(And this rule applies even when the ticket is being issued at the full, correct mileage cost…!)
I booked an award for a co-worker the other day that involved Qatar Airways. As I noted recently, it’s become increasingly difficult to use United miles to book awards on Qatar even though the partnership (which is ending) allows making bookings through September 14.
Availability shows up on the website. But over the phone agents seem not to be able to find award space most of the time, and when pressed insist that Qatar is no longer a partner.
That means you almost always have to book Qatar space on the website. But the website sometimes spits up when trying to make perfectly valid bookings.
In this case I was looking for DC – Doha, Doha – Colombo, Delhi – DC. That’s a stopover (Doha) and an open jaw (between Colombo and Delhi). Searching for this on the website generated an error that no flights were available, even though searching each segment separately on the United website showed that award space was indeed available. (United web support insisted that was because the website didn’t show real-time availability, an explanation which didn’t square with Qatar no longer being a partner which the agent also told me.)
So I put DC – Doha / Delhi-DC on hold, the website would give me that part, and needed to just get the Doha-Colombo segment added. The website showed plenty of availability. I again ran through the gauntlet of agents and web support to no avail. I consulted with Matthew who had just accomplished it. It turns out that it’s an exercise in hang up, call back, though neither he nor I have figured out exactly what sort of magic is necessary to get an agent to successfully see the space. The segment was added.
Ticketed the reservation online. Or, rather, with the ‘new United’ you go ahead and make the purchase. United doesn’t do instant ticketing. Most often these days a ticket is processed in 5-10 minutes. This one wasn’t.
This isn’t a difference that passengers are supposed to have to worry about. United sends you an email that says:
We are processing your reservation and will send you an e-ticket confirmation once this has been completed. Typically, this process takes less than an hour, however, in some rare cases it could take a couple days. Please be assured that your reservation will remain confirmed during this processing period, and there is no need to contact us unless you are traveling within 24 hours.
On the website, a reservation once purchased reads:
Thank you for choosing United Airlines. Your purchase is confirmed. You will be promptly notified once the internal processing of your reservation has been finalized so that you can request additional receipts, export to Microsoft Outlook, refund or change your flight, view/change seats, check-in, or email or print your itinerary.
(Emphasis above mine.)
Your purchase is confirmed! You are good to go!
Except that United’s IT is broken. Very, very broken. And just because your purchase is confirmed, and they tell you there is no need to contact them, there is definitely a need for you to contact them. And probably the airlines operating the actual flights you booked, too.
A couple of months ago I wrote about how United award tickets on Asiana Airlines were being cancelled. In that case, United would actually issue the tickets. They just weren’t passing the ticket numbers through to Asiana. Asiana thought the reservation wasn’t ticketed and so they cancelled it. United points the finger at Asiana and Asiana’s IT, but United (and before March 3, Continental) is the only airline that seems to have this problem consistently with Asiana or any other Star Alliance partners.
The solution with Asiana bookings is to ring up Asiana, ask them if they see the United ticket number (which begins “016..”) in the reservation, and if not to conference call Asiana and United to get them to sort it out and have United push through the ticket properly.
In the case of this reservation where some of the flights were on Qatar, two days passed and no additional email from United was forthcoming. But I’m not supposed to worry, right? The reservation is confirmed and I’m not supposed to call to ask about it.
Except that I know better. I knew that if I didn’t get something in a few hours, something was likely wrong. So I rang up the internet support desk (I had ticketed this online, and they’re often helpful).
They took a look at the reservation and said there was a note that “there aren’t enough miles in the account.” Except that there were. The account had 138,000 miles in it, and the award cost 135,000. I’m not the best at math, but I was pretty confident I was right.
Apparently the note that there weren’t enough miles meant that the reservation sat in limbo. United didn’t reject it or cancel it or reach out to say there was a problem (as American has done occasionally on awards I booked). Instead they did nothing.
The agent cleaned up that note and put the reservation back into the queue. She said I was fine. I wasn’t done, though. I wanted to know when to expect the ticket to be issued, or put a different way after waiting what amount of time and not receiving anything should I start to worry again?
There were, it seemed, over 5000 tickets in this particular queue to be issued so “it could take up to a week” (!!!).
I was assured that since the status was ‘ticket pending’ rather than that the space was simply being held there was no risk that the reservation would be cancelled. I’m not an expert in the systems that United is using to talk to its partners about these awards. I know just enough to be dangerous. But that doesn’t ring true to me. Asiana reservations should show that tickets have been issued, but they have been getting cancelled because of United glitches.
So I won’t wait 7 days. I’ll wait 72 hours more, tops, before I check to at least make sure the reservation is still in tact. Although I’m confident that United will have to own this one if they screw it up.
United’s IT systems are very very broken. Their agents can’t see award space that is available and offered online, but their website isn’t functional enough to piece together perfectly legal itineraries. Most importantly, though, they don’t seem to be able to issue tickets properly.
The average customer reads that their reservation is confirmed and thinks they’re done. As well they should be. How many of United’s customers would have known to call up to learn that United can’t do math well enough to know that 138,000 is greater than 135,000? And that United wouldn’t raise their hand and call or email if they thought otherwise?
That’s how customers get stranded. And then they’re stuck fighting with a bureaucracy to make good on its promises.