I Can’t Warn You Enough: Make Absolutely Positively Sure United Actually Issues Your Award Tickets

I’ve put out the clarion call several times in the past. But it bears repeating often. And every time this happens to me, even I remain surprised.

A year ago I wrote about United award tickets on Asiana cancelling themselves. United’s system doesn’t always pass ticket numbers through to some partners and when the partner you have redeemed your miles on sees an ‘unticketed’ reservation, they may go ahead and cancel. United blames the partner, but United’s system is the only one that regularly does this.

    Solution: When you issue award tickets, call up the airlines that are operating your flights. Make sure they see the ticket numbers and confirm you are ready to travel. If there are changes to your flights that require re-issuance of tickets, repeat this step.

I also wrote about the problem where you book tickets but they just sit in a queue, United never actually issues the tickets.

    Solution: Make sure you get not just the email saying you have booked the award and will get an e-ticket later, not to worry — make sure you also get the followup e-ticket email. (That’s when you want to also confirm the ticket numbers can be seen by airline partners, as well.) If you haven’t gotten the e-ticket after several hours, call.

I pulled this advice together when a friend nearly lost her Singapore Airlines first class award. Singapore wouldn’t let her check in for the flight because while there was a reservation, they did not see a ticket. Singapore said United had to fix it. United said it was Singapore’s problem since everything looked just peachy on their end.

When airlines blame each other there is a…

    Solution: conference call the airlines, don’t let them bat you back and forth between the two, let them hash out a fix between themselves (usually involving supervisors on both sides).

Twice this month I’ve run into problems where United didn’t actually issue award tickets that were booked, each time a little bit different, but worth underscoring that this is a common problem but one you can protect yourself from with a little bit of vigilance.

  • Ticket booked over the phone, agent takes credit card and says they are processing the award. The e-mails were set to go straight to the passenger. No emails arrived, and two days later the reservation itself had cancelled. Back on the phone with United, re-created an award, this time I ensured the emails came through to show tickets were issued in real-time. I got caught not following my own advice.

  • Ticket held online, then went back to the website (once points had been transferred in from Chase Ultimate Rewards) to issue tickets. The website took the credit card. E-mail confirmation was sent. But the followup email with the eTicket and receipt did not come after five or six hours. I went back online and the reservation was never even queued for ticketing. I went back through the purchase process and this second time both the confirmation email and the eTicket/receipt were processed. Since it was never queued for ticketing, the reservation hold would have auto-expired despite an email saying everything was confirmed and no followup required.

When you book a ticket using United miles, you should always:

  1. Make sure you get the “eTicket Itinerary and Receipt” e-mail. If it doesn’t arrive after a few hours, cal.
  2. Ring up any partner airlines that you’ll be traveling on. Make sure they see the ticket as properly issued, with ticket number, and that you are ready to travel.

It is worth repeating step number two after any significant schedule change between the time you book your ticket and the time you plan to travel, just to make sure that any needed ticket re-issue has happened and also that once it has the partner airline sees the ticket number.

You can’t be too careful out there!

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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. At least with United, you know you can reach someone 24/7 wherever in the world you’re with. If you have redeemed miles with certain other carriers, for example, Air Canada, be prepared to NOT reach them 24/7 for a resolution you have. All great if this happens when they are open. When something like this happens when they are not, you are totally screwed.

  2. On behalf of many of the Mileage Plus membership a since thank you for the heads up/warning in advance.
    On the other hand its also proof that United is willing to damage its customer relationships and its very brand by not paying attention to such appalling business behavior/practices. However isolated the issue may be
    I left them long ago.Reading posts like this will continue to make them amongst my bottom choices due to a lack of trust to recover pro-actively.
    There’s a reason that their Customer Respect index ranks amongst the lowest in the industry in polls no matter how much market share they command by size and monopolizing the market. They could easily go bankrupt again for the very same reason that brought them to their knees the last time.
    Lets hope they read some blogs and fix their systems and customer service. United was such a great brand in its day and once had a cutting edge friendly awe inspiring program that inspired its customers and the industry
    Today when I look at the company it looks like an empty shell with a number of large ego ex Continental executives that are out of touch with most aspects of running a customer friendly airline to do business with
    It’s so sad as United could be the Americas greatest airline easily with folks that really get it.
    Oh well One World anybody?

