Earlier today I wrote about phantom SWISS award inventory appearing on united.com. The result of this inaccurate award space can be dramatic: hundreds of thousands of orphaned miles in United. Here’s how to eliminate risk when booking a partner award with United Airlines.
Step One: Call United to Make the Reservation
United.com often displays inaccurate space for a handful of Star Alliance partners, including:
I can recount many horror stories of Award Expert clients preemptively transferring points against our instructions only to find the award space actually not bookable.
If you see award space on united.com that works well for you but need to either buy miles or transfer points in from Chase, call in. An agent will quickly be able to tell you if the space is actually bookable or not.
Step Two: Transfer or Buy Points While on the Phone with Agent
If the space is bookable, ask the agent to set up the reservation for you and ensure that all segments show “HK” or holding confirmed. The agent will essentially place the reservation on hold. Only then, you can either navigate to united.com to purchase the points you need or log-in to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and complete the transfer to United.
This process should only take a couple minutes and I have never encountered an agent who has refused to wait while you transfer or buy points. The points will hit your account immediately and the agent will then process payment and even waive the telephone booking fee if nicely asked.
What About the 24-Hour Waiting Period?
You’ll notice that sometimes when you book a ticket with United you will be advised that partners have up to 24 hours to un-confirm space. This occurs for non-Alliance partners like AerLingus online as well as for Star Alliance partners on an arbitrary basis when booking over the phone. In my experience, some agents insist that space be held while other proceed immediately with ticketing.
If you encounter an agent who insists that the space be held, do not be alarmed — this is a good thing. This means you will not have to purchase points until you can ensure the space will hold confirmed. Consequently, you may even want to ask agents something like, “Don’t we have to wait 24 hours before ticketing?” to reduce risk further. If your award space is on hold, wait the 24 hours then call back. Only when an agent verifies the space is still confirmed should you buy or transfer in miles.
Booking with United miles is a tricky process. To protect yourself, never transfer or buy points into United until you are sure your award space is actually bookable.