Category

United

Why You Should Always Use The ANA Tool

Seychelles Award

For the past few weeks, I have been attempting to book the “positioning flights” for the Seychelles – Abu Dhabi – Dublin mistake fare I booked in June.

Needless to say, it has been an extremely frustrating process with hours spent on the phone with United trying to book this Award. Thankfully it hasn’t been all in vain, as I have learned some tips and tricks that hopefully you guys can learn from.

Segment By Segment

Last November when I booked my 45 hour First Class Extravaganza via ORD-IAD-FRA-NRT-BKK-BOM-EWR-ORD-SFO, I talked about how you could use United.com to search and book each leg separately or segment by segment.

This meant that if ORD-FRA-BOM wasn’t showing any availability, you could always search for availability from other United Hubs like Newark, Washington D.C, Houston, etc.

If there was availability from those hubs, you could manually search for a free connecting flight from Chicago to any of those above hubs and ultimately get to your final destination. Of course, these wouldn’t be routings that United.com would show since you are doing it segment by segment, but at least you would get to your final destination doing something like ORD-IAD-FRA-BOM.

Since our Seychelles trip is at the end of August, there isn’t much availability to Europe, so I tried to use the segment by segment trick to piece together a working itinerary.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that when it comes to United.com, looks can be very deceiving.

United.com Shows What It Wants

Among the major airlines, United has the undisputed best award search engine. Not only does it show you the different award levels, but it also shows you a calendar of availability, cabins, etc.

Since the other Airline’s websites are so bad for award bookings, it is easy to just assume that United shows you the best available options for awards. However from booking this Europe / Africa award (which I will talk about in a separate post), I quickly realized this is not the case, as United.com shows you what it wants.

When you redeem your United miles for travel on other Star Alliance Carriers that are not United, United has to pay those airlines a fee for those seats. If you are flying on a United Award, then United obviously wants you to fly on a United plane because it would be the cheapest for them since they are basically filling seats on their planes that would normally be empty.

For going to Europe and then down to Africa, I was looking for award options from Chicago. Typically, unless there is a direct flight to your destination, United will fly you across the pond but then drop you off at a Lufthansa hub such as Munich or Frankfurt, and then let Lufthansa take it from there.

While in theory this is great since there are a ton of flights from Chicago to Frankfurt and Munich, since we are going in August, there was no availability. Similar to how you can search other domestic United hubs like EWR, IAD, IAH, SFO, ORD, etc to get to Europe, I flipped that trick around and started checking other Star Alliance hubs in Europe to see if there were any direct flight options from Chicago.

Given how many Star Alliance Carriers are based in Europe / Middle East (Austrian, Aegean, Brussels, Croatia, LOT Polish, Scandinavian, Swiss, TAP Portugal, Turkish), I figured it would be easy to find a direct flight from Chicago to any of their European hubs and then connect onwards to wherever I was planning on visiting.

I spent a couple hours searching every possible combination using ORD, EWR, IAH, YUL, YYZ, IAD to ZRH, BRU, VIE, LHR, CDG, FRA, MUC, WAW, etc and quickly realized something was off.

For example, from Chicago to Warsaw, I know for a fact that LOT Polish flies direct on the 787 Dreamliner. Yet when I searched for it on United.com, it kept only showing ORD-FRA-WAW routings instead of the direct ORD-WAW flight on LOT Polish…

Enter ANA Tool

For years, I have always heard how great the ANA tool is but have never really used it. 

For those of you not familiar, One Mile At A Time has a primer, but basically via ANA’s award engine, you can see ALL Star Alliance inventory.

Call me naive or perhaps it is just that I have never flown “exotic” routes in Premium Cabins (I fly mostly Economy), but I just assumed United.com shows ALL Star Alliance inventory. I now have quickly realized that is not the case.

To use the ANA tool, you need to have miles in your ANA account (or you can use this trick from MileValue). I got 100 miles from some free promo ANA offered, but if you need miles you can always transfer from SPG or AMEX Membership Rewards.

