Back in July, I wrote up a primer on securing Star Alliance awards. In it, I alluded to Starnet, the system that United uses for booking these awards for Mileage Plus members.
Its search capabilities are primitive (you often can find better availability searching segment-by-segment that you can telling the agent your origina and destination, simply because it doesn’t search many possible connections).
But most vexxing for frequent flyers is that the system filters availability. That is, a partner airline may be offering a seat for award redemption — but United’s system will still tell you it’s unavailable. The agent will usually blame the partner (“they aren’t offering any seats”) when that isn’t true at all. Instead, United doesn’t want to pay for the seat.
United is known to ‘filter out’ availability especially of Luftansa flights within Europe and Thai Airways premium class flights between Europe and Bangkok. But I never grasped just how extensive the filtering was on these routes until I started playing with an award from North American to Asia via the Atlantic (strange as it may seem, the distance is seven miles less for my destination and preferred routings than crossing the Atlantic.. availability supposedly better.. and offering a potentially better premium class experience).
This morning I searched 53 dates in May and June using ANA’s award booking tool and found 51 flights on which Thai Airways was offering not just one but two award seats in First Class from London-Heathrow to Bangkok.
When I called United, I was told that there were no flights available with two first class awards during this period of time.
Then I asked United to check Franfurt-Bangkok. This is a tougher route, with only 9 flights showing two first class award seats available during this time. So unsurprisingly, United won’t book a single one.
Let’s be perfectly clear about what is going on here. United’s partners are offering award seats. United just won’t book them.
When pressed, United might say ‘different award inventory is made available to different partners’ but even that is a slight of hand — they’re really saying ‘different partners (ie, us – United) make different award inventory available to our members than other airlines make available to theirs.’
Lufthansa or Thai may well have inventory open in the “O” bucket (award first class). StarNet pretends it’s not there.
Shame on United — for refusing the offer seats your partners make available, and for claiming it’s your partners’ faults.