I generally love united.com’s award calendar, the calendar that shows up at the top of your award search results that lets you know what other days have award availability.

But there are two things I hate about united.com’s award calendar. The first is that it is color coded to show economy space, business/first space, or both. It does not differentiate between business and first class space, which are very different.

There’s no way around this problem at the moment, though we can hope United adds another color.

The bigger issue is how the calendar deals with queries for direct flights.

On both the home page…

…and the re-search section at the bottom part of the search screen…

…you can ask united.com to return only direct results. I use this option all the time. Whether I want a direct flight for convenience, or I am searching segment-by-segment for a dream business class product, it is very useful.

But it has a major flaw. If you search a direct flight, and the direct flight that day doesn’t have award space, then the calendar won’t show you what days the direct flight does have award space.

I’ll give an example. Imagine you wanted to find award space on the direct Denver to Frankfurt flight Lufthansa operates. You want to fly June 21, 2013 or thereabouts. Your date is flexible, but you only want the direct flight. I would start by performing the following search, checking the Nonstop Flights Only Box:

Unfortunately that day has no award space in any cabin on the direct flight. An error message near the top of the results will inform you when this is the case.

Unfortunately for a direct-flight lover, the accompanying calendar is worthless! Instead of showing the direct flight’s availability, it shows availability for direct and connecting flights.

Not the availability for DEN-FRA direct. I promise.

The search results are also useless, giving you connecting flights.

This is where you trick united.com into displaying the calendar with only direct flights on it. To do that, you need to find a day that does have direct flight award space.

The bottom of the page lets you re-search. I search for a date that is likely to have award space. I know that winter is off peak to Europe, so Lufthansa releases more seats, so I searched a date in February, again checking the Nonstop box.

I picked a winner. There is award space that day on the direct flight.

Of course, we want to fly in June not February, but now the calendar is showing space only on the direct flight and we can easily move the calendar’s dates.

We finally got the calendar to show only direct-flight availability. Now we can change its dates by clicking the little arrows.

When we get to June, we see the bad news:

There is no space on the direct DEN-FRA in any cabin in June, but May is open.

June doesn’t have any award space. This trick can’t solve that, but it does let us know that without having to search every day in June individually. And we can see that there is space on the direct flight the last week of May in business class (blue) and economy the week before (yellow).

There is also some space in economy class in early July.

The good news

United releases award space on pretty much every flight it operates–at least at the Standard Award (high) price. While most of us would never book a Standard award, the fact that there is technically award space means if you are searching a direct United segment, your calendar will always show direct space only if you ask it to do that.

As an example, Los Angeles to London is a tough award on the direct flight during the summer, but you don’t have to do anything special to get united.com’s calendar to give you that info since United releases Standard Award space every day on the route in every cabin.

The calendar is immediately displayed…

…because technically there is award space that day on the direct flight–at the Standard (high) level.

Recap

It’s a bummer we have to trick united.com into showing direct-flight availability only on its calendar in some case, but that is the current state of things. When you run into the problem, search for direct-flight availability on a likely date in the off peak season.

When you find one date with availability in any cabin, you can get the calendar to display direct-only availability by searching the date that has availability with the Nonstop Only box checked. Once you have the calendar displaying the flight you want, you can toggle to find the months you want.

This problem will never manifest when you are searching for United flights because there is almost always space on United flights, even if it is at the “Standard” award price.

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