Yesterday I was working on a client award redemption to Hyderabad, India and found a really nice business class itinerary on Qatar Airways using United miles. I placed the reservation on hold for final approval from the clients, who elected to change their return date.
As nice as Continental's award search tool is on united.com, once a reservation is on hold you cannot modify it--a call to reservations is required to make changes. So I called. The award space was there--identical routing--on the date I wanted and I asked the agent (Houston) to make the change. She claimed she could not find it and went ahead and added in an "easy pass" first class award on United via Dubai and Washington Dulles (160K miles one-way) without asking. Nice.
Next call, I reached India and after waiting on hold for about 25 minutes while the agent "conferred with her support desk" she came back and said that Qatar Airways is no longer a partner. I slammed down the phone in disgust. Per united.com, the official partnership with Qatar ended on 15 June, but the option of booking Qatar awards and earning United miles on Qatar flights ends on 14 September:
I called again. This time I got an agent in Chicago with the deepest smoker's voice I've heard in at least a couple days (I am in Germany, afterall). She found the space, but said she had "just" received an e-mail that Qatar Airways had ended the partnership early and that effective 15 July, agents could not book any more Qatar Airways space. She put me on hold to verify this and came back ten minutes later confirming the news.
I told her united.com was showing plentiful availability and she acknowledged that, said it was an error that was being worked on, and that whatever I tried to book on Qatar would not ticket. I told her to leave the reservation untouched but she responded, "I've got two supervisors looking at this and we are going to have to remove the space." I pleaded with her not to touch it and ended the call.
I feared she probably would have not made up her story, but just did not buy that Qatar would unilaterally end what is probably a lucrative code-sharing agreement two months early. So I went on united.com and booked the client's preferred return as one-way trip. It ticketed in five minutes...
Next, I called web support and had them remove the inbound itinerary on the held reservation leaving only the outbound flights. That done, I completed the outbound reservation as well. It ticketed in five minutes...
Today, Qatar award space remains abundant on united.com and I have to think that I just ran into three consecutive confused agents yesterday. Be that as it may, if you are considering booking a Qatar Airways trip before the United partnership ends, do not hold off--the award availability is great now and I would never count on it sticking around.