The Trick to Hold United Awards

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Update 3/6/14: This post is outdated. See Master Thread: Holds on United Awards

The ability to hold awards is extremely valuable especially at our increasingly popular Award Booking Service. Our clients might need to transfer their Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards into their frequent flyer accounts. They might need to purchase additional miles to reach the next award threshold or just simply firm up their hotel plans. Having a few days to hold an award is critical in these cases.

Of the four legacy carriers, American Airlines is the most generous. American offers a 5 day award hold. US Airways allows you to hold most awards for three days. Delta actually allows 48 hour holds, but you need to be creative to do so. For more information, check out Scott’s post, The Trick to Hold Delta Awards.

Unfortunately, unlike its legacy counterparts, United doesn’t allow award holds. This makes booking United awards for clients a frustrating challenge. Luckily, we have discovered a loophole that enables you to do so.

(You used to be able to hold United awards through a different, now-defunct trick. Hat tip to Meshugener of the Dan’s Deals Forum for letting me know of its demise.)

Similar to the Delta trick, you need to have a United frequently flyer account with little (or no) miles in in it. I created a second United account with my business address and all my relevant personal information. It has a 0 mile balance at all times.

When I need to book an award for a client, I start online and try to collect as many segments of the trip as possible. This makes future steps quite a bit easier. United.com is quirky, though, and will often spit back an error message if you are trying to piece together an ultra-complicated itinerary.

Subtract a segment or two and try your search again. As an example, I tried to hold a simple Denver -> Chicago oneway award for two people in business class. When I select the itinerary I want, I’m met with the following screen.

I need additional miles to secure this award. United should allow me to hold the itinerary for a day or two to get the necessary miles in my account, but they don’t have that option. Instead, I’m given options to pay for the privilege of holding the award for three days or one week. Both are terrible deals.

Instead of paying to hold the award, just go back to the search screen and add any segment to your itinerary that includes a Star Alliance partner. It does not matter if it’s domestic (on US Airways) or international. It also doesn’t matter  when this segment occurs as long as it is not flown on United metal.

I searched for Denver to Tokyo-Narita via Chicago because All Nippon Airways, United’s Star Alliance partner, has two daily nonstops on this route with good award space. I selected an itinerary that included my previous Denver -> Chicago leg and came to the checkout screen.

The Fare Lock option is no longer available. Instead I am met with exactly the button I want to see: “Reserve.” I click the Reserve button and enter all the passenger information. After giving United my pertinent contact information, I am asked to hold the award itinerary with a credit card.

After entering my credit card information, I can click “Reserve” to officially hold the itinerary. Note that the expiration date provided on this screen is always incorrect. The correct expiration date is given on the next screen.

After clicking Reserve, I am taken to the confirmation screen. United generates a confirmation number/record locator and gives the correct expiration date/time. I have circled the correct date in red.

When I’m ready to book, I simply call United.com support at 1-800-396-1751 and give the record locator that my reservation generated. I ask the agent to discard the segments I don’t want and ticket the award from the United account that has miles. That’s the second part of this trick. I started the award in a dummy account with no miles, but over the phone I can give the agent any account number to use to ticket the award.

(Beginner tip: In all major frequent flyer programs, anyone’s miles can be used to book an award for anyone. But you can’t easily or cheaply combine miles between two airline accounts.)

What if I can’t grab all the segments I want online?

If you have a lot of segments in your desired itinerary, chances are united.com will not let you secure them all at once. Grab as many as you can online and reserve them to generate a confirmation number. Immediately call united.com support to add the remaining segments you need.

You say that united.com initially displays an incorrect date for award holds, what is the real expiration date?

Award holds done via this method expire the next day at midnight. Because of this, you always want to reserve your United awards in the morning. That will give you as close to 48 hours as possible.

Shouldn’t these awards be subject to the $25 phone booking fee?

No. If an agent brings up this fee when you book, push back. Politely let them know that the award was initiated online but you weren’t able to grab all the segments you needed. They should waive the $25 fee or not even bring it up. If the agent does insist on the fee, hang up and call back.

Will my credit card be charged if I don’t book the award?

No. United asks for a credit card to hold the award. You might see a pending transaction of $1.00 labeled “Continental” on your credit card that will eventually fall off whether you book or not.

Does adding a segment in a different price category affect the final cost in miles for the award?

No. United will recalculate your award price once you finalize everything. I wanted a simple Denver -> Chicago itinerary but added the leg to Tokyo. Discarding the Tokyo leg will drop the price in miles back to the appropriate level.

Does the United frequent flyer account that reserved the award need to be the one that tickets it?

No, which is great news! I often reserve awards for clients under my dummy account and let them call in to confirm everything. I have not had a single issue doing this.

Recap

United does not allow award holds unless you are creative and trick their site. First you need an account with little to no miles in it. Then you need to search for an award that includes at least one non-United segment. Awards with partner segments can be reserved online, while all United-operated awards cannot be.

Reserve as many segments as you can online and then phone united.com support to tweak the itinerary. Finally have United ticket the award from whatever United account you want.


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26 COMMENTS

  1. With more great posts like this, I can see your shooting for the same award for 2014? “Two Time Winner in the First Annual Travel Summary Awards”

  2. I took your advice a couple of months ago. I wanted to go PEK>TPA, but it would only let me go as far as PEK>ZUR before giving me an error (and pricing out more miles!). I held it with my CC and then called United. Once I gave them all the segments, it priced out correctly. Whew! I was very nervous. Thanks for your wisdom.