  3. I’m assuming if the other carrier assisted you with seat assignments and the record of the seat assignment transferred over to the United record that its fine? This is actually my second booking with Thai but had no problem with the last one

  4. It happened to me recently on a United award ticket but I did catch it. Another warning is to frequently check your seat assignments because United does change them without notifying you. United did that 3 times on the same award itinerary recently.

  5. @CDKing – not a guarantee, no. It’s probably fine. But all getting a seat assignment implies is there’s a reservation. That doesn’t mean the partner sees the ticket. I always ask the airline to verify the ticket #.

  6. @mileswhore – Prior to the merger, Continental didn’t operate 24 hour call centers for award tickets, if memory served the international award desk closed at 8pm Eastern

  7. the stories i could tell of US Airways and Asiana/Lufthansa F-ups….alwysa call to confirm—weekly

  8. Gary, does United have this problem with their own awards, or only with partner awards?

  9. I accepted a later flight on my first leg on a United+partners itinerary for the voucher for being bumped. The very next flight the partner said I had been removed. Evidently the United agent got me onto the next United flight OK, but that messed up the whole system after that. Luckily, I was early and the Swiss agent was able to get things restored. I simply don’t trust the United award ticketing process. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. At the United website when you view your reservations, you have the option to get record locator codes for partner flights in the itinerary. If you go to the partner website, use the code United provided, and the flight shows up correctly as expected, is there still any danger? Anything further you should call about in that case?

  11. This is good advice. This has happened to me twice this year, but not with United. It happened on a Lufthansa award with US Airways miles and also with a revenue ticket on British Airways booked on American. Both times I had to call the airline from Amsterdam and Accra, respectively and it was not a quick fix. Fortunately I had allowed a lot of time ahead both of my flights.

  12. Thank you! Booking my first award ticket very soon and this reminder if much appreciated.

  13. This happened to me last year when using US Air miles for an award on Turkish. Fortunately we called in to get seat assignments and learned that there were no tickets before we showed up at JFK for our flight to IST. I really loved how US told me that the award seats weren’t available any longer and did we still want to go! It took a few calls, but they finally worked it out. But I learned the same valuable lesson.

  14. I’ve had a different type of problem changing UA awards that include partner segments. I’ve found the changes are shown correctly in the UA res, but don’t get communicated to the partner correctly. (Twice I’ve had the partner show both the original and changed segments in their res, and cancel my booking when I didn’t show for the original segment. A third time the change did not get into the partner reservation at all. In all cases, I called United res, who was able to fix the problem.)

  15. I’ve got my first United award booked, with segments on both TG and LH. IAD-FRA-ZRH; ZRH-BKK-CGK (TG); DPS-BKK-CDG-IAD I haven’t called either TG or LH yet but do plan on it soon… Quick question though: I looked up my e-ticket on the Saudi website and saw all of my segments. Does that mean that I should be ok? Or should I definitely still call… When I pull up the itinerary on the United site all segments show, but if I use the confirmation code from LH on the LH site only some of the segments show. (the middle ZRH BKK CGK doesnt show)… Problems? or is it that LH only see part of the reservation….


  16. I just booked 3 economy awards via the clt-gig US flight for next year’s WC2014. Booked via united. Flights not bookable by US Air yet. I’ll definitely be following your advice.

  17. I never even thought about this until TPG got stiffed in ZUR. Now I’m reading all these stories here. Ack! I fly on award PEK>TPA with 5 segments last month…but I held my breath each time I arrived at the airport.

  18. Another question. On United.com site I can click on “view receipt” for my reservation and it will pull detailed info along with e-ticket information. Is this different from getting a copy in the email?


  19. @Slava – the key, email or online, is to (1) see the United ticket # [which the receipt or email should have], and (2) ensure the partner sees the ticket number, also that they continue to do so throughout any schedule changes and re-issues.

  20. Not exactly the topic, but on first class UA/Thai award, UA just switched aircraft from 3-class to 2-class (UA970 12/21). Flights being near Christmas, there are nothing else available in saver – do I have any options? Thanks!

  21. I recently did all the above, and STILL had my LH F award canceled several days later by LH, which was maybe a day or two prior to travel. It all worked out in the end but was a giant disaster trying to get the space back.

  22. @DaveS and anyone, can you please provide the instructions to view partner’s record locator number on United.com?

