United Temporarily Unable to Book Award Space on 3 Star Alliance Airlines

Several blogs have reported that United Airlines is currently unable to book award space on Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways. In fact it goes beyond that to include TAP Air Portugal as well.

Even on a route like Singapore – Bangkok, where Singapore and Thai together offer 11 peak daily departures, it’s not possible to book a single award seat in business or economy for the entire year using United miles. That’s true on the website and it’s true if you call.

There’s no problem booking this space using miles from another Star Alliance frequent flyer program. The issue is limited to United. And several folks are quick to jump to the conclusion that United must not want to pay for the space. That is apparently not what’s going on here. It’s a technical issue. However it’s easy to understand why some folks might think otherwise.

  • Before Continental Airlines management took over United used to engage in “Starnet Blocking” (or what they internally called “throttling”) where they’d set a budget for the quarter for each partner and as soon as they’d spent the money on awards they’d show space partners were offering as unavailable, or agents just wouldn’t see the flights at all.

  • United withdrew Singapore Airlines award availability from its website for four years, making it available by phone only, when Singapore refused to renegotiate their contract with United. This reduced the spending United had to do on Singapore Airlines award travel. United then blamed Singapore for the issue, which Singapore Airlines uncharacteristically called out as a lie.

A United spokesperson, however, tells me:

Some partner award tickets are not being confirmed by select airlines’ reservations systems. In order to minimize the impact to customers, we’ve temporarily removed the ability to book on these specific carriers until this is fixed.

They are able to book the space sometimes — but when space gets cancelled out by a partner they’ve got a real problem on their hands. It makes sense to stop making these bookings until they can get the problem fixed, recognizing this is a huge inconvenience to members (especially those trying to change close-in travel plans).

What they’re going through though isn’t uncommon. For about two and a half weeks in late summer Aeroplan was unable to book award space on Thai, SAS, ANA, Swiss, and LOT Polish. (LOT Polish took a bit longer for them to fix.)

When Aeroplan has had technical issues booking partners sometimes the ability to redeem awards awards is brought back quickly and other times it has taken a year. I understand why United might be reluctant to offer a timeline for a fix.

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 tried booking TAP about a month ago. First UA showed availability but until I decide they removed it. I had to book then using Aeroplan points.

  2. I was able to book my TG F Award tickets through the Premier Desk two nights ago. I have been watching award space the last several weeks and knew that there was wide open availability for MNL-BKK-SYD in C/F. I actually booked and cancelled tickets on the 13th, noticed the online booking issue on the 15th and got a go ahead from the @United twitter account to call in on the 17th and ask for the booking fee to be waived. I did call the Premier desk and it took me 70 minutes and two agents to get my award ticketed. The second agent let it slip that the implementation of premium economy award fare buckets is partly the reason for the trouble in getting TG awards to ticket.

    I am assuming that the long hold involved manual processes in the background to get me ticketed. I never got the automated ticketing email from United and it took about 8 hours for the TG confirmation number to appear on the app. I manually sent a copy of the ticket to my mailbox for TripIt to pick up my itinerary.

    YMMV, but the Premier Desk might be able to bend over backwards. I do have million miler status through my husband, so you they might have bent over backwards for us.

  3. Two weeks ago I couldn’t see any TAP Portugal availability on United but could find it on Aeroplan.

    So this issue has been occurring for a few weeks now.

  4. I recall that Alaska MP was having ‘technical’ difficulties (for about a year or more) with Aeromexico redemptions before it finally slid off their partner list. I hope United is not pulling the same stunt.,
    On another note, SQ had unilaterally withdrawn premium seat awards entirely from the Singapore-Australia market months ago, except from their own (largely inaccessible) KrisFlyer program.
    Lastly, UA miles are possibly the most expensive of the *A partners, but had slightly better award availability, making then an acceptable buy. With this new development they have devalued substantially, and it would take more than a 100% bonus sale (a la Avianca LM) to pique my interest in buying any more.
    Of course if you are an American who acquires miles strictly by credit card churn, buying stuff from mile-earning retailers, or (gasp!) actual paid flying, all for domestic redemptions, you can safely ignore this pesky issue.

