The Basics

Making United Award Reservations

Probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get is, “How do you actually use these miles that you accumulate? I tried and couldn’t find what I wanted.”

Well, first of all – flexibility! Having flexibility for a trip makes you be in control of your miles. It gives you a lot more options, so first of all, try to be flexible.

Okay, you are flexible, so now what? Today, I will show you some quick basics about two recent trips I booked for friends.

Trip #1

This person wanted to go to Johannaesburg with the miles she was able to earn with a couple of cards. Since she was going to visit family, she was going to be taking a lot of extra luggage. After a little bit of thought, I convinced her to borrow some extra points and go business class. Since she had never flown internationally by herself, being in business class would be a way to give her a little more security when it came to being cared for by the airline (priority check-in, priority boarding, more attendant attention on-board, lounge access, extra luggage, priority baggage handling).

When I first got the ticket, I just booked the first flight options that were acceptable (even though not preferred) for her. I knew that I could change the flight around afterwards (until 21 days before departure, cabin changes, flight changes, and date changes are all free – within 21 days). I did end up changing it to achieve better times and stops. It did take 45 minutes on the phone to change since the changes could not be made online. Not the most fun way to spend time, but the agents were very helpful. They did try to charge me the change fee even though we were well outside of 21 days, so I had to remind them about that.

Here are the bullet points:

Trip #2

I had to book two tickets for a couple of people and this one was using the free stopover that United gives you on award tickets. They were leaving from an Eastern US city to a city in Europe to a city in the Midwest US to the original city. This was not working on their website and kept kicking out error messages. So, it was back to the phone. Thankfully, the hold time was only 2 minutes – this has improved greatly over times from last month. Again, the agents were very helpful and pleasant to deal with. After 1 hour on the phone, I had the two tickets booked and done.

Here are the bullet points on this one:

  • 60,000 miles used
  • 1 Card for each ticket (can be achieved with the United 65,000 Chase offer plus 1 month of Netflix and just 1,000 miles more)
  • Taxes – $103 each
  • Cost of ticket if purchased (as was the plan) – $1751

So, here are some helpful hints that you can use to book your own great ticket with United.

  1. If you cannot book it online (multi-destination ticket), check each of your legs as one-ways to pick out the flights that you want before calling (you can also use Expert Flyer to search for award availability)
  2. Call United MileagePlus Awards desk – 800-421-4655 ext. 3
  3. Tell the agent what you would like to do and which flights you would prefer
  4. Be patient and polite – these are some excellent customer service reps and they are going to try to find something that works for you
  5. Be ready to ticket the itinerary when they are done compiling it – Continental used to give you a hold period on award tickets but not anymore. You can cancel your ticket within 24 hours after it is ticketed so just ticket it as soon as it is done.
  6. Do your homework on the taxes. If you go through a city in Europe, the taxes are going to be higher than other cities around the world. Certain cities in Europe are higher than others (ie. London). Check mock bookings ahead of time to see the various taxes that are charged for each of your layover cities.
  7. Know about fees – the agents will probably try to charge you the $25 booking fee for doing it over the phone. Make sure you explain that you tried to book it online but it was giving you an error message. The fee is to be waived in those situations. Also, they may try to charge you the change fee even when you are outside of the 21 day period. Remind them of the 21 days and ask them to look it over again. Finally, the system will try to charge you a $150 redeposit fee if you try to cancel a flight within 24 hours after booking. That is wrong, so be ready to call back and have an agent do it.
  8. Take note of the partner airlines you are flying with and what their check-in requirements and luggage allowances are. If you ticket a flight with United for an international destination, chances are you will be checking in with one of their international partners on the return. At that point, you are playing by their rules. Know what those rules are. For example, one trip (a business class award ticket) had agents that could not process three checked bags in even though that is what United allows in Business First. It was because a leg of the journey was with Lufthansa and they only allow two checked bags in business. The problem was worked out before departure, but would have to be in compliance with the two bag rule before the return since the return airline is operated by Lufthansa.

That is it! Just properly educate yourself before you have to make that call. I understand that making calls like this is one of the least favorite things to do. But consider that you could be getting a $10,000 ticket for that one call. Is that phone call worth it now? 🙂

Here are some final points about making United award reservations:

  1. If booked or changed within 21 days of departure, the fee is $75.
  2. To redeposit the miles (like if you need to cancel the trip) it will cost $150
  3. Phone reservation fee is $25 (unless you can explain an error message that they can recreate as well)
  4. Award tickets can be made as one-way, round-trip, or multi-city
  5. Make sure you get the partner airline’s confirmation number as that is the only way you can change seats on your reservation (by using each confirmation number given by each airline with each airline)

Have fun! I will make another post soon with some more details in regards to making United award reservations. For now, start looking for your dream flight

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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.

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