The Basics

Dealing With United Award Problems – Availability and Agents

Written by Charlie

I am going to Europe soon for a while and I had been trying to secure the flight to my final destination (Thessaloniki, Greece). United is really the best domestic airline to use for award travel there since the airline that has almost every one of the flights that would connect to go to Thessaloniki is a member of the Star Alliance (like United – the airline is Aegean Airlines). Availability is very, very good and I knew that the hardest part would be securing the long-haul flight across the Atlantic as I had a couple of preferences – for minimal connections, I wanted to go with Lufthansa through either Frankfurt or Munich and for baggage considerations, I wanted to go Business or First class (plus it would give me a review opportunity!).

Dealing with United Award Problems

It turns out that I had more of a problem securing the long-haul segment than I had thought but was eventually able to book the itinerary through from Rochester – Munich. At that point, I was unable to get the last leg on Aegean Airlines. Sidebar: I will talk about this in greater detail in a separate post, but if you fail to find availability for a trip using United’s calendar, it is best to try and build it segment by segment and then call in the have the agent marry the segments. If the availability on the flights is decent, then just secure the long-haul segment and then call to have the departure and arrival flights connected to it.

Dealing with United Awards

Great availability (it seems)

Dealing with United Award

Looking Good So Far!

Dealing with United Award

The screen showed this after “booking” the flight

Dealing with United Award

Even though I received a confirmation number, this is what shows when I plug the confirmation number in – FAIL


After many times of trying to book it without the flight holding, I called in to have them help me. They were not able to ticket the Aegean flights either, even after speaking with Aegean reps for a while. I don’t know what the issue is but it is something that has just come up over the last few weeks. I doubt Aegean flights affect many of my readers, but this is to just give an example of what one might deal with when partner flights are not syncing up with United availability.

So, because the agents could not ticket it through the final destination, they ticketed the portion that I had and told me I could keep calling back to have it tried again and again until it worked. Something to realize at this point is that if you make any changes or book a ticket within 21 days of departure with United (and have no status) it will cost you $75 per change (you can make any changes you need to at one time for $75 as long as you do not change the departure or arrival cities). Because my current destination was Munich but was supposed to be Thessaloniki, the rep put it in the notes that I could have it changed because of problems.

After attempting for one week to get the Aegean flights to ticket, I finally found flight segments that would get me to Thessaloniki without using Aegean (which is very hard to do). The only other airlines that can be used with United miles are Tyrolean Airlines and Turkish Airlines. There has been NO availability from the US to Istanbul, so I had to wait for segments to free up for the Tyroloan Airlines (Austrian Arrows out of Vienna). My new route had first class on Lufthansa but only one seat left, so I hurried and grabbed it. After that (and making sure the other segments were available) I called United again to have them switch the itinerary. They were able to help me construct the whole thing but they would not ticket it without my using another 67,500 miles (which I didn’t have in the account). I told them that the notes should explain my situation and that Munich was not my final destination but they wanted to ticket it at that time so it would not disappear, blah, blah, blah. No go. He held the itinerary for me and I thanked him and hung back.

I called back about 30 minutes later (that is the number one thing to remember when dealing with airlines – hang up and call back!) and had a very friendly agent that worked on switching it for a while before coming back (after 45 minutes on the phone) and saying he could do it but I would have to pay the redeposit fee of $150 to put the miles back in my account and then ticket the new one. I calmly explained what had happened and why I was currently ticketed through Munich but was supposed to be ticketed to Thessaloniki. He said there was nothing he could do. So, I asked for his supervisor who came on the phone after 5 minutes and tried to tell me why I had to pay the amount. I gave him the same explanation – I had called originally because I could not book online through Thessaloniki and was told there were reservation problems so they would ticket it as far as Munich and then keep trying to get me to Thessaloniki. Since they were not able to do that, I found an alternative that would get me to Thessaloniki. Nothing had changed since the original reservation as far departure and arrival airports so I should not have to pay the fee since their agents were the ones that had told me they would ticket it as is. Finally, he did it for me without the fee and I had my ticket!

Here are some important points when dealing with United about awards and availability:

  • Just because it shows available does not mean it is available (especially with Lufthansa First Class tickets)
  • You can “reserve” an award ticket if you do not have enough miles in your account and it will hold until the next day
  • Don’t let a rep tell you that they cannot “reserve” a partner flight this way – it is possible
  • Have alternatives ready in case they are not able to ticket the flight you are trying for – they are the ones that are showing false availability
  • Have them put notes in the account if you cannot finish assembling the ticket at that time so you do not need to rehash the whole thing again
  • Know the fee schedule – $75 for changes/bookings within 21 days and $150 for award redeposit fees if you cancel

Hopefully you will not have to deal with these problems, but if you do, at least you can know you are not alone!


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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.