The most straightforward way to book a United Airlines flight is with United Airlines miles. But If you’re looking to reserve your flight with airline miles other than United miles, you probably know that you’ll only be able to do that if there are “Saver” United awards available.
However, after a recent change on United’s website, you may not be able to book some awards shown as having “Saver” space with another Star Alliance program. This is particularly noteworthy, since we often recommend using United’s website to find Saver award tickets (even if you plan to book elsewhere) given it’s been historically easy to use.
The reason for this is that United changed how it shows expanded award space offered to United cobranded credit card holders and elite status members.
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In the past, these flights were shown as having Saver award space, but the website noted that it was special award space reserved for eligible customers. After a recent website change, these awards are now only shown as having Saver award space, even if they’re not bookable with Star Alliance partners.
Thankfully, we found a workaround. Let’s take a look at United’s recent website change and how to tell if a United Saver fare is bookable with partner miles.
United changes how it shows elite and credit card award space
One of the best benefits of having a United Airlines credit card or elite status is that you can book flights with extra award availability (or lower prices). Even cooler, those with a United Club℠ Infinite Card get an additional 10% off of United-operated award flights in the U.S. and Canada.
Until recently, flights with expanded award space were clearly denoted with a label. This was helpful for those with access to this expanded award space but looking to book with another Star Alliance program.
Nowadays, these awards simply show a lower price and the “Saver Award” label, even if they don’t have traditional partner-bookable award space. There is no clear delineation that this deal is available to you because of your United elite status or cobranded credit card.
Here’s an example from an account with United Premier Gold status:
Meanwhile, when logged out, the price goes up to 15,000 miles and is not listed as a Saver award ticket.
Additionally, if you have a United Club Infinite card, you’ll see your discount appear over the award price and a “Special member pricing” note under the flight times. The itinerary below drops from 28,100 miles one-way to 13,500 miles one-way because of the expanded award space offered to cobranded card holders and the bonus 10% discount United Club Infinite cardholders get on domestic travel.
How to check if a flight is bookable with a partner
The change in how United shows expanded award availability to cobranded credit cardholders and elites isn’t a problem if you’re using United miles to book a ticket. But as mentioned, it poses an issue if you use United’s website to find United award space that you’d like to book with another loyalty program like Avianca LifeMiles.
As mentioned, United’s website is typically the most user-friendly Star Alliance award search tool. This is largely because of its calendar search tool and lack of phantom award space. Thankfully, there’s a workaround for finding partner-bookable United award space — even if you have a United cobranded card or elite status.
You can find which United flights are bookable with partner miles by looking at the seat’s “fare code.” At the bottom corner of each flight result is a letter (or pair of letters). For economy flights, if the letter is “X,” you should be able to book it on partner airline sites.
However, when you sign into your United account, and you have United status or a cobranded credit card, award fares that were previously “X” may turn into “XN” fares. This is likely attributed to the fact that you’re effectively choosing from those secret seats, even with flights that offer “X” availability.
The easiest way to solve this problem is to log out of your United Airlines account. That will ensure you’re not looking at hidden award inventory. Any Saver United flight you see while logged out should theoretically be available on partner sites.
For example, here are the search results for a flight between Salt Lake City and Reno while logged into my United account. As you can see, tons of Saver (XN) award flights are available.
And here are the search results after logging out of my United account. Just one flight is available. Notice that this flight’s fare code appeared as “XN” when I was logged in, but it’s “X” now that I’m logged out.
When searching Aeroplan for the same route, we find only one United Airlines flight — the same one as listed on United’s site while logged out.
Avianca returns the same single result.
Other considerations travelers should take
Logging out of your account should work like a charm to see which flights will show up on partner airline websites.
That being said, even if United displays “X” award availability, you may not find it on a partner airline. Some partner websites don’t display every single available flight.
If you see a United Airlines award flight that you believe should be bookable (with X inventory on United.com), call the airline you’re trying to book with and see if the customer service reps can see it and book it for you.
United Airlines offers United credit card holders and elite status members access to award inventory that nobody else can see — including partner airlines.
Until recently, these seats were denoted with a clear disclosure on United’s website. Now, it appears they’re simply offered at a lower price and listed as Saver fares, even though they aren’t offered in the “X” fare class that’s bookable with partner airlines. This can pose an issue if you find a United award flight on United’s website but want to book with another airline.
If you’re perusing the United website to see when Saver award seats are available but plan to book with partner miles, make sure you log out of your account first. It’ll be much easier for you to identify partner-bookable Saver seats. They’ll have an “X” fare code.
TPG reached out to United and Chase about these changes. Both confirmed that this is how additional award space is shown on United’s website, with a Chase spokesperson telling TPG that it will keep us “updated on when a visible callout will be back.”
Additional reporting by Sarah Hostetler.