United (Doesn’t) Eliminates Free ‘Hold’ Option for Award Tickets

Update: When I was looking at the site earlier today, the pay by phone box didn’t come up.

In fact, the only options were credit card and paypal. Western Union and cash were gone. Those are still gone. But e-check is there, which wasn’t there this afternoon.

Very strange behavior. But for now the ‘pay by phone’ workaround to put awards on hold lives.

Perhaps there was a website update in progress. (Meanwhile, this post went up hours later than intended due to some technical glitches with the service that hosts this site. My humble apologies.)


Year’s ago United offered to ‘hold’ an award reservation for 30 days without payment. I once even had them extend the hold on an award as the end of that period neared. Granted, it was an award on United flights, this was well into the era of frequent flyer partnerships but before the advent of alliances.

United shortened the hold period to 14 days, and most recently to 3. Up until the computer reservation systems of United and Continental were integrated on March 3, you could hold an award ticket with United miles for three days (with a handful of exceptions relating to the rules of the partner airlines you were flying). You had to have the miles in your account to do this.

Continental on the other hand didn’t permit holding an award when you had enough miles in your account for an award. If you didn’t have, if you’d need to buy the miles, you could hold an award for three days.

With the merger, United’s 3-day hold option was eliminated. Without any notice. All of a sudden you no longer could hold awards for free. They converted to the Continental reservation system, and Continental award rules.

Except that you could still hold awards. Because the payment screen included options to call in with your credit card number (if you were scared of the internet, I guess). Selecting this put the reservation on a 24 hour hold to give you time to complete the transaction. (There were options for Western Union and cash, as well.)

Today those options have disappeared. I imagine no one was actually paying for award ticket taxes in cash, or at least very few. And they’d rather sell you a ‘fare lock’ for $10 instead of holding the reservation for free.

Now your options for payment are credit cards or paypal.

The options that would place the award on hold are no more. And booking awards with United just got that much more difficult.

Holds are extremely desirable to allow you to secure award space before transferring points, even with points that transfer instantly like Chase Ultimate Rewards.

They’re also useful for piecing together an award when the website is glitchy, it may not find all of the segments that you’re looking for and that are available, you grab what you see and call up to complete the transaction.

Or perhaps you’re coordinating awards on the same flights but out of different mileage accounts, you have to book one at a time and don’t want to lose the space — so you hold one, book the second, go back and ticket the first. Maybe it’s even two awards on Star Alliance flights but ticketed out of a United and a US Airways account. These complications face frequent flyers every day.

American allows five day holds. US Airways allows three day holds. Even Delta permits holds of a day for domestic and two for international when booking on their website. United now has the most restrictive policy in this area of any major US frequent flyer program.

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. ..unless you don’t have enough miles in the account, then you still have a hold option:
    “Continue to reserve. A credit card is required to hold your reservation until midnight Wed., Nov. 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA (LAX).”

  2. i JUST noticed this a few days ago. I’d be careful with that @MyTravels.

    I was booking an award ticket for my father and I wanted to confirm the itinerary with him before booking it. So I placed it on hold and called him the next day (He’s in India).

    When I logged back in to book the trip, I saw that it had been cancelled. So I called United and they said that they don’t allow holds. Even though the email that I received from them confirmed that the itinerary would be held for 24 hours, it was held for only 12 hours.

  3. The “pay by phone” option is still there. Gives you the same hold as the Western Union option, I believe.

  4. Thanks all. The option was gone earlier in the afternoon when I tried to use it. The e-check option wasn’t there, either. So perhaps there was some kind of maintenance going on. Pay by phone is definitely back. Sorry for the false alarm and very glad the link remains!

  5. I hate United and I don’t even fly them
    This is just another good reason to avoid them.
    Hopefully their 90 million program members will wise up and flee elsewhere.If I didn’t know any better I would say the great United management of yesterday/years past is held in handcuffs somewhere up in heaven with their feet & hands tied and their mouths taped with duct tape.United once was an extraordinary program many years ago superbly run in as a world class program.They are my second to last Legacy choice with only Delta being hated worse and on the absolute bottom of the barrel.

  6. I booked a ticket about two weeks ago and when it didn’t display the cost of the hold, I called United. They said that since I didn’t have enough miles in the account there would be no charge for the hold.

    I booked a couple hours later so I’m not sure how long it would have lasted.

  7. I booked tickets for my daughter and I yesterday on United and I didn’t have enough miles so it gave me a free “24 hr” hold since it included a partner flight, it was really about 40 hrs since it was to expire on midnight tonight. Then I transferred UR points, but they didn’t show up. I called United and they said that it can take up to 72 hrs for the point to post to the account and they extended it for two more days to give time for the points to show up. Meanwhile I’ve booked my wife and son on the same flights using her miles so I’m a little nervous about the points showing up.

  8. A few months ago I was offered and accepted the option to pay $5 for a 3-day hold on my award reservation (plus another 24 hours after ticketing to cancel without charge). I was hoping for a slightly better option to appear, but it didn’t.

    I was satisfied with both the original booking and the $5 for 3 extra days to try to snag the other seat. Whoever conceived this “pay to park your reservation” feature is a genius.

  9. the phone option also used to be there for revenue tickets. It looks like it is now gone for revenue tickets?

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