Once you have miles in your ANA account, simply use this link (BOOKMARK IT because it is hard to find via ANA.com), and search away.

The ANA Tool is a bit clunky but what it lacks in user interface, it makes up for by actually working properly!

It is best used for searching segment by segment, because like United.com if you try ORD-BOM, it might only show a few routes, when in fact there are many more routes out there with availability. Basically you tell ANA the exact route you want and it will tell you if it is available.

With the case of ORD-WAW, as I said earlier United.com only shows ORD-FRA-WAW even though there is a direct flight on a Boeing 787 from ORD-WAW.

Using the ANA tool, I plugged in ORD-WAW.

Not only is there a DIRECT FLIGHT on a 787 from Chicago to Warsaw, there are actually TWO flights!

Both flights have Economy and Business Saver availability!

While there are certain airlines and cabin classes that you can’t book with United miles (like Singapore First Class), you actually CAN book this ORD-WAW flight in Business Class on the 787!

You would just have to call into United and give them the flight numbers and have them manually do it.

Since the majority of people only search United.com, I suspect that United just figures that if they don’t show flights like these direct ORD-WAW flights on United.com, then people are just going to assume that a direct flight isn’t available.

Not only would United not have to pay LOT Polish for the Business and Economy Seats, but because United.com is only showing Lufthansa flights that have NO saver availability, most normal United Customers (aka people who don’t read all the travel blogs) would more than likely book the “anytime” awards for double the price.

Semi-Starnet Blocking

Another thing United.com does is “block” out certain Award Inventory on Partner Airlines. It used to be a huge problem before the Continental merger, but it has gotten significantly better in recent years.

In the above example, United just didn’t show the inventory on United.com but it was still bookable over the phone if you knew the flight numbers. With Starnet Blocking, United will show the inventory but then say that Business Class isn’t available because they don’t want to pay for it.

I haven’t come across Starnet blocking too much since the Continental Merger but there are reports on FlyerTalk that the practice is still alive on certain routes and it seems Ethiopian Airline routes are being semi-Starnet blocked. 

For example, for our Seychelles mistake fare, the only way to get to the island of Seychelles using Star Alliance miles is to go thru Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That is the ONLY option!

While Addis Ababa is the hub for Star Alliance Carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, from the reviews I have read online, flying Ethiopian is not something anyone aspires to do.

Ethiopian Airlines surprisingly does own a couple of 787s (one which caught fire while parked at LHR)! So given that flying the 787 down to ADD is probably the least terrible option, that is what we opted to do. 

As usual my first stop was United.com. Unlike earlier where United.com just didn’t show the ORD-WAW flight, this time it did show that there was a direct LHR-ADD flight on the 787. However it only showed Economy was available.

When I was searching for other Ethiopian routes into ADD from Europe and the Middle East, I noticed the same thing, that there was no Business Class available on Ethiopian Airlines. I know that this is a normal practice for many Asian Star Alliance Carriers but I was surprised that Ethiopian did that.

Anyways, again I powered up the ANA Tool and took a look, and again to my surprise, Business Class was available!

Since the inventory wasn’t even showing on United.com, I wasn’t sure if Starnet blocking was going on and if I would be able to even book the seat by calling United.

I went ahead and called United and was able to book 2 Business Class seats without issue.

I am not sure if it is just a United.com glitch that they aren’t showing any Ethiopian Business availability or if they are doing it on purpose, but I still recommend always checking ANA if you aren’t finding the availability you are looking for.

Recap

While United.com is probably the best airline award search engine out there, you still have to take their award results with a pinch of salt because they have a financial interest in directing you towards booking certain flights and routes.

I never really used the ANA Tool before because it is just an additional step in the already cumbersome process of searching for awards, but after this experience, I am always going to double check ANA going forward.

I HIGHLY suggest transferring some miles to ANA so you have access to the ANA Tool!

Although it is a bit more work, as you saw above, it is the difference in seeing ZERO Economy or Business Class Saver Award space on United.com OR using ANA and seeing a direct 787 flight with both Business and Economy Saver Award space available.

