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United.com has one glaring flaw in the way that it was programmed that you can correct to become a better award searcher than united.com.
This is the ultimate trick when united.com tells you there is no Saver Award Availability on the route you want on the date you want.
How can you be better at award searching than united.com?
United.com’s award searching program is just that, a computer program. I haven’t seen the code, nor would it mean anything to me if I did, but I have some pretty good guesses about how the computer was programmed.
One thing that seems certain is that the program is designed to look for awards with their international gateway cities at Star Alliance hubs. That makes a lot of sense since most international awards will fly from a Star Alliance hub in the US to a Star Alliance hub abroad–after all, most flights touch at least one hub.
But some Star Alliance partners fly from their hubs to the US to non-hub cities. For example, TAP flies from Lisbon to Miami. Miami is not a United or US Airways hub.
United.com has no problem pulling up the direct Miami to Lisbon flight.
United.com has no problem pulling up a one-stop itinerary that uses this Miami to Lisbon segment.
But united.com won’t pull up two-stop itineraries that use the Miami to Lisbon segment very well.
That’s where you can improve on united.com by searching segment-by-segment or something like segment-by-segment .
For instance, you can search Washington DC to Miami and Miami to Lisbon, put one on hold through this trick, and then add the other segment(s) by phone before ticketing.
For instance, searching WAS-MIA pulls up several one stop ways to get there via Charlotte and MIA-LIS pulls up the direct flight. Calling United with this flight info, you would get a price of 50k miles in business class + $7.50 in taxes + a close in ticketing fee that varies based on your status.
United.com has a bias against finding routings that use a non-hub as an international gateway city, but you can correct it by searching segment-by-segment.
Take a look at wikipedia to find flights offered by European Star Alliance partners from their hubs to the US to non-hub cities. These routes may have good award availability that doesn’t show up on united.com if there are too many connections required to include those segments.