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.