For those of you that have used the United engine for searching and booking award tickets, you would likely agree that United’s search tool is one of the better ones, U.S. airlines considered. It displays availability from almost all Star Alliance partners, it is intelligent to find itineraries that require 2+ stops (most of the time), and it is relatively easy to use.
Flights on some carriers, however, are not bookable on United’s website. For example, Brussels Airlines availability does not always display, and Singapore Airlines flights are not shown in search results. Additionally, the multi-city tool does not display all possible routings, and if you have a complicated itinerary, the website is not always competent enough to price it for you.
Under these scenarios, you would have to call United to book the ticket. United charges a $25 fee for award tickets booked over the phone, unless you have Premier Platinum status or above. However, there is a neat trick that you can use to avoid the fee, that most know but here’s a refresher for everyone else!
For the sake of a simple illustration, let’s say I wanted to book a flight from Brussels to Milan-Linate. The ANA search tool shows that there are direct flights on Brussels Airlines available from Brussels to Milan-Linate on 8/13.
However, when I search on United, the flight is not displaying. Instead, it wants me to connect via Frankfurt. Well…I don’t want to do that.
In this situation, I would have to call United to book the seat on Brussels Airlines. Here’s the trick to avoid the phone booking fee.
Because United has a 24-hour change policy, you can call within 24 hours of booking a ticket online to make any changes. Simply book a similar itinerary online (e.g. Brussels to Frankfurt for that day) and call immediately to change your fight or destination. The agent on the phone should be able to identify the award space on Brussels Airlines, and voila! You’ve got your direct flight, and you just saved $25. Of course, you can apply this trick to a more complicated itinerary. If you get an agent who tries to charge you the fee, just use the age old rule of Hang Up, Call Again.
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