Update 3/6/14: This post is outdated. See Master Thread: Holds on United Awards

The ability to hold awards is extremely valuable especially at our increasingly popular Award Booking Service. Our clients might need to transfer their Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards into their frequent flyer accounts. They might need to purchase additional miles to reach the next award threshold or just simply firm up their hotel plans. Having a few days to hold an award is critical in these cases.

Of the four legacy carriers, American Airlines is the most generous. American offers a 5 day award hold. US Airways allows you to hold most awards for three days. Delta actually allows 48 hour holds, but you need to be creative to do so. For more information, check out Scott’s post, The Trick to Hold Delta Awards.

Unfortunately, unlike its legacy counterparts, United doesn’t allow award holds. This makes booking United awards for clients a frustrating challenge. Luckily, we have discovered a loophole that enables you to do so.

(You used to be able to hold United awards through a different, now-defunct trick. Hat tip to Meshugener of the Dan’s Deals Forum for letting me know of its demise.)

Similar to the Delta trick, you need to have a United frequently flyer account with little (or no) miles in in it. I created a second United account with my business address and all my relevant personal information. It has a 0 mile balance at all times.

When I need to book an award for a client, I start online and try to collect as many segments of the trip as possible. This makes future steps quite a bit easier. United.com is quirky, though, and will often spit back an error message if you are trying to piece together an ultra-complicated itinerary.

Subtract a segment or two and try your search again. As an example, I tried to hold a simple Denver -> Chicago oneway award for two people in business class. When I select the itinerary I want, I’m met with the following screen.

I need additional miles to secure this award. United should allow me to hold the itinerary for a day or two to get the necessary miles in my account, but they don’t have that option. Instead, I’m given options to pay for the privilege of holding the award for three days or one week. Both are terrible deals.

Instead of paying to hold the award, just go back to the search screen and add any segment to your itinerary that includes a Star Alliance partner. It does not matter if it’s domestic (on US Airways) or international. It also doesn’t matter  when this segment occurs as long as it is not flown on United metal.

I searched for Denver to Tokyo-Narita via Chicago because All Nippon Airways, United’s Star Alliance partner, has two daily nonstops on this route with good award space. I selected an itinerary that included my previous Denver -> Chicago leg and came to the checkout screen.

The Fare Lock option is no longer available. Instead I am met with exactly the button I want to see: “Reserve.” I click the Reserve button and enter all the passenger information. After giving United my pertinent contact information, I am asked to hold the award itinerary with a credit card.

After entering my credit card information, I can click “Reserve” to officially hold the itinerary. Note that the expiration date provided on this screen is always incorrect. The correct expiration date is given on the next screen.

After clicking Reserve, I am taken to the confirmation screen. United generates a confirmation number/record locator and gives the correct expiration date/time. I have circled the correct date in red.

When I’m ready to book, I simply call United.com support at 1-800-396-1751 and give the record locator that my reservation generated. I ask the agent to discard the segments I don’t want and ticket the award from the United account that has miles. That’s the second part of this trick. I started the award in a dummy account with no miles, but over the phone I can give the agent any account number to use to ticket the award.

(Beginner tip: In all major frequent flyer programs, anyone’s miles can be used to book an award for anyone. But you can’t easily or cheaply combine miles between two airline accounts.)

What if I can’t grab all the segments I want online?

If you have a lot of segments in your desired itinerary, chances are united.com will not let you secure them all at once. Grab as many as you can online and reserve them to generate a confirmation number. Immediately call united.com support to add the remaining segments you need.

You say that united.com initially displays an incorrect date for award holds, what is the real expiration date?

Award holds done via this method expire the next day at midnight. Because of this, you always want to reserve your United awards in the morning. That will give you as close to 48 hours as possible.

Shouldn’t these awards be subject to the $25 phone booking fee?

No. If an agent brings up this fee when you book, push back. Politely let them know that the award was initiated online but you weren’t able to grab all the segments you needed. They should waive the $25 fee or not even bring it up. If the agent does insist on the fee, hang up and call back.

Will my credit card be charged if I don’t book the award?

No. United asks for a credit card to hold the award. You might see a pending transaction of $1.00 labeled “Continental” on your credit card that will eventually fall off whether you book or not.

Does adding a segment in a different price category affect the final cost in miles for the award?

No. United will recalculate your award price once you finalize everything. I wanted a simple Denver -> Chicago itinerary but added the leg to Tokyo. Discarding the Tokyo leg will drop the price in miles back to the appropriate level.

Does the United frequent flyer account that reserved the award need to be the one that tickets it?

No, which is great news! I often reserve awards for clients under my dummy account and let them call in to confirm everything. I have not had a single issue doing this.

Recap

United does not allow award holds unless you are creative and trick their site. First you need an account with little to no miles in it. Then you need to search for an award that includes at least one non-United segment. Awards with partner segments can be reserved online, while all United-operated awards cannot be.

Reserve as many segments as you can online and then phone united.com support to tweak the itinerary. Finally have United ticket the award from whatever United account you want.

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