Early this morning, I wrote an extensive post about the new changes United’s award routing rules, and some of the unforeseen problems that came with the new booking engine. On October 6, United removed the free stopover on roundtrip international tickets. In a larger system-wide change, United has also began booking all award tickets as one-way flights.
You Can No Longer Customize Connections
This has led to some pretty significant problems when it comes to booking flights using the multi-city tool. Previously, you were able to input specific flights into the multi-city tool, in order to search for a specific itinerary with a specific connection. For example, let’s say I’m flying from New York (JFK) to Bangkok (BKK). Since there are no direct flights between the two cities, if I search for that alone, United will come up with a list of potential connections. But sometimes, you might have a specific product in mind, perhaps an airline with a flat-bed seat, or an aircraft with Wi-Fi.
So let’s say I wanted to fly through Taipei (TPE) for my trip. I used to be able to punch in JFK-TPE, and then TPE-BKK as separate segments in the multi-city tool. United would recognize any connections less than 24 hours, and then lump the two flights into one single itinerary, charging a single price. With the new booking engine, however, when you book flights using the multi-city tool, United automatically charges for each segment separately.
Here’s my example from this morning’s post, to illustrate the problem. Let’s say I want to fly Business Class from New York (JFK) to Bangkok (BKK). United proactively offers a routing via Taipei (TPE), charging the right number of miles.
As a consequence of booking everything as one-way, when you enter these flights separately in the multi-city tool, United automatically thinks you want to book two separate trip. Consequently, they will charge for them separately. Here is the exact itinerary as above, only 40,000 miles more expensive.
This is a huge drawback, since you will now have to take whatever connection United’s system gives you. I spoke to a few agents on the phone, and when they searched for individual flights instead of as a through itinerary, the computer priced awards the same way we saw here. All three agents claimed that they do not have the ability to override what the computer prices. One acknowledged that the routing does follow the new routing rules, but couldn’t do anything because she had to follow what the computer told her.
In short, if there is a legal connection with availability in all segments, but United can’t find it proactively, you will not be able to book it. Not even if you get on the phone and talk to someone. (If someone was able to make an exception for you, please comment below!)
“It’s a Feature. Not a Bug.”
Some people, myself included, have speculated that this is simply a glitch in the system after the updated routing rules took place. Well, it appears that might not be the case. This seems to be something that United has intentionally done. Dan’s Deals covered this same issue in the afternoon, and a reader got a response after reaching out to United:
I’m sorry you’re disappointed with our change to multi-city ticket pricing.
This was a difficult decision for us as we realize changes may have a direct impact on you. The changes were necessary as tickets were pricing incorrectly, causing ticketing errors. We didn’t want to risk the chance of inconveniencing you and other customers. Your feedback is important to us and we’ll continue to explore better options that’ll help meet your needs.
Thank you for providing the screen shots and I understand your concerns about the same trip being priced differently for one-way versus multi-city when you searched for award fares online. Your comments will be forwarded to our pricing department for internal review.
One of the oldest “trick” when you book an award ticket with multiple flights is to search for them individually first, and then piece them together. With the new United booking engine, that is no longer sound advice. Some say the new changes bring simplicity to the award booking process, but I’d argue that a simple booking had always been possible. On the other hand, this is a huge blow to power users who want to maximize their trip with a completely legal routing—they now appear to have no recourses.
I’ve reached out to United for comments.