How to go about changing award tickets

Reader Nick sends in the following question regarding an award itinerary he has booked to Europe:

How do you go about ‘improving’ an award you’ve booked when there’s a discrepancy between *A availability and what UA’s willing to offer. I plan to keep trying to improve my routing, since we don’t leave for a few weeks. But I’m not sure of the best approach to take. For example, I could go back and check ANA each day, but even if it continues to show SQ25 available, I’d have to call UA each time to see what they’re willing to offer. Any chance you have a strategy here?

Excellent question, Nick! First let’s talk a bit about Nick’s problem. He has a business class award ticket booked using United miles to Europe for travel in a few weeks. He’s trying to make changes to his itinerary but is running into trouble with Starnet blocking, whereby United blocks partner award availability.

Unfortunately getting around Starnet blocking is no longer as easy as sweet talking the agent and telling her/him how awesome they are. So, what are the best ways to make changes in cases like these?

The biggest thing working for you is that we’re eventually coming up on the second quarter. United tends to open up more award seats at the beginning of each quarter, since the “award quota” is typically reset around that time. The next quarter is about a month away, so maybe you’ll get lucky right around the beginning of April, if that’s still before your date of travel.

Beyond that, Starnet blocking can be unpredictable at times. Even without a reset during the beginning of a quarter, you’d be surprised by how many flights go from being blocked to unblocked and then back to being blocked again. As annoying as it may be, calling frequently and asking for availability on specific flights could pay off big time.

Next, keep looking for different routings that look appealing. While there might not be availability for your ideal flights now, there’s always a chance a great routing will show up tomorrow on your preferred carrier, and maybe it’s not blocked. Awards show up last minute all the time, and this time of year isn’t particularly busy for premium transatlantic loads.

Also, if you’re top tier with United you have the ability to change award tickets at no cost, which I think is one of the most valuable benefits out there. Whenever I change awards I do them one step at a time, if at all possible. I don’t like any single agent working too much on a single award, since it can lead to screw ups. This also works well when you can slightly improve your itinerary but still aren’t happy with it. Don’t hesitate to make a minor change that improves your trip, even if it doesn’t work for you. I can almost guarantee more space will open up for your desired flights.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to wait until shortly before the date of travel to make changes, even if it means sweating it out till a few days before travel. For some odd reason Starnet blocking is often lifted shortly before the day of travel, not to mention plenty of award availability opens up as the airlines realize they have open premium seats they won’t be selling.

So I guess my advice can be summed up by suggesting you be persistent and patient. You’ll get what you want; United just wants you to work (and sweat) for it.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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