United.com has a lot of IT issues. One prevalent issue with united.com is when “saver” seats appear available for booking, but in actuality, the seats cannot be booked or there’s an error when it comes to completing the booking. This is commonly known as “phantom award space.” This is most prominent with Lufthansa availability, mostly with business or first class seats.
I’ve also had other problems searching Star Alliance availability with united.com. When I was searching for award space between Europe and the U.S. for a client, I noticed that united.com failed to display two available business class seats between Milan and Toronto on specific dates while two other Star Alliance sites, Aeroplan.com and ANA.com showed otherwise. Typically, I would expect united.com to show Star Alliance parters if they were available.
To inquire whether this was an issue with United.com, I called United to confirm whether the space was available. Indeed, the agent was able to confirm the space at the saver level for 70k per person and $34.50 in taxes/fees.
HOW TO WORK AROUND THIS PROBLEM
Don’t used united.com to search for Star Alliance award space. I never do. Instead, I use aeroplan.com as my go to site for searching Star Alliance space. The ANA Mileage plan is the best source for searching Star Alliance availability because the veracity of their search function is near 100%. The downside is most people find the ANA tool to be a bit cumbersome since searches have to entered as round trip or multi-city, thus making a segment by segment search a little more tedious. However it may be tedious, it’s less frustrating than having united.com showing erroneous award space.
AVOID THE TELEPHONE BOOKING FEE
If were to book the aforementioned Milan – Toronto flight with a phone agent, there would be charged a $25 telephone booking fee. One could argue that united.com is incorrectly not displaying flights online and the agent may waive it.
The other sure way to avoid it is to start a booking online and obtain a record locator. Then call an agent within 24-hours of booking since changes/cancellations are free during this period and add the desired flights.
United.com will never be perfect. I’ve had eticket receipts come through showing incorrect departure and arrival times. United’s resolution for was to re-issue that particular ticket with a new ticket number, which is a separate issue from this availability issue.
An average person searching for award space would most likely not be aware of the accuracy of united.com. I guess, I shouldn’t complain too much since this is why people pay us to consult them on the redemption process. If you’re frustrated with united.com you’re not the only one and we’re here to help.