When I first got started in this game United allowed frequent flyer award tickets to be put on ‘hold’ without ticketing or mileage deductions for 30 days. And provided the awards were on United, rather than one of their partners, that hold could even be extended.
That time period was reduced to 14 days and then 3 days and then — with the switchover to Continental’s reservation system March 3, 2012 — taken away. Although at first you could still hold an award for 24 hours if you didn’t have enough miles in your account to issue the ticket, to give you time to transfer in points or buy what you needed.
United took away that option, though there have been several hacks the past few years — like the ‘pay by phone’ option and the ‘pay by paypal’ option (a hold was created when you were sent to Paypal’s site, exit out and you had a held reservation) — which would pop up and go away.
The New United.com Site Explicitly Now Offers Award Holds
My award booking colleague Becky pointed out to me that the new version of United.com will offer an award hold option as long as you have some miles in your account but not enough miles to purchase the award.
Let’s take a look at an account without enough miles for a premium cabin international award. I’ve searched the award space, selected the flights, and am told ‘not enough miles’.
That’s too bad, because it would sure be nice to fly Asiana First Class onboard their Airbus A380!
But United charges a whopping 130,000 miles for that one way.
Hmmm, that’s funny, even though I don’t have enough miles in the account there’s still a ‘reserve’ button showing up! And it says they’ll hold the award until midnight the next night in the city in which the itinerary originates.
It even helpfully explains the option. This isn’t a hack, this is a real option that’s been programmed in!
Why thank you, United. Thank you very much! Fortunately if I was going to take this flight I wouldn’t need to hold it for long, since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer into United instantly.
My own United account actually has way more than enough miles to issue the ticket straight away… which also unfortunately means it wouldn’t have been afforded the option to hold. Solution? Hold the itinerary with an account that lacks sufficient miles, then go back and ticket using the account which does.
Holding Award Reservations Is Important
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 arrangements (which can be tough with some hotels where using points, or some small private game lodges — or in other time zones where things need to be confirmed with a person).
This is also useful for booking multiple passengers on the same flights from different mileage accounts, you put one ticket on hold, purchase the second one, go back and ticket the first passenger. That way you ensure you can get the seats you want, since inventory is dynamic and funny things can happen along the way.
Plus since United’s website and phone agents often see different award availability, you need to be able 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. The ability to cancel within 24 hours of purchase without penalty is not a substitute.
Here are various airline award hold policies.