Award inventory is shared among Star Alliance carriers in what is known as the StarNet system.
United Airlines, in an attempt to save money and funnel travelers to flights on UA metal has instituted a system of StarNet blocking in which they selectively filter out certain flights from partners including Thai Airways, Air New Zealand, and Lufthansa (for example).
Such a policy had understandably irked United Mileage Plus members who find it impossible to use their miles to travel to some cities that United does not serve. To complicate matters, UA has not informed their reservations agents of this policy, so these agents often spew misinformation, making up such claims as, "the airline doesn’t offer award seats to United."
There used to be a way around this using a method called manual booking, where a UA res. agent would request an award seat on a flight even if her system did not show availability. But around a year ago, a memo went out strictly prohibiting such bookings and it is very difficult–downright impossible in my experience–to find an agent willing to bend the rules and submit a manual request.
Maybe I should be commending UA’s reservation agents for at least following that rule, but when there is a flight I want (and using ANA’s award tool I can see Starnet inventory) it is discouraging to realize that with one click of the mouse I could be confirmed on the flight I want using my UA miles.
There is a flight I REALLY want to get on and am worried that once Continental has access to Starnet Inventory tomorrow, the seat will go quickly. Consequently, I am exploring options to circumvent UA’s Starnet blocking before tomorrow morning (short of crediting miles to another carrier).
I don’t think I’ll be successful, but I’ll report back later in the week.