United Takes Away Ability to Hold Award Tickets (“Pay By Phone Trick”)

Yesterday morning @hoantran tweeted,

is there still a way to hold UA award tickets? I just tried to book w/ the phone option but it didn’t show up.

I was walking around San Francisco and couldn’t check on this, but I tweeted back:

not near a computer to check. If really gone are there other non cc options? Try non-US website where cc less used

This morning I went to the United.com website, and indeed the option to ‘pay by phone’ (which is how folks would put awards on hold for free, and could then go back online and pay by credit card or call up and modify a reservation prior to ticketing) is gone.

There’s still the ‘FareLock’ option for award itineraries on United, I checked this morning and was offered

  • 72 hours for $9.99
  • 7 days for $14.99

But this option only appears for me when the award is on United, not on partners.

And the only payment options on the page are credit card, echeck, and paypal. Which means I cannot use the U.S. website to put awards on hold.

This is a big deal for several reasons.

  1. 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 arrangement availability (this is often a challenge for safaris for instance), and you can’t always do that in real-time.
  2. You can still cancel fee-free for 24 hours, but it can take longer than 24 hours to confirm the rest of your plans, especially if they involve activities where time is 12 hours ahead.
  3. Other airlines still offer award holds. When I got started with United they offered 30 day (extendable!) holds, reduced it to 14 days and then 3. Now the option is gone. Even pre-merger Continental let you hold awards when you didn’t have enough miles in your account, even that is no more. But American allows holds for 5 days, and Delta will let you hold awards on their website.
  4. The website and phone agents often see different availability. So you need 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.

Up until this past weekend we had an easy ‘workaround’ to United’s customer-unfriendly move to take away award holds. Now we do not even have that.

Update: While the pay by phone option appears gone from the website, accounts that lack sufficient miles in them to ticket an award do appear to still be given the option to hold an itinerary until midnight (local time of departure city) the following day. So presumably you need to hold the award with an account that lacks sufficient miles, and then change the account when ready to ticket, in order to hold an award.

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. I noticed this change this past week. Between looking for my trip to Japan and for 3 tickets from SIN to NYC I wasn’t allowed the option to hold if I had enough miles or it was close enough to have the purchase option pop up. I went to another account that had significantly less miles and the option popped up.

    However, it could be a technical glitch on the latter situation. There was wording that you could reserve, if not enough miles, but the button was there to select. Just the payment one.

  2. When I book an award seat from an account without enough miles, it gives me a hold until midnight of the following day. I’ve tried this for a US and US/LH combo.

  3. Let me repeat:

    With all the shit that is still broken with this airline, why do they focus their efforts on removing functionality?

    Really shows where Jeff’s true interests lie….

  4. If you are sure to always get the verified by visa pop-up, you can mess up the cvv2 code on purpose and it will hold the res for 24 hrs. But if the verified by visa popup does not come up, you just bought a ticket and then have to go through the trouble of cancelling.

  5. Question: are you allowed to alter the itinerary after reserving it with the cc if you don’t have enough miles? anyone with that experience?

  6. This sucks…half the time United website can’t piece together a multi-segment award properly, so they better waive my phone booking fee if I can’t reserve a half-done award.

  7. Hobo13 because they can

    That’s why allowing these airlines to merge was a bad thing
    We are going to continue to see poor award availability and watch United continue to make it expensive and difficult to do business with.They have been on a path of self destruction for years.Hopefully folks will complain.If United doesnt’t respond which is what i expect perhaps their customers fed up with a number of aspects will teach them a lesson and move their business elsewhere.I was a huge Mileage Plus fan years ago and thought the world of United.I avoid them at almost all costs.Staying on topic anything less than a 24 hold is offensive in North America and anti customer
    U for Unfriendly
    N for Neglect
    I for Idiots
    T for Terrible
    E for Evil
    D for Destroy the satisfaction of your customer base and business

  8. Every year I wonder whether it is worth my time and money to come up with a targeted plan to obtain Elite status. Can it be done? Sure. But recently, I’ve noticed that it would be simpler to get most of the perks through credit cards. One reason to pursue Elite is to receive an elevated level of customer service, but with UAL, I don’t really find that happening. Their website is messed up, their customer service is often unenthusiastic and less than proactive. While I’ve had one or two experiences that were rewarding, for the most part I find myself dreading it when I fly UAL. Not because of the flight (I love flying), but because of the feeling that if something goes wrong, their customer service may or may not care. Really, that’s the bottom line for me–when you feel that the airline just doesn’t care.

  9. Maybe they have a plan in all this.

    I did a search for first class san/bkk after logging in with my united ff info, and had no luck, but when I did the same search without logging in, there were good flight options avalable.

    maybe they now have it set up to make it difficult to get ff flights.

  10. Please explain this “So presumably you need to hold the award with an account that lacks sufficient miles, and then change the account when ready to ticket, in order to hold an award.” What do you mean by “then change the account when ready to ticket”? Are you saying that you then release the award that you have on hold with the account that doesn’t have miles and then re-book on the account that does have the miles?

  11. @Mileswhore – no, create the reservation using one account… then use a different account to pull the miles from/ticket

  12. There ought to be an massive outpouring of complaints to UAL about this. I just spent a week setting up a FC trip to Spain with AA miles, finding various one way routings and dates, and put at least a dozen on hold until I found what worked best for me. I can’t imagine having to book a flight the moment I found it. Often you will find an outbound without knowing if you can find a return that works, or need some time to determine if an interary works with the flights you have found. This seems like UAL is just trying to make the booking process so difficult one one will bother anymore. If UAL continues with this, I recommend you do a status challenge with AA, and send a copy to UAL telling them this is the reason you did it !

  13. Yehhhh… I noticed it that morning when I couldn’t try to piece together a simple three leg award itinerary. The website forces you to go through only a couple of outbound United hubs (e.g. jfk/ewr and iad but not ord, phl or clt). Multi-city search also doesn’t work most of the time. So, while individual legs are all available, there is no way to string them together without booking half baked itinerary, putting it on hold and asking the agent to add another domestic leg. It is sad. Sigh…

  14. The funny thing is I’d actually be completely cool with the $10/15 hold fees – as long as I could do it on any *A carrier tickets.

    I think that’s pretty reasonable. While it’s not the good old days, I’d be down for that.

    I’ve used the $10/15 ones on paid tickets before, and it’s worked out quite well.

  15. Welcome to how the rest of the world is stuck making redemptions! On the upside, you may find availability is better now lots of seats aren’t being held by other folk.. 😉

  16. I think UA will allow you to make any change (including adding/modifying segments within the same area – for example US-Europe) at no charge within 24 hours of initial ticketing. So just book and ticket whatever you can on the Web, then phone in to make the desired changes. (Granted, this doesn’t help if you need more than 24 hours to confirm other parts of the trip.)

  17. If United got away with taking away actual “holds” on award bookings, why should anyone be surprised that they’re taking away a loophole. They screwed the masses long ago so why should they care about the 1% or fewer who knew about the hold trick? Just wondering.

  18. Is it still possible to hold a ticket without sufficient funds? I tried to do it today (only have 24k miles on an 80k ticket), but when it goes to the flight info page I only have the farelock option. It won’t let me continue to passenger info, and says I must select an option. Not sure how to hold it…

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