Award Tickets—Winning the Lottery?

Award Tickets—Winning the Lottery? 2016-01-31T19:42:00-07:00


Currently my girlfriend and I are planning a trip to New Zealand for Christmas to visit her family. She usually goes every year, and for the last five years with business trips tacked on she has accumulated enough points to qualify for 2 return flights from Boston to Auckland. I have been on the phone with United and Air NZ, I have also scoured the web for information on how to book these flights. United has told me many different stories:

First I asked if there were any seats available. The answer was “no” to all of December except for a few business class seats on the 24th. They cannot tell me how many seats are released, when air miles seats will come available, or if they have already been taken up (it seems some kind of big secret). They also say that, because of Star Alliance agreements, you cannot book a one-way ticket because you must finish your traveling 330 or 331 days from booking. So even if I find a flight available, probably the first day it is released, which I assume is at the 330 day mark, I cannot claim it because I cannot book it as a return flight due to the fact that my return will be after those 330 days. And I assume when I go to book at 330 days from my return flight, no tickets will be available for the departing flight. Also I was told by United to call at 12am central time 330 days before the flight to snatch-up these tickets because they go fast. I did this last night and got a soft answer that the next day wasn’t on the computer and no set time to call back.

Air NZ was much more pleasant, but they also could not tell me how many or when they release them to United, which may be moot because United may hold on to these tickets longer. Can you please help me sort out this dilemma? I am totally confused. Am I being joshed around? How can there be no seats available 330 days before, when you can’t book a return flight yet? Technically it’s not possible.

Does United have a magic number when they release these seats, say like 300 days before the flight to allow someone to book a return at the same time? Would this mean I would have to purchase my return outright? This is harder than trying to win the lottery!

Thanks in advance, Chris


edited question

Answered by The Penny Pincher

Dear Chris,

I and about a million other travelers feel your pain and frustration. This is an undesirable side-effect of the popularly of mileage award programs. Basically, there are too many miles chasing too few awards, and getting an award redemption probably is, as you say, harder than winning the lottery.

I urge you to review my response to Award Tickets & Catch 22, January 29, 2004, where I addressed most of your issues.

To ease your mind, you are not being “joshed around.” It is common for travel providers to take the 5th when providing information about the availability of awards. I know it is of little consolation, however, I urge you not to give up. When speaking with airline representatives make it clear that you earned these miles and you anticipate using them with minimal dissatisfaction.

Another alternative you might consider is to look into the cost of an economy ticket and using your miles for an upgrade. You are traveling a considerable distance and a business or first-class seat would unquestionably ease your trip. For some odd reason, it is often easier to get an upgraded seat than it is to get a free award seat.

Good luck and keep with it—eventually you’ll get your tickets.