  3. I just got an email confirmation:
    Mon., Jul. 1, 2013 |
    New York, NY (LGA – LaGuardia) to Rome, Italy (FCO)
    Connecting in Washington, DC (IAD – Dulles)
    Fri., Jul. 12, 2013 |
    London, England (LHR – Heathrow) to Gdansk, Danzig PL (GDN)
    Connecting in Munich, Germany (MUC)
    Thu., Jul. 18, 2013 |
    Gdansk, Danzig PL (GDN) to New York, NY (JFK)
    Connecting in Copenhagen, Denmark (CPH)
    Connecting in Geneva, Switzerland (GVA)

  4. Another reason to not transfer UR points to United until you absolutely are sure. Having too many United miles takes away your ability to hold these awards! But a good trick is to have a friend or family member’s account with almost 0 miles…. easier for holding 🙂

  5. This was a brilliant post! I especially liked the extra tips for what to do if United.com spits back an error if you try to book multiple destinations.

    I was wrestling with this problem the other day. I’m planning a trip from Honolulu > Seoul > Sydney > Honolulu. Fairly straightforward as Asiana Airlines is a United partner and does direct flights between Honolulu > Seoul and Seoul > Sydney. The price I got was 50,000 miles, whereas a Honolulu > Sydney flight was 70,000 miles.

    The unexpected twist was that a friend wants me to visit Hong Kong. Whenever I try to put Hong Kong into the itinerary (between Seoul and Sydney), United returns an error. I guess I’ll have to call if I want to find out how much it will cost me in miles to add Hong Kong to the trip.

    Really appreciate how you de-mystify the award booking process.

  6. I have 2 United award tickets on hold until 3/20 using Air Canada though YYZ:
    Outbound :FAT/LAX/LHR/CPH Saver econ(30,000 ea)
    Return: CPN/YYZ/LAX/FAT Bus saver(50,000 ea) to YYZ Econ to LAX. Still trying for all business.
    I also would like to add a free one way to the end to either SJU, MIA/FLL, or OGG.
    I received an error message every time I tried to book this on line after only the first segment. I had to call United to complete the booking. However, when I wanted to add the free one way, the agent said that was not allowed. I called back and the second agent said the same thing. Suggestions?

  7. Last week I held an Asiana flight with UA. I confirmed that the flight did not show up anymore in an award search after I put it on hold. I just told them I was going to transfer in miles from Chase could they courtesy hold it for me. I forgot how long they gave me but I wanna say ~3 days.

    One downside is I lost the PNR they gave me (wrote in on an index card in the car) and they weren’t able to pull up the held itinerary based on my Mileage Plus number, they said if it’s not ticketed it’s not attached to my MP #. The space did re-appear, but I ended up doing something else… The agent also thought I class was first class, so I had to correct her that I wanted O class, but that’s SOP over at United…

  8. Slightly off-topic question on booking part of a United award online and then adding segments. Let’s say I book a one way award, IAD to IST and do not book a return b/c I don’t have enough miles. Can I later book a return open jaw from ATH to IAD with a stopover in FRA and have it added to the original PNR and recognized as a valid roundtrip with 1 open jaw & 1 stopover?

  9. Used this twice. First worked fine. Second time, they cancelled before midnight. I called at 11:30 central, they said sorry it cancelled at midnight. I said ‘um it’s not midnight’, so they switched to sorry we can’t hold tickets for other airlines. you were notified of this’. I said no I wasn’t, but by that point I gave up and looked for something on my own.

  10. Any tricks for holding one leg while waiting for availability to open up on another leg? I am looking at an itinerary where award availability for one leg consistently opens (and often books up) four days before another leg in the itinerary. I know I can just book one leg and then call and add the other leg, but this would incur a $75 change fee, right? I could use this technique for up to 48 hours, which is really only 24 hours in practice since the availability doesn’t open until midnight, when the hold would expire anyway. Thoughts?

  11. Can you hold 4 ticket itineraries on Account “A” and then call in to book them onto 3 other united accounts? (leaving one for account A)?

    Thanks

  12. Scott, thank you for this wonderful tip! I just used your advice and booked three separate award reservations (for 6 people) from BOS-MUC-BCN / BCN-MUC-ZRH / ZRH-BOS, requiring a dummy segment from BCN-ZRH because the United website did not show the flight(s) we needed, then calling United to replace the dummy segment with the actual flight, a 24-hour hold on the reservation, transferring points to miles, then ticketing the reservations, with no booking charges! Awesome, thank you!

  13. This didn’t work for me. I have 50k miles in my account and priced out an itinerary that included Asiana flights and that required 65k miles. No option to reserve it. Is it becasue I have too many miles in my account (even though it’s less than required to buy the ticket?) Do you really need zero or close to zero for the trick to work?

  14. I was able to reserve a one-way United award ticket with an account that didn’t have enough miles. The reserve button was there as you described. I think as long as you don’t have the required miles, they allow you to reserve it. I hope they will later allow me to use a different account to book it.

  15. US Airways allows a 3 day hold only on award travel reservations made by phone, adding a $30 per person fee to the ticket.

    • The $30 phone fee is waived if your award must be booked by phone. Any award that features even one flight operated by a US Airways partner must be booked by phone, so in almost all cases, the phone fee is waived.

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