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I wrote last week how I booked two Business Class seats on Austrian Airlines using United miles for this summer. I received several follow-up emails asking me how I was able to ticket the booking as it appears others attempting to book similar flights were running into a snag. As a follow-up, I wanted to share the snag I ran into and a simple trick that was needed to complete this booking.
I am sure you have heard this before but it’s worth repeating. The ANA search tool is the most accurate tool to locate Star Alliance award space released to partners. In the case of the Austrian Business Class space I wanted, there were 4 seats showing as available for each of the three segments I wanted to book. I had a one way routing with one intra-European flight, one US domestic flight, and one transatlantic flight so I could not construct the desired itinerary completely using the United website.
I phoned United and the first agent saw space on the domestic US flight and the intra-European flight on Austrian Airlines but could not see any space on the Austrian route between Vienna and the US gateway city. I figured this was a mistake on his part so I hung up and called again. The next agent came back with the exact same response. At this point I was perplexed since I could literally pull up the space on the United website while on the phone with the agent. It wasn’t phantom space which is common with Lufthansa First Class because I could get all the way to the payment page with the flights the agents could not see on their end.
The simple trick
At that point I remembered the “Pay by Phone” option on United’s website that will generate a Booking reference number and essentially put the flight on hold for you to call in and ticket. I asked the agent to hold as I put two out of the three segments, including the flight the agents could not see, on hold. I recited the reference number that was generated immediately online to the agent and she was able to pull it up and tack on the last US domestic flight to the itinerary without any issue. In my case I had enough miles in my account to book the award. If you do not have enough miles in your account to ticket the award you have selected, you can use the Reserve button to hold your reservation for about 24 hours.
The bottom line
I can’t say for sure why the United agents could not see the award space but it taught me an important trick that I plan to use going forward when reserving award travel. When it is at all possible (even one segment), it helps to piece together as much of the award online as you can and create a held reservation with a reservation number. When it comes time to make the call, you can start the agent with the held reservation and have them add to the remaining segments as opposed to starting an award from scratch reciting your name, home address, etc. In addition, I think this method helps reduce the possibility of a mistake on the agents end as the agent now has a better sense of your ballpark dates and destinations right from the start.