If you have a stash of Star Alliance frequent flyer miles, United.com is a great place to start planning your award trip, but it’s far from perfect.
I’ve detailed in the past how United’s site will display “phantom” availability. Award space displays as bookable, but when you attempt to reserve the space online you will receive an error message. Then if you try to call in to book the trip–whether with United or another Star Alliance partner’s miles to book the trip (e.g. US Airways Dividend Miles)–phone agents wouldn’t be able to see the space, which is immensely frustrating.
Phantom availability appears to be a waning problem for United’s site. I no longer see four business class seats on the EgyptAir nonstop flight from New York-JFK to Cairo that simply aren’t there. I no longer see Lufthansa First Class award space that in reality is a mirage. Plus United.com has recently added partner award space such as Taipei-based EVA Airways. Functionality has improved!
However, there is a quirk that award bookers need to be aware of. United.com does not display Brussels Airlines award space.
Why is this a big problem if you want to use your United, US Airways, or other Star Alliance miles to Europe or Africa? How do you solve the problem?
This is an annoying problem for prospective bookers. Brussels is another great way to cross The Pond and connect to airports in Europe (and Africa). Best of all, Brussels Airlines feature a fully lie-flat business class product on their A330 transatlantic aircraft.
Brussels Airlines serves two North American cities with nonstop flights to their hub in (you guessed it) Brussels: New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles. You would never know that when searching United.com, unfortunately.
If United.com doesn’t show Brussels award space, where can I search for it?
Both All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Air Canada’s Aeroplan search tools properly display Brussels award space. I’ve written in the past about how ANA’s search tool is a great way to confirm Star Alliance award availability, and the principals remain the same here.
I have a zero balance in my ANA account, but that didn’t stop me from searching for Brussels award space. I used the trick outlined here and plugged in some dates for mid-May for two passengers.
As you can see from the screenshot above, there are several dates with 2+ business class award seats from New York->Brussels. You would never know that searching United.com, however. Plugging in the exact same dates yields a false negative.
In my searches, Tuesday-Thursday were the best days to find space from New York to Brussels. Award space was tougher to find from Washington-Dulles, though Tuesday appeared to be the best day to grab business class award seats.
For those who don’t want to go through all the trouble of using the ANA work around, note that the Aeroplan award search tool also displays Brussels space. The Aeroplan site lacks ANA’s handy seven day search tool, but it’s a bit more user friendly. As you can see below, Aeroplan, like ANA, displays Brussels award space.
If United.com doesn’t show Brussels space, how do I reserve a Brussels Airlines flight?
You will need to call United’s phone agents to construct an award. Simply feed them the flights that you found via ANA/Aeroplan and they should be able to add them to your itinerary.
Will I be subject to the $25 award booking fee?
Technically, yes. United charges $25/person for booking awards over the phone. You definitely have a case for waiving the fee by (politely) explaining to the phone agent that the Brussels space doesn’t appear online.
What if the phone agents refuse to waive the fee?
Place part of your itinerary on hold online to generate a confirmation code and then call United’s phone agents to complete the award. If traveling from Kansas City to Brussels, for example, find space from Kansas City to New York and place it on hold using Scott’s tricks. You should then be able to call in and add/subtract segments as needed.
Does United.com hide only Brussels transatlantic segments?
Unfortunately, no. Brussels has a robust route network throughout Europe and Africa. Even searching a simple Brussels->Berlin segment will yield zero nonstop results on United’s site. Again, ANA displays the proper space.
Brussels can be your secret weapon in getting to Africa as well. In addition to Star Alliance features partners such as South African, Ethiopian, and Egypt Air, Brussels services many African cities. Below is a simple search from Brussels to Dakar, Senegal.
Brussels Airlines is a great addition to the Star Alliance with ample intra-European service and nonstop flights to many African cities. They also feature a fully flat-bed product on their A330 transatlantic segments. Award space is solid from the US to Brussels and even better between Europe and Africa. Sadly you would never know that searching United.com. United’s site simply doesn’t display Brussels award space.
You can combat this by searching the All Nippon Airways or Aeroplan sites for Brussels space. ANA will show space in seven day chunks, while you need to hunt and peck on the Aeroplan site.
Once you’ve identified the Brussels space, calling United to book should be simple. Just remember to have the flight numbers handy and be prepared to argue politely against the phone booking fee.