-Parag

Don’t ever miss another FFU Update or Travel Deal!

Follow me on Facebook, Google+, TwitterRSS, Breaking Deals Text Alert, or Email!

How To Book Awards When There Is Limited Availability

Istanbul

Greetings from the W Istanbul!

The post below is from August 2012. I wrote it when I was trying to book my Parents an Award Flight to India for December 2012 and there wasn’t any direct availability from Chicago.

Even though the post below is for United, when I couldn’t find any Award availability on American to get to Madrid last week, I used a similar tactic and “built” my own itinerary and routed myself thru London, instead of being forced to go through Houston or Miami.

Although this post may seem basic to many, not everyone knows that you can build your own itinerary segment by segment with United and American. Basically with this little trick, the days of no Award availability are over because if the Airline’s website tells you that, you can simply route yourself via an “unconventional” routing!

Booking Awards When There Is Limited Availability

Note: If you are ever planning on booking an International Flight with United miles, I suggest you bookmark this post because it will likely be extremely helpful in the event you cannot find availability.

This past weekend while I was on vacation in Washington D.C, I had the pleasure of trying to book 2 Business Class flights to India for my Parents using United miles.

Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but apparently December is high season for flights to India (probably due to Winter Break and semi decent weather in India), so there is limited availability from the U.S. until January.

Due to trouble finding availability, I decided to book 2 One Way tickets for my Parents.

Fortunately there was Business Class Saver availability on Qatar Airways coming back from Bombay to Chicago, so when I saw that I went ahead and booked it.

This way, in a worst case scenario, at a minimum 1 of my Parents flights will be in Business Class.

After I booked my Parents return from Bombay to Chicago, I kept checking United.com daily to see if anything from Chicago to Bombay opened up.

Although their flight isn’t until December, I would rather have it all booked up rather than wait until the last second. Therefore I started looking to see if there was availability from other airports like New York – JFK.

My thinking was that if there was availability, than they could just fly out of JFK and pay for a one way ticket from Chicago to New York.

Thankfully I read 2 extremely important posts this past week which gave me a tremendous amount of insight into booking International Tickets with United miles and ultimately saved my Parents some money.

The first post was from Lucky aka One Mile At A Time and it was about “The Challenege of Booking Qatar Airways Awards Using United Miles”.

Basically, Lucky said to book the Qatar Airways flights on United.com and then to call into United’s Phone Center and ask them to add on your other segments.

This was news to me because I didn’t know you could even do that!

Then coincidently, I read Scott aka MileValue’s post about “Free One Ways On United Awards”

Basically Scott said that on International Awards booked with United Miles, on the way back to the U.S because of United’s Stop-Over policy, you can add on a one way flight for FREE.

Using those 2 extremely helpful posts, I figured out that I could book my Parents on a flight to Bombay departing anywhere in the United States, and then by simply calling United, I could add on a domestic segment to get them to their Departure Airport from Chicago for FREE!

In my humble opinion, this really changes the game on booking International Award Tickets with United miles because normally when I look for availability, I simply put ORD into the United.com search engine, as well as my destination, and then see what is available.

If there are no Saver Awards, I simply change my dates and hope something comes up.

Now that I know about this little loophole, instead of changing my dates around, I can simply search any of the other large East or West Coast Airports and see if they have Saver availability.

If those Airports have availability, I can simply book it and then call United to add on a flight from Chicago to the departing Airport for FREE!

While my example is about booking flights to India for my Parents, you can use this strategy for an International Award using United miles.

So if you can’t find availability to Europe, Asia, or anywhere else, simply try this strategy below.

How To Use United Miles To Book An International Award With A Free Positioning Flight

In my example, I will use my Parents flight from Chicago to Bombay in December 2012.

1. Go To United.com & Enter Your Home Airport & Final Destination

First thing you want to check is to see if there is availability out of your Home Airport so you don’t inadvertently waste your time making your itinerary more complicated than it needs to be.

If there is availability then congratulations because you can skip all the steps below!

