Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

I do a lot of weird things in this “hobby”. For example, I agonize over hotel bookings, trying to figure out which…is the…absolute….BEST! I *must* get the MAX value from my points. I need to get over this (SEE: “Analysis Paralysis” when booking trips).

I also search flights. A lot. For fun. Both paid and award tickets. For paid flights Google Flights is my go-to (SEE: 6 reasons Google Flights is the BEST flight search engine).

For award flights, I often default to the United engine. This is primarily because it is a good platform for finding many StarAlliance awards, and because I like to collect and redeem United miles more than any other currency (SEE: 5 reasons I prefer collecting miles with StarAlliance programs). Definitely *not* because of the pain it inflicts upon my soul.

United award searches are a wreck

United looks like it has one of the best award search engines out there. You are presented with many options per page. You can easily get details on the flights, filter by airport and carrier, see mileage earning, view available seats (on UA flights), and lots of other cool stuff.

The calendar at the top is super cool since it shows you all the days on which there are saver economy and premium cabin awards.

Except it actually doesn’t. It’s all a COMPLETE AND UTTER LIE!!!!! Instead of being directed to only the days that actually have availability, you have to manually check day by day. By day. By day.

Overall, I’ve found that the calendar will generally *not* show availability when there actually *is* award availability, rather than false positives. The latter would honestly drive me even more insane.

With all that United has going for them, I wish that they would fix this. It bugs me more than practically anything else in their IT system (except for when the system shows phantom award availability, but that generally hasn’t been a regular thing).

Even more issues with United’s search computer

A few weeks ago I was searching a few flights for fun. I saw a post in a Facebook group about finding a flight to Iguazu Falls, and thought I’d look up the location. The pictures were stunning, so I figured I’d see what was possible in terms of awards. Just for fun.

a waterfall with trees around it

I found my “over water” leg quickly: IAH-GIG on a United 787 for a random date in business saver. Expanding the search to include my local airport and the final destination of Iguazu Falls, I expected the whole ticket to fall into place.

It didn’t. It didn’t even show any business ticket options anymore. Fine, I’ll search leg by leg.

Arcata to Houston? Check, but in economy. I could “suffer” with that as long as I had a lie-flat on the flight to Rio.

Rio to Iguazu Falls? Also check. No issues on that end.

At this point I was totally puzzled. The flight segments all had reasonable connection times, and should definitely work as a ticket. I didn’t think I was breaking any of United’s routing rules. The ticket has 3 stops (should be valid), had less than 4 hour domestic connections, and less than 24 hour international connections. Plus, it only encompassed travel between 2 regions. What gives?

Why the “computer knows best” policy needs to go

United went from having one of the most flexible and lucrative award routing policies of any airline, to one that is rather inflexible. At least you can still do open-jaws. They also rolled out the lame “excursionist perk” as if we were gaining something when in fact, savvy frequent fliers were losing heavily.

But one of my biggest beefs with the airline is their so-called policy where the computer rules everything. It used to be that you could feed an agent the series of award flights you wanted, and they would put the ticket together. Now isn’t the case. There have been a number of reports of agents saying “the computer won’t let me”. Live and Let’s Fly literally had an agent tell him, “this wouldn’t work for me in the new system, but I was able to book it using the old system.” Okay, then.

This policy needs to go. While I consider the United computer rather good at pulling up flight options (besides the awful calendar), when something doesn’t show up (like my flight above), you don’t have much of a recourse if agents can’t override the computer. “Sorry, we can’t do that,” is not something I want to hear when calling in to book a valid award ticket.


With change as the only constant in this game, I knew that United’s lucrative program as we knew it had to go eventually. And now it is devaluing further [SEE: 5 (bad) changes to United Mileage Plus awards (and 2 good ones)]. But I can live with devaluations. What I wish would change is United’s award calendar and their “computer knows best” policy. It really bugs me that savvy frequent fliers can’t put together their own award tickets, even within United’s routing rules.

What do you think? Have United’s new policies hindered any of your award redemptions?

Iguazu Falls image courtesy of Martin St-Amant under CC 3.0 license. Featured image courtesy of Oliver Holzbauer under CC 2.0 license

Points With a Crew has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Points With a Crew and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Some or all of the card offers that appear on the website are from advertisers and that compensation may impact on how and where card products appear on the site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners and I do not include all card companies, or all available card offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers and other offers and benefits listed on this page. Other links on this page may also pay me a commission - as always, thanks for your support if you use them

User Generated Content Disclosure: Points With a Crew encourages constructive discussions, comments, and questions. Responses are not provided by or commissioned by any bank advertisers. These responses have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the responsibility of the bank advertiser to respond to comments.