  5. I was able to book an Aeriplan mini-RTW award on Jan 13th Sunday, just before Aeroplan system went down.

    The initial MIA-LIS-VIE TAP availability was shown on Aeroplan site. Phone agent saw it too but she could not grab it. Changed it to MIA-LIS-VCE, she was able to grab it.

    Itinerary has TAP and SQ segments, specifically SIN-PER and PER-SIN. Aeroplan agent saw and was able to grab them. Saw availability for SYD and MEL as well.
    So that SQ has pulled its award seats from Star A members is not true.

    Though the booking shown on Aeroplan is completely screwed up but all the segments are correctly shown on partner airlines’ own sites, AND more importantly, the tickets are viewable on Saudia site with accuracy. When I called Aeroplan about the booking shown on its site was wrong – the outbound should be MIA-LIS-VCE, it showed an UA IAH-FLL, the last segment, in the middle of LIS and VCE! Then the whole block of HKG-TPE-IAH is a no show on Aeroplan. We jumped from SIN-HKG, then IAH-FLL… 2 Aeroplan agents read me the itinerary shown in their system as they read it, is correct. So for now I am not worried about it.

    There would be airport change in March when IST becomes ISL, so I am sure the thing would be reticketed after the change. Also with the trip 9 months away, there also bound to have schedule changes to prompt an reissue. Never booked Aeroplan before, would be interesting when the inevitable changes come.

  6. The TAP availability comes and goes. In fact before I booked the Aeroplan award all I saw on United for the TATL needed, were TAP’s, no LX, no SK.

    SK in my experience, has been missing in action for months. It does not even show a coach availability for the Winter months!

  7. Although you find lots of Air China flights at United site, good luck! I booked 3 times via United site, 3 times Air China stated not confirmed.

  8. We just had the same thing happen trying to book a December 2019 Air Canada flight LAX-YVR with UA points. We booked online yesterday and it was confirmed but never ticketed. We called UA this morning and they tell us AC claims there’s been a time change (there hasn’t) and won’t ticket the flight. The flight is still available for cash on the AC site and is in fact the cheapest of six non-stops on the route that day. Ironically, the seats assigned are still shown as taken. None of those non-stop flights are now offered as award tickets.

    The UA agent says that AC does this “all the time” and even wondered if they were planning to leave *A.

    In the meantime, it’s back to the drawing board for us.

  9. I have had the same issue with United miles and Air Canada. Have twice booked YEG to DXB and twice United has put the miles back in our accounts. I received both UA and AC PNRs, but it won’t ticket. After the first one was hung up for three days, I called United. They said that the first segment was no longer on the AC schedule. I called them on it, saying that it was for sale on both AC website and UA website. Then they told me that AC would not confirm the space to them. I called AC and they said that the space was confirmed back to UA, they were just waiting to be paid for it. Before I had a chance to contact UA again, they had cancelled the reservations without telling us.
    Have just now booked the same one, but with a different first segment and it looks like exactly the same thing has happened. All of these flights are available on all partner websites, including Aeroplan. Not sure what UA is playing at, but this is not a technical glitch, or at least not one that they are willing to make good on. They certainly appear to be blocking space on other airlines and it is not just Singapore, Thai and TAP

  10. I’m having the same trouble finding TAP Air Portugal awards not just on United, but also using LifeMiles and Singapore miles. I am able to see availability on Aeroplan, Aegean and Lufthansa.

  11. As of late August 2019, this is still an issue with United (confirmed where the actual issue resides) in booking TAP Portugal. I cannot book on TAP Portugal using United Miles. United’s site shows award saver availability, and takes you all the way through to booking. When you go through the process to make final booking (and payment of taxes/miles redemption), you’ll get an error message back. I’ve called into United (multiple times) and they really don’t have any idea what they are doing. It wasn’t until escalating and spending way too much time on the phone, that I learned that United is the one blocking the ability to book TAP Portugal award flights. I spoke with TAP Portugal separately/directly and they have the same flights available through their own awards. United has no work-around whatsoever, no timeline for potential fix, and ultimately gave no good advice other than “try booking it every day until one day maybe the issue gets resolved.” Would love to hear if anyone else knows anything.

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