2. In The Event There Is No Availability From Your Home Airport, Check Other Large Airports

I am based out of Chicago and know the quickest way to India is to go East, therefore I checked all the Airports below to see if they had any availability to Bombay on my specific dates.

  • New York – All Airports – NYC (Includes JFK & EWR)
  • Washington Dulles – IAD
  • Houston Intercontinental – IAH
  • Philadelphia – PHL
  • Boston – BOS

Eventually, I concluded that I wanted my Parents to fly Qatar Airways, so after checking the Wikipedia pages of each of the above Airports and Qatar’s Hub in Doha to see where exactly Qatar flies in the U.S (seriously Wikipedia is a great resource for this), I knew the choices were either to depart from JFK, IAD, or IAH.

I eventually found Business Class Saver availability out of Houston Intercontinental – IAH on Qatar Airways.

Even if you find availability, do NOT book the flight yet because you need to make sure United can first fly you to that Departure Airport from your Home Airport!

3. Check Availability From Your Home Airport To Departure Airport

After you have found your International Award / Departure Airport, you have to check for availability from your Home Airport to the Departure Airport.

This is called a “Positioning Flight”

In my case, I needed to get my Parents from Chicago – ORD -> Houston – IAH.

To search for your “Positioning Flight”, simply open a new Tab or Window and go to United.com.

Remember to keep your Tab or Window from Section 2 open because you will need it to cross check the flight times.

At United.com, enter your Home Airport and the Departure Airport from Step 2 and check for availability.

Again, remember to set your search as a One Way ticket.

4. Cross Check Flight Times

After you find availability from your Home Airport to your Departure Airport, simply cross check the flight times to make sure they line up correctly.

Since my Parents Houston to Bombay flight departs at 7:15 PM, they probably should get to Houston by 4:00-5:00 PM.

Remember that if you are flying Business Class on your International Flight, then you can fly Business Class domestically for no extra charge.

5. Book The International Flights

Now that have all your flights including your Positioning Flight and International Flight picked out, you can either book the entire thing over the phone by calling United at 1-800-864-8331 or book the whole thing on United, however that doesn’t always work.

I personally find it easier to book the International Flight online because it is quicker than giving the flight numbers on the phone.

Also from reading Lucky’s post I knew that for my Parent’s tickets, I had to book the Qatar Airways Flight online and then call in the Chicago to Houston Positioning Flight.

An important thing to remember is that United has a 24 hour cancellation policy on Revenue Tickets and Award Tickets.

In the event something goes wrong while doing this (ie the United Phone Agent can’t pull up your flights on their end, etc), you can always cancel your ticket and get your miles back for free within 24 hours.

Also United allows you to change the dates on Award Tickets for free as long as it is 21 days before departure.

This means that if your dates change for some reason, you can change the flights and dates for free, as long as the Departure and Arrival cities stay the same.

So for example after United added on my Parent’s Position Flight, if a more direct flight opens up from Chicago to Bombay, I can change it for free since my Departure City (Chicago) and Arrival City (Bombay) will be the same.

6. Call United To Add On Domestic Flight / Positioning Flight

After I booked my Parents International Flight online and had the Confirmation numbers, I simply called United and gave them the Confirmation numbers and said I wanted to add on a Domestic Flight.

Since I had the United.com window open from Section 3, I simply provided the Phone Agent with the Departure Airport (O’Hare), Arrival Airport (IAH), date, and flight number that I had picked out, and they booked it in Business Class for FREE, no questions asked or extra miles needed.

In the event your United Phone Agent tries to charge you a $25 Phone Fee, simply explain to them that you tried to book this itinerary online and it did not work hence why you booked half of it online and had to call in the other half.

Using that explanation, I did not have a problem getting the Phone Fee waived.

7. Review New Confirmation

After United processes your Domestic Flight and adds it to your International Itinerary, you will get a new Confirmation via email.

Simply go over it and make sure everything is correct.

If everything is correct, then you are good to go!

