. Yeah, that’s not a fun one. The good news is that for many partners all you need to do is log into your reservation and look for the “View Additional Confirmation Numbers” link. For example, if you booked a flight with Lufthansa, you’d see the below:

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Other airlines may not show up, and in those scenarios you’ll have to call United to get the confirmation number.

There are numerous other issues with booking on United.com, but these are 7 of the most common. I’ll do another post on this topic in the near future, but in the meantime, feel free to comment below if you have any questions.


  • MileHighBug

    Awesome post! I run into Scenario 5 a lot. Do you know if it has to do with the total number of segments? I read something that suggested that once, and I have noticed that I get less errors when I pick flights with fewer connections. But I don’t know if there is a hard and fast “rule.” I have to get better about calling in when this happens. Also, it’s good to know about these other scenarios where I am probably not seeing as much availability as I should be, and I wasn’t even aware of it! Thanks.

    • dealspin

      IME, no it’s not based on segments, or anything specific I have been able to determine. The site is just not set up to really work with multi-destinations properly, like on purpose. They cost United more money without costing you more miles.