Has the Most Reliable Way to Find United Awards Become Unreliable? Here’s What to Do Instead.

Reader Peter M. asks,

How do I spend United Airlines miles on Lufthansa flights in business class?

I have tried United, Aeroplan & ANA websites to look for availability, but the Lufthansa flights I found on ANA are not available when I call United.

The first thought here was that United is unable to see Lufthansa award seats that are available. That brings about flash backs of what it was like to try to book awards with United miles prior to the merger with Continental. (“Starnet blocking” or as Continental folks called it, ‘throttling’… see also United Starnet Blocking Reaches New Levels of Absurdity.. the elimination of which was my #1 frequent flyer wish for 2010)

The inability of partners to access some award space – especially on Lufthansa – is an ongoing issue. Avianca’s LifeMiles cannot currently book Lufthansa first class awards for instance.

Let’s take a look at specifics, though. My sense is it isn’t United unable to book awards that Lufthansa is offering. Rather it’s the ANA website showing award space that isn’t available to United or other partners.

There are three websites that show most awards on Star Alliance partner airlines. I describe this in What Websites Should You Use to Search for Award Availability?

  • United. They don’t show all partners, partners even come and go, but they do show many.
  • Aeroplan. Shows all partners, my go-to site for checking award space. It suggests many routings and is fast and responsive in my opinion.
  • ANA. Historically this is the most accurate site for checking award space

On March 25 and 26, the ANA website shows availability on Lufthansa in business class to fly Frankfurt – Denver. This display is for non-stop flights only using the KVS Tool for searching.

There’s no non-stop award availability in business class showing on the United website for those days, though.

Calling United they cannot see the award space, either.

It’s not just United, though.

Air Canada’s Aeroplan doesn’t show non-stop business class award space for those dates, either.

I didn’t try to actually book the award through ANA, so I haven’t determined whether ANA:

  • Currently has access to more award space on Lufthansa than other partners
  • Or is showing ‘phantom’ award space

… But in either case, the ANA website is showing Lufhansa award space that cannot be booked by other partners.

Indeed, here’s the same thing for Singapore – Frankfurt on March 25. It’s showing available in business on the ANA website:

But it’s not showing available through Aeroplan:

Not only doesn’t Lufthansa business non-stop show available on the United website, United also doesn’t show the Singapore Airlines economy award space either. That’s because United decided two years ago to take Singapore Airlines award space off its website, not to let United members see Singapore award space that’s available, and to then blame Singapore Airlines for it. Underhanded, of course, but you can grab the award space if you call.

If you’re using United miles to book awards on Star Alliance partners, my sense is that you’ll get the best indication of availability at aeroplan.com rather than by using ANA’s website at this point.

More research will be required, though, to see whether ANA currently has access to more award space on Lufthansa than United does — that could be highly valuable, since ANA is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner and a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner (non-instant) though they do add fuel surcharges to awards.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Same issue with Air China award space. Few days ago it was there and now it’s gone. Also gone fromAeroplan BUT it shows up on ANA. So Is ANA space real ??

  2. I can confirm that UA website no longer shows AC award space on direct flights (like YYZ-SFO or AMS-YYZ) when they are easily seen on aeroplan etc. UA phone agents can easily see and book these.

  3. I was just getting on to comment on Air China award space seemingly disappearing overnight. A few days ago I was looking at several direct-flight options, and now I can’t see a thing on United or ANA.

  4. Such a weird coincidence, I was playing around with this exact same thing on the ANA tool last night. Looking for NYC-FRA throughout 2015 and 2016, and ANA would be showing LH, SQ, and UA business space that neither Aeroplan nor United search tools would show. When i would click through and try to book the space on ANA, I would get an error message that “one or more of the segments you wish to book are not available” (or something like that, i’m paraphrasing), and it wouldn’t let me proceed. Sounds like phantom ANA space to me.

  5. Gary, quick question about United Awards. I have booked an award ticket on United from LAX-SYD for next January in Biz and I am interested in moving up to 1st Class for the extra 10k miles. There is currently no availability in Saver first on my flight but also no seats taken either. Is it likely that at least one saver seat in 1st will open up between now and departure date? If so, is there a service that I can get to keep checking for me? Thanks.

  6. QUOTE START: (SJ) I can confirm that UA website no longer shows AC award space on direct flights (like YYZ-SFO or AMS-YYZ) when they are easily seen on aeroplan etc. UA phone agents can easily see and book these.

    I recently travelled SFO-YYZ and was unable to use my miles.
    UA phone agents told me there was nothing available despite looking at
    wide open Aeroplan availability and nothing on UA website. (my level is Silver)
    So I booked a 1-Stop instead.

    United Airlines Confirmation:
    Issue Date: August 26, 2015
    Traveler eTicket Number Frequent Flyer Seats
    TXXXXXXX/STEPHANJMR 0162461738363 UA-XXXXX314 Premier Silver / *S 1A/1F

  7. I agree with @SJ, for example LGA-YYZ did not show on United meanwhile it was available on Avianca Lifemiles and Aeroplan for several days last week. But it is strange when about 5 weeks ago ANA business award IAH to NRT would not show on ANA web site while it was bookable on United, I ended up booking ANA business using United miles without issues. Mind you Aeroplan did not show availability as well.

  8. While the original ANA Engine (decommissioned in April 2015) was fully reliable for *A Award Availability, the current ANA Engine may display “phantom” seats.

    Therefore, [Awards/AC-StarAlliance] became the primary Method for *A Award searches in the KVS Tool as of the last release, while [Awards/NH-StarAlliance] continues to be available as a secondary option (and, as always, you can easily switch between the two).

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