A few months ago, Bill wrote a great piece titled Beware Phantom Award Availability at United.com. It’s true that United.com occasionally lists Saver award space that just doesn’t exist and that you can’t book online or by phone.

I’ve just come across the opposite: phantom non-award space. United.com is showing no availability in business class on the Ethiopian 787 Dreamliner from Toronto to Addis Ababa when such space is in fact bookable with United miles by phone.

This is huge news because this is a solid product (angled lie flat bed on a 787) to Africa with award space this summer that most people don’t know about. That means you can get the award space for yourself if you follow a few simple steps.

I’ll discuss my findings and how you can get this secret award space after the jump.

Today I was searching for award space for a client of the MileValue Award Booking Service who wanted to go to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania this summer. Getting to Africa isn’t always easy, but I knew that United’s partner Ethiopian Airlines flew to Kilimanjaro and North America.

Unfortunately united.com, where I was searching, didn’t show business class availability on either of Ethiopian’s North American routes from Washington-Dulles or Toronto to Addis Ababa.

from gcmap.com

Here’s what united.com showed on a sample day on the Toronto route–economy class space, but no business class space.

I was about to give up on this routing when I decided to check aeroplan.com to see what that search engine would show. To my great surprise, Aeroplan showed business class as being available on the same date and flight United had said space was unavailable.

One thing was certain: United.com and aeroplan.com couldn’t both be right. Ehtiopian releases all of its award space to its Star Alliance partners, so United and Aeroplan should have access to the same space. I decided to call United at 800-UNITED-1 to see if the flight was bookable with my United miles.

The phone agent had no problem finding the award space on the Ethiopian Airlines flight in business class. I didn’t give any special explanation or instructions. Booking this space would be as easy over the phone as booking any space you can find at united.com. Holding the space resulted in a confirmation number and being able to see the held award on united.com inside my account!

This is the first time I’ve seen united.com not show space on a direct flight when space does, in fact, exist. I am not sure if this problem is widespread, or if this is a one-off.

United.com doesn’t seem to have problems displaying other Ethiopian Dreamliner business class space. For instance, I can pull up space on the Frankfurt to Addis Ababa route easily on united.com, which is wide pretty open by the way.

Good News

The good news is that there is a Star Alliance option to Africa with amazing award availability operating a solid business class product. You can use your United miles, US Airways miles, Lufthansa miles, Aeroplan miles, or TACA miles to get to Africa on Ethiopian in style.

Even better, the space should remain excellent since anyone who went to united.com and looked for the award space wouldn’t find it and might give up, leaving the award space for you.

Have you seen any phantom award space or phantom non-award space on united.com recently?

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