Using This Strategy To Fly Specific Planes

This strategy can be used if there is a specific plane like the A380 or 787 Dreamliner that you want to fly.

Simply find out what airport it flies into and see if there is availability.

For example, the A380 is operated by Lufthansa and flies from Houston – IAH & New York – JFK to Frankfurt, Germany.

Recap

Although this post may seem basic to many, having the flexibility to fly out of any Airport and essentially “build” your own Itinerary can be invaluable!

Although when typed out, it seems that this strategy takes a long time, in reality it probably takes about 30 minutes depending on how useful your United Phone Agent is.

In my opinion, ultimately it is better to have 1 additional stop-over or fly on a better plane, than have to change your dates around to accommodate United’s availability.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, feel free to email me or leave a comment!

-Parag

Don’t ever miss another FFU Update or Travel Deal!

Follow me on FacebookTwitterRSS, or Email!

UPDATE: The Clusterf%&# That Is United

Update:

After I posted the original post below, people on Twitter sent me messages that the same thing happened to them and that they emailed United 3+ months ago but never heard anything back.

In an effort to make sure that doesn’t happen to me and to help those Twitter Followers get their United issues sorted, we ended up forming a huge chain of Tweets addressing our complaints for @United. Surprisingly it worked and ended up getting @United’s attention. They asked for all of us to send them our case numbers and they said they would look into it.

Well a couple of days ago, I received an email from United informing me that they would be crediting my Dad with 7,000 United Miles and refund the ridiculous $50 Service Fee that I was charged to get his ticket issued.

Does 7,000 United Miles make up for the huge hassle United put us through? Not at all, but it is better than nothing so I am not complaining.

People on Twitter said I should have asked for more compensation and that 7,000 Miles was ridiculously low, but to me it isn’t even about the Miles.

I’d much rather have United save the cost of giving me those 7,000 Miles and instead invest that money in their IT systems so this kind of ridiculous glitch doesn’t happen again to anyone else.

Anyways, I am glad that this whole mess has been settled in a timely manner, and as I talked about below, always call to make sure your Award Ticket has actually been ticketed. This is especially true if you are redeeming your United Miles on a Star Alliance Partner!

Parag


The Clusterf%&# That Is United

My Parents left for India yesterday Afternoon flying on Lufthansa Business Class using 120,000 United Miles each.

Due to lack of availability in Business, I had them originally booked them on some in-direct flights just so they had something locked down. As space opened up this month, I made changes over the phone and got them both booked on the same Chicago – Frankfurt – Bombay flight.

Earlier this week, I went ahead and logged into United.com and checked them in. United.com shows the Lufthansa Confirmation Numbers, so I went ahead and also picked their seats on Lufthansa.

Their tickets on United.com showed the updated Chicago – Frankfurt – Bombay routing, and since I was able to check-in and pick their seats, I thought everything was fine.

I dropped my Parents off at O’Hare Airport yesterday afternoon and drove back into the City. Well about 1 hour after I dropped them off (and about 1 hour until their Departure), my Mom calls me saying that the Lufthansa Check-in Agent is showing that my Dad’s ticket was never updated and was still showing the old routing.

I told my Mom that it doesn’t make any sense since United.com showed the new ticket and confirmation number, plus I was able to check them in without issue.

Well the Lufthansa Agent got on the phone and said there was nothing she could do since the ticket was booked by United, so I had to call United and get this sorted out in the next 45 minutes before their flight was scheduled to leave.

Well unbenounced to me, for my Dad’s ticket, even though I had called and made all the changes over the Phone, the United Agent apparently never issued his ticket and left in place the old routing on the ticket even though United.com showed the new routing.

Anyways, for anyone who has called United without Status, you know that you are almost guaranteed to get your call routed to Asia. Unfortunately I didn’t have a choice, so I quickly got off the highway, ducked into a Starbucks, booted up my Laptop, and phoned United.

Not surprisingly my call got routed to India (which is ironic because that is exactly where I needed to get my Dad…), and I explained what happened and that my Dad’s flight was set to depart in 45 Minutes, so if he could please hurry and re-issue the ticket.

