Award Tickets & Catch 22

Award Tickets & Catch 22 2016-01-31T19:42:01-08:00

Hi, I’m planning to fly to Sydney from San Francisco in November this year. I have enough miles with United to fly business class, but both via their web site and telephone operators, business class is not yet available. Economy is, however. The operator did not know when business class would become available. How do I know when business class travel will be available?

Thanks for your insight, Iris


edited question

Answered by The Penny Pincher

Hi Iris,

Super question—this is something that many travelers have to deal with.

What you are encountering is called yield management. Basically, this is a practice used by all airlines where through complex mathematical algorithms they attempt to gain the most revenue from their available seats.

Essentially, in the airlines eyes, they have 10 months to try to sell the available business class seats on their November flights. As a result, they don’t want to give away any free seats that could generate revenue.

The predicament you face is that you’re in a catch—22 situation. The good news is that there is still a lot of time on your side for business award tickets to open up. However, as I stated, United will guardedly watch their advance bookings and open the seats only when their computer system determines that some seats will go unsold. The bad news is that the closer you get to November the more competition you will have for award seats.

You have a few solutions: First, check on the available seats for sale on your desired dates of travel. You can do this by calling UAL and asking the phone agents how many seats are for sale on the flights and dates you wish to travel. You can also go to and go through the reservation process of entering your dates of travel and the flights you desire. Then click onto the next screen and go to the bottom of the page where you can click a link to choose your seat (do not enter your credit card info). A seat map of available seats will appear and this will tell you how many seats are available. When I did this for two dates in November, both flights had over 95% of their seats open. Once you have this information, call the marketing department of United Airlines and request that they open seats for you.

When talking with United’s marketing department, stress your loyalty and your continued loyalty. Also tactfully pose the question, “What good is it for me to earn all these miles if I cannot use them.” Bear in mind that they might tell you to call back in a few weeks. If they do, get the name of the person you spoke with and her extension and call her back. If for some reason you cannot get a hold of that individual on your subsequent call, tell the new person that you have spoken with (name) and that she was working on opening up the seats for you. Then say, “Can you open them at this time for me?”

Most importantly, don’t give up, and if necessary have some flexibility with your dates and flight times. Also, if you want business class, do not book an award in coach. Doing so will cause problems such as change fees and so forth.

The seats will be there—its all about timing.

Good luck.