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A Battle with United Reservations Over Award Routing Rules

Considering I book multiple awards per week, mostly from US carriers, I have become intimately acquainted with award routing rules on the legacy carriers like United, Delta, American, and US Airways. You would not believe how often the agents misquote or make up rules and last night was a prime example.

I was booking a honeymoon trip for a couple to Bali and they wanted a stopover and an open jaw on the way back, in addition to their destination. They had United miles and after finding availability, I called United to reserve the tickets. No problem--everything was put on hold and I sent the reservation over to the clients so they could look it over.

They promptly gave me the green light and I called back United to complete the ticketing. I reached the Global Services desk in Dearborn, Michigan where an agent, sounding pleasant enough, greeted me. I provided her the reference number for the reservation and asked her to issue the tickets. Our conversation then went like this:

AGENT: Hey, this itinerary isn't right. Hold on.

ME: What's wrong with it?

[It was too late, I was already on hold and listening to Rhapsody in Blue]

AGENT: Yup. This is invalid routing. You can't have a stopover or an open jaw on an award.

ME: What? First off, traditionally you have been able to have either a stopover or an open jaw on award, but not both. Since earlier this year, however, as the Continental OnePass and United Mileage Plus programs have begun to align, you are allowed both a stopover and open jaw on an award booking between regions.

AGENT: No, you are not allowed any stopovers. We have to price those as new tickets.

ME: Ma'am, you are wrong. Pull up your S*MPI/STAR ALLIANCE AWARD profile and you will see that I am correct.

AGENT: I have that in front of me.

ME: Good, let's read it together.

[I read the pertinent part to her]

AGENT: No, you cannot have the stopover.

ME: Can you please check with your support desk?

AGENT (sighing): Fine.

[I am on hold for another 10 minutes]

AGENT: Oh, you're really going to hate me now. Your routing is invalid is well.

ME: What do you mean? You are allowed to exceed the MPM by up to 15% and I only exceed it by 12%.

AGENT: We are gong to have to change the routing.

ME: Okay, thanks. Goodbye. *click*

What's the point of dealing with agents like that? I called back and got Dearborn again:

AGENT (right away): Oh, that itinerary looks funny. I don't think your routing is valid.

[She spends a couple minutes looking at it]

AGENT: Hmm, someone's red flagged this itinerary--it's probably because of this bad routing--you have too many stops and you cannot have that gap betwen cities.

ME: Look at your profile. I am allowed a stopover, destination, and open jaw.

AGENT: Okay, hold on.

[She places me on hold for ten minutes]

AGENT: Well, you were right about the routing.

[Tickets issued]

Honestly, when it comes to routing rules, the Philippines and Indian call centers are more well-versed than United's supposedly best agents in Dearborn. It is beyond sad that United agents are unfamiliar with rules that went into effect months ago, and even worse that the first agent (whose name I should have asked for) refused to budge even when confronted with the rules.

I got the routing I wanted in the end (a perfectly legal routing according the rules), but it was a painful process and an ordeal that should never have happened.


Nick September 16, 2011 at 06:45 pm

Almost sounds like it would have been easier to transfer the miles to CO and book it from there, at least their agents have policy enforced by the computer (even though it is a pain sometimes)

HunterSFO September 16, 2011 at 09:17 pm

In my opinion UAs best agents are in HNL. NRT would be next. When a dearborn agent ansewers the call "this is mrs. ____" I hang up right then.

Darren September 17, 2011 at 09:51 am

Yup, that Dearborn agent did the dreaded "phone field comments" thing probably after your first call, which is why that second agent said the red flag thing. Long story, but when you put comments in the phone field of a PNR, they show up beneath the itinerary on the first screen, so agent#1 probably had a ton of ***** ##### and all that in there with her comments.

Anyway, I might have ended that call after she came back from putting you on hold. Glad agent #2 ticketed it for you.

@Nick: True, but I really don't like dealing with the CO folks either.

@HunterSFO: I agree the HNL and NRT agents are by far the best. When I tend to call, though, is when the Chicago and Dearborn crews are on duty. Next time, I am honestly going to try the ICC.

And you are right about "This is Mrs. so and so" -- why do they have to identify themselves like that and why is it that whenever they do, we know they'll be bad.

@Darren: For the sake of my clients, I trust they will not have to make any changes to the flights... I probably should have ended the first call earlier, but lately I have been in an "educating" mood when it comes to dealing with phone agents. I am usually successful with Delta and United, though US Airways agents are the hardest to reform.

RB September 19, 2011 at 03:42 pm

Are you able to post the details of this ticket (routing, airlines, , dates, etc) so those of us reading out here can have a better understanding? Thanks!

@RB: To protect the privacy of the clients, I'll modify the cities slightly, but it was something like:


I haven't checked the MPM on may be over with that routing, but my trip was very close and met all of UA's routing rules (to my knowledge).

For example, despite going to the MPM rule rather than published routing, the rules still state you cannot cross both oceans on an award. So the n/s ICN-JFK would not have worked--backtracking through Europe was necessary, unless I had booked the awards as two one-ways. Then, however, there would have been no stopover or open jaw allowed when combining the two trips.

RB September 19, 2011 at 05:35 pm

Thank you - that is helpful. Seems like you have a great itinerary planned for them!

harvson3 September 20, 2011 at 04:28 pm

Does that "not cross two oceans" rule applying to CO award tickets as well? I seem to be able to price JFK-FRA-BKK-CGK//CGK-SIN//KUL-NRT-ORD-JFK at 65,000 for economy, and that's around the world. Is that going to run into problems?

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