Of course that simple request turned into the Agent putting me on hold for 15 minutes while he looked at all the old information on the reservation.

Finally he said he could reissue the ticket, but IT WOULD BE A $50 CHANGE FEE…

I asked what was the change fee was for since nothing had changed.

He said since the ticket was changed from what was originally booked, there was a fee to re-issue it.

I explained that $50 is not even a real fee, the change fee is actually $75 and that fee had been waived earlier when I made the changes.

The Agent absolutely refused to waive the fee, so I ended up paying the $50 just to not have to argue with him and get the ticket re-issued.

The ticket was re-issued with about 20 minute left to my Dad’s flight, so I called my Dad and told him it should be good to go. The Lufthansa Agent processed it for him, escorted him through security, and held the plane for him so he made it on the flight.

In the process of being on the phone with United, I was tweeting my utter frustration with United on Twitter and United surprisingly picked up my tweet, so they messaged me to help but by that time, the ticket was already re-issued.

How Does This Happen?

As I am digesting the absolute clusterF$%& that transpired yesterday afternoon, I am really trying to figure out how this mess happened in the first place.

While on the phone with United yesterday, I logged in to my Dad’s United account and checked his confirmation, and noticed the following message:

The message reads “ ! A modification has been made to your itinerary. Please contact United Reservations to have your ticket reissued. This reservation was ticketed and confirmed on Mon., Jul. 30, 2012 at 4:07 p.m. Central Time.”

While I suppose it is my fault for not seeing that, it just amazes me that United thinks that this small message suffices as a proper warning that you might go to the Airport and not have a ticket.

I am a fairly proficient with Award Bookings and Tickets, and if I missed this, I can’t imagine normal people who travel on miles once in a blue moon, would see this “warning”.

The worst part is that all the changes that I made to my Dad’s tickets were originally made on the phone, so I don’t know why the ticket wasn’t re-issued then instead of having to call back in again at a later time.

However the most mind boggling part to this whole saga is that even if the ticket wasn’t actually issued, how on earth does United.com show the correct itinerary, allow you to check-in for the flight, pick your seats, and allow you to make it as far as the Airport Check-in Desk, where you then casually find out that you don’t actually have a ticket…

Luckily for my Parents, they had me on call and I conveniently had my laptop in hand, but if this were just normal people, they would have been absolutely screwed.

Just imagine if they were flying United to Frankfurt, and then connecting onto a Lufthansa flight and found out in Frankfurt that Lufthansa didn’t have their ticket!. There is no way they would have been able to contact me and get it sorted out.

Not As Rare As You Think

Although this may sound like some random shitty one time experience, this is far more common than you think especially if you make any changes to your flight.

It happened to The Points Guy when he was going to France in Swiss First Class booked on United Miles. He didn’t even bother with trying to have United fix it, and booked a British Airways First Class Ticket while standing at the United counter at the Airport.

The comments section on his post has 59 comments from people with similar tales…

Similarly on Twitter, a Follower said it has happened to his Parents too.

How To Prevent This

To be honest, I am not really sure how to prevent this because I am still not sure what caused this mess.

My best suggestion is to check your confirmation online and then to be safe, just call United and confirm over the phone that it has been actually ticketed. I’m sure 99% of the time, it will be ticketed and everything will be fine, but you don’t ever want to deal with going to the Airport and finding out you don’t have a ticket.

Recap 

Although United tweeted me, I am going to write them a strongly worded letter this Afternoon. Although I am extremely annoyed that the first United Agent never issued the ticket in the first place, I am FURIOUS that when I called United in an emergency and explained the situation and time constraint, that the Agent casually took their time and then charged me a “$50 Change Fee” when the changes were already confirmed by the last Agent and the fee was waived.

Ridiculous!

I guess if there is a silver lining to this story, it is that other people hopefully will learn from this fiasco and triple check their tickets to make sure they are actually ticketed.

I will keep you updated on what remedies United offers for this situation. At a minimum I would like my $50 back.

Parag