  23. Thank you for repeating this message. This happen to me while flying Air China from Shanghai to Xi’an and I didn’t realize that United never created the ticket until a week before the departure.

    People hopefully will heed your advice and actually call the partner airlines.

  24. This happened to me in Jan. I had booked Singapore First with United miles during the hiccup last year. I called SQ and United probably 10 times and both would say everything was fine. Two weeks prior to departure I called to book the cook and learned the reservation was canceled by SQ. They had no tickets. I had the conference call numerous times between the airlines but both blamed each other and bottom line United couldn’t reissue the tickets because there was no award space. So they rebooked me on some crazy itinerary but I really want SQ First. I finally sent the SQ Twitter team a message and within 24 hours they made it happen! My tickets were reissued and everything was fine. However, I had the SQ record locator and I was even able to pull it up on their website and select seats and see ticket numbers but they still did not get the information from United. Be very careful with United!!

  25. @Sandy –
    1) Log in to your account.
    2) At the “Reservations” tab, scroll to “Change/View Existing Reservations”. You will get a list of your future reservations.
    3) For the reservation you’re interested in, click on “View”
    4) Then you’ll see toward the upper left a United Confirmation code. Right below that (if applicable) in small type is the line, “This reservation contains partner flights. View additional confirmation numbers.” Click on that.

    If I see all of this OK, I then go to the partner website and use the confirmation number(s) given to check my flight. If I don’t see this information after a reasonable period of time, I call United to seek it out.

  26. Jeez, I worry about this stuff enough as it is…this just sent my paranoia level over the top. So how do I actually know FOR SURE that everything is good? I see people above who are claiming they had a partner record locator, could pull up on partner website, select seats, etc., and that still wasn’t enough to mean they were confirmed. So how does one know for sure???

  27. Last week I called in to change to a different partner flight on one segment. No problem, 5 mins, done. I could see the reservation with the new flight number online and got an eticket receipt a few mins later. Except when I checked the eticket receipt, it still showed the old flight. Called again, told ‘need 10 more mins for the reservation to sync with the ticket’. Waited 48 hours, no change, reservation showing new flight, eticket showing old flight. Called again, a helpful agent told me the reservation was never queued up for reticketing… He put me on hold for 5 mins and had it fixed. The lesson here is that if you make changes, you not only need to make sure you have a ticket and the partner can see it but check segment by segment that the ticket matches the updated reservation.

  28. I’ve even called the airline (SQ in this instance) and still had the tickets canceled on me. There was like a 20 min schedule change that they never told me about and they kept me on all the same flights as it was still a LEGAL connection…then 1 week before my flight, POOF! SQ J segment was no more. No idea what happened there.

  29. Gary,
    I’m curious about DaveS’s question too. I can see my award flight and seat assignment on the partners website by using their reservation code. Is this sufficient or do I have to do something more?

  30. Yes, very good advice.

    I have run into this problem myself, when my original award ticket was booked from Chicago to India and then I changed it to add a leg for Dallas to Chicago. When I went to the airport, I realized that the Dallas to Chicago leg was never ticketed. Thankfully the agent at the counter was able to figure something out at the last minute (esp. since it was just the domestic leg).

  31. I had PEK-BKK-SIN-CGK booked as a reward flight. I ended up changing it online to PEK-SIN-BKK and everything was confirmed at least on the website and in the online receipt. When I checked in with Air China they showed PEK-BKK-SIN from what I guess was the original booking. I can’t recall the flight numbers so I’m not 100% sure but I bet that’s what it was. I barely caught it but something seemed fishy when I saw the airport codes on the baggage tag.

  32. This post saved me! My fiancee is currently travelling in Indonesia and I am going to join her in Bali in about three weeks. When I checked my reservation online I noticed her reservation had disappeared – odd, since we are supposed to be flying back together at the end off August. I remembered this post and decided to call to double check. Sure enough, her entire return itinerary had been voided because United somehow missed the fact she was on the flight from Hong Kong to Singapore. It took three hours to rebuild her itinerary and then secure new seats on the return flights. Lesson learned – check and recheck everything.

  33. How does one deal with the logistics of a conference call? One of the agents will have to wait though a potentially long hold to reach the other agent. For example, I call United. Eventually get an agent. Call partner airline. Hold for 15 minutes and get partner agent. Will the United agent be willing to sit through the 15 minute hold?

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