The New United Award Ticket Hold Policy

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In the months leading up to Continental and United finalizing their merger, the two companies aligned many of their fees and policies.  However, they did not align all policies in advance, which left many of us guessing which policy would prevail post-merger: the Continental policy, or the United policy.  One of the areas in which the two airlines never shared the same policy was holding award tickets prior to purchase.  I love placing hold on award tickets.  It lets me firm up travel plans while keeping the tickets safe for a few days.

Prior to the merger, United allowed you to hold award tickets (over the phone) for three days if you had enough miles in your account to book the tickets.  Continental allowed you to hold award tickets for three days if you did not have enough miles in your account to book the tickets.  Over the past few months it was easy enough to game the system since you could hold with one or the other depending on whether or not you had the miles ready.  However, we now live in the days of the New United, so only one policy could prevail.

Last night I went to hold some award tickets for my husband’s 20th high school reunion (um, when did we get this old?).  As is common, fares for a direct flight from Houston to Wichita are absurd, and since Little C is traveling with us, there is no way I am turning what should be an easy hour and forty minute flight into a several hour affair by throwing in a connection.  So, instead of paying several hundred dollars each for a short flight, we spent 10,000 MileagePlus miles each to get the flight we wanted at a price we could afford.  We are unsure about our plans for the return ticket, and may be flying home out of Kansas City, in which case it will likely be affordable enough to book paid tickets home. 

When I went to hold the tickets, it became clear that the winner in the award ticket hold category was the Old Continental policy.  The award tickets could only be held for free for 72 hours if I did not have enough miles in my account to book them.

Here is the view from my account that did have enough miles in it.  I had no free hold option – though paying a few dollars really isn’t bad if you need to hold the tickets.

Here is the view from my husband’s account who did not have enough miles to book the tickets.  He had a free hold option.

Instead of holding the tickets, I went ahead and booked them.  I could have held them from my husband’s account if I’d been really unsure about our plans since he didn’t have enough miles.  I could then transfer in miles from our Ultimate Rewards account when it came time to book, or possibly called in and paid for the tickets using my miles.  I can’t swear that works now with the new United, but I had done it before the merger.

In this case, since on United you can change the time/date of your award ticket without penalty until 21 days before departure, there really wasn’t a huge risk in booking the tickets.  I know for sure we are going – I just wasn’t 100% about the exact time/date that worked best for us.  In case you are looking for a comprehensive list of award hold policies on various airlines, check out Lucky’s post on Travelsort regarding award ticket hold tips.  The Continental/United info on that post is now a bit outdated, but the rest of the info still should be pretty relevant.

Are you happy to see the old Continental policy win out, or do you miss the old United policy?

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  1. Anyone else experiencing issue with Your (and others) newer (since March 13th) blog entries are not showing up. I tried it 2 browsers and an iPhone.

  2. @Michael, yes there are some server issues going on with BoardingArea. You can still see the new posts on the individual blogs, Twitter feed, etc, but not on the main BoardingArea page. Hopefully they will have it resolved soon. Thanks for your patience!

    @Joe, you are right that despite the name being gone, much of CO is still here.

  3. I really wish the UA policy was still in effect – in this instance, this is where UA was ahead of CO.

    I have plenty of miles – I don’t want to have to pay in order to hold my flight – I’ll give you my dollars but I don’t want to give you my nickels and dimes

  4. Is the option to hold an award booking available to elites only? I don’t have enough points, yet the only option I see to continue an award booking is to buy the remaining points.

  5. @Brad R, if you have lots of miles than the old UA policy clearly is the better one for you (which, presumably, most loyal flyers would have tons of miles….)

    @EK, no, my husband is not elite and he did have the free option. That is interesting….what kind of ticket was it and how far in advance was the flight?

  6. Actually, you can still hold an award reservation for free for up to 48 hours. The way you do this is go through the process as if you’re going to book the award seat. Once you get to the payment options, click on “Phone Order Page”. You will be given a confirmation number that you should give to the res agent when you call back to complete the purchase. If you then go to Manage Your Reservations you will see you reservation on hold. You can even complete the purchase without calling in an avoiding the ticketing fee. The purpose of the Phone Order Page is to allow people that are paranoid to enter their credit card information to complete their reservation over the phone. Luckily United gives you up to 48 hours to call and complete the purchase. I say up to 48 because i think they give you until midnight the following day which could be up to 48 hours if you booked at 12:01am.

  7. I talked to a couple of United agents, and apparently you can hold a booking only on a United flight, hence given that my booking was a partner (Lufthansa) flight, the only option for me to book the award with fewer miles was to buy the miles. I’m not sure if people know this already, but I wanted to point it out. I’m now anxiously waiting to get the rest of my miles so I can book the trip

  8. The United agents are wrong. I put a Singapore Air Business Class award ticket on hold and purchased it two days later without any issues.

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