I realize it’s getting towards the end of a quarter. United is probably afraid of overspending its award redemption budget. So they’re massively blocking awards being offered by their Star Alliance partner airlines.

When searching for awards later in June and early July:

Lufthansa to Frankfurt, via Dulles, Chicago, Newark, and JFK? They’re publishing award inventory all over the place, every other Star Alliance airline besides United can book them. But United? Blocked.

All Nippon Airways intra-Asia flights, from Tokyo to Bangkok and to Taipei? Blocked.

Thai Airways intra-Asia flights, from Bangkok to Hong Kong and to Tokyo? Blocked.

On several days both ANA and Thai are offering business class award seats on each and every one of their flights between Bangkok and Narita. United won’t book a single one of them. They see only Singapore Airlines availability on their overnight flight.

Since when United is blocking award inventory being offered by partners, it usually causes the partner flights not show up in agents’ computers (rather than flights showing as unavailable), you get some pretty absurd conversations. In the last two days I’ve been told “Lufthansa doesn’t fly to Frankfurt” and (looking for flights departing Hong Kong) “Thai Airways doesn’t fly to Bangkok that day.”

Fortunately United doesn’t seem to be blocking Swiss, or Air Canada. But this is nonetheless more than a little bit ridiculous.

Remember that
* No other Star Alliance airline engages in blocking

* Many other Star Alliance carriers offer less expensive award charts than United (For example, US Airways and Air Canada Aeroplan)

* United just massively raised their award prices (for example, business class from the US to Asia was 90,000 miles before December 31, and is now 125,000).

* Several other Star Alliance carriers permit massive mileage accumulation — ANA, Singapore, and Air Canada are American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners, British Midland offers up to 625% flown mileage on premium fares flown by Gold members that have requalified, all offer co-branded credit cards.

There is no reasonable excuse for United’s award blocking.

There are alternatives. Only United elites should credit United flights to Mileage Plus (I realize upgrades matter too…). Nobody should credit non-elite qualifying mileage activity to Mileage Plus.

Other than elites looking for bonus qualifying miles from the Visa Signature Platinum card, not a single person should carry the United Visa. And even those elites looking for qualifying miles should stop spending on that card the moment they hit $35,000 in spend for the year.

It’s time for United to hear its members, in action not just in words.

  1. SAN Greg said,

    I, too, am fed up with this practice. I was told two weeks ago that I couldn’t book flights from Bangkok to Krabi because “our partners won’t make available seats on routes that operate one or two days per week.” Thai operates 3 flights a day between the two. That’s okay, I’ll cancel my MP Visa and apply the $60 a year I’ll save to the tickets I will have to buy. Time to WAKE UP Chase.

  2. David said,

    I too am fed up with United’s pathetic “award” structure and availability. I am in the process of ridding myself of my last few UA miles, and switching to BMI until my status runs out. After that, it’s Aeroplan – fitting, since I’m Canadian, really.

    On another note, they also provide much different award availability depending on which site you are viewing. United.com usually has MUCH better award options/connections than United.ca ever will churn out.

  3. chitownflyer said,

    Is it likely that UA will somewhat reduce Star blocking once Quarter 2 ends, and July starts a new accounting period? I am very displeased at the Star blocking practice by United, as it makes award travel very difficult.

  4. she said,

    Another great post. We just used the very last UA miles we had accrued for a recent trip….. the MP credit card has been cancelled, and we are done. Goodbye UA! Alaska’s great Visa and the Starwood AMX are the current favorites now. Domestically we fly whatever is cheapest from SFO, and International flights are almost always foreign carriers now. It just easier and more amenities…

  5. Upgrades and Downgrades — Gravel roads, fingerprinting, insulting policies, and more | Upgrade: Travel Better said,

    […] Plus has been on a downward trajectory for some time, but Gary Leff pinpoints the absurdity of United’s blocking of frequent flyer tickets on partner airlines. The airline doesn’t want to make those tickets available because it costs them money when […]

  6. The Case Against Reward Cards said,

    […] You spend so much time and effort accumulating points and miles, yet every year they are worth less and less. Rewards have become, in the words of some critics, the largest unregulated lottery in the world. With some programs, especially airlines, the rewards can be all but impossible to find. For example, United Airlines and their infamous “Starnet Blocking”, which is now pretty much absolute on some partners. […]

  7. Kelly said,

    Had this just happen to me – United told me that US Airways had not released the tickets!

  8. In The News said,

    […] Here are a few benefits they may or may not mention. Most Continental cards offer the benefit of waived baggage fees. That feature alone can pay for itself very quickly on a long trip with a lot of luggage. Also, Continental is joining the Star Alliance, making it another great alternative to earning miles on the infamous United Airlines “Mileage Plus” program. This is the program that has taken loyalty programs to a new low by actively blocking you from redeeming miles on it’s partners, even when members make awards available to other members of the Alliance. For the latest update on this absurdity, see the invaluable View from the Wing blog. […]

  9. sky monkey said,

    It starts with the booking – they recently told me there were no direct flights between LAX and FRA – Lufthansa does it twice a day… pathetic, and as others have mentioned – insulting. But it doesn’t stop there. Their biz class seats are terrible; they advertize a new international biz and 1st, but it’s a crapshoot on what planes they have decided to upgrade and you still pay the same price for the crappy old ones. Have you noticed everyone is a premiere exec – everyone boards is a boarding group 1. From the gate and flight attendants to the feel and comfort of the planes and lounges (go to a Lufthansa lounge… nice; UA lounges… they think wifi is cutting edge while most of us bring our own these days) to the booking and routes they are limiting, the list continues, it’s a perpetual spiral of accepted mediocrity from UA and we are the suckers because we like the “status” of getting flights they do offer, boarding first so we don’t have to let them lose our luggage when we check it, and that little “fillet” dinner.

  10. Gary said,

    I’m experiencing the same issues (4/12) as have been stated by the other postings. I’ve been trying to use my miles to upgrade on Lufthansa for 6 months. I’m completely frustrated and completely over United.
    United has been telling me that I should continue to try. Really? After 6 months of trying. Thanks United.

  11. USAir Miles for Cheap, But Hard to Redeem? - Getting Status said,

    […] As noted by Gary Leff, US Airways actively blocks redemptions for Lufthansa First Class travel as well as premium classes on Singapore Airlines on certain aircraft – at least they’re up front about it. The practice of blocking certain partner awards, or StarNet Blocking (StarAlliance Network), has been known since before 2010 when Ben blogged about his experiences here, and Gary even posted an update about it getting worse. […]

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