United Has Been Making It Increasingly Hard to ‘Hold’ Reservations
When I first got started in this game United allowed frequent flyer award tickets to be put on ‘hold’ without ticketing or mileage deductions for 30 days. And provided the awards were on United, rather than one of their partners, that hold could even be extended.
That time period was reduced to 14 days and then 3 days and then — with the switchover to Continental’s reservation system March 3rd of last year — taken away.
United still allowed award holds for accounts with insufficient miles to book an award (presumably to give yo time to transfer miles or buy miles to make up the difference). And so you could hold an award with an account without miles, and go back and ticket with a different account that does have the miles.
Or you could just reserve an award online and select that you wanted to ‘pay by phone’ (gee, that new fangled internet sure is a scary place to provide a credit card number!). Unfortunately, United killed that option back in January.
They want to sell you ‘FareLock’ (put the award on hold for a fee) on awards where you’re flying United.
The trick to reserve an award with one account and ticket with another continued to work.
Putting Awards on Hold Matters
Competitors like American (5 days), US Airways (3 days), and Delta (midnight the next day or longer for some awards when booked online) offer free hold options.
Awards are not like revenue tickets, where you can arrange the rest of your travel plans and then buy the tickets. Award inventory can disappear in an instant. Whether or not you make a trip may depend on when you can use miles, but for many trips you also then need to confirm ground arrangements (which can be tough with some hotels where using points, or some small private game lodges — or in other time zones where things need to be confirmed with a person).
Plus since United’s website and phone agents often see different award availability, you need to be able to hold space on the website and get the phone agents to add to the itinerary you’ve created in order to book awards that are actually available.
So having hold options matters for the usefulness of miles.
Pay via Paypal Puts Tickets on Hold
LoveToFly shares another hold technique.
You can set up an award online, go through to the payment page, and just select that you want to pay via paypal rather than credit card.
When you’re taken to the Paypal screen a record locator has been created with the award on hold.
This works for revenue tickets as well.
Now that it’s been reported online (and linked to on frequent flyer forums) the trick may not last. On the other hand, the ‘reserve an award with an account that has no miles’ trick has been around for ages and continues to work. And there are a couple of other workarounds.
Things would be much easier, of course, if United would restore key functionality to their program.