The return of StarNet blocking from United Airlines

United Airlines has historically had the rather customer-unfriendly policy of choosing to limit access to partner award inventory when customers try to redeem points for award tickets. Essentially they’ve decided that you shouldn’t have access to award seats that other airlines are willing to make available, simply because your miles are in the Mileage Plus program. Several months ago, around the time of the merger with Continental, that policy appeared to relax, with reports of blocked award inventory significantly reduced.

Apparently it is back.

There have been a number of recent incidents, including a couple I’ve verified myself, where award inventory made available by partner airlines has not been available to members of the Mileage Plus program. In a rather ironic twist, merger partner Continental will be happy to book these same award seats, often times on their website rather than requiring a call to an agent only to discover that the award seat you know exists won’t be made available because someone in United’s accounting department has decided it shouldn’t be.

No, StarNet blocking isn’t new. And United has never claimed that they stopped the practice, but the frequency of incidents was much lower recently, to near zero. Apparently that was just a mistake someone made up in Chicago and they’re working on fixing it. Hopefully it doesn’t survive into the new MileagePlus program, but I’m not holding my breath at this point.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Yes, I have noticed this as well. The transfer of Mileage Plus miles to One Pass has been a savior. I just booked award flights from Richmond to Bangkok this spring on United and ANA but had to do it through Continental reservations as United showed absolutely no availability. Continental was showing plenty of award seats with several different booking options. I don’t understand why the two are doing this.

    1. FWIW, the folks at United are claiming that this is a “technical glitch” and not an intentional move to limit award inventory. Same net effect to the customer so I’m not so sure that’s any better, but they are apparently trying to fix it. Again. For now.

  2. “And United has never claimed that they stopped the practice”

    But didn’t the new United state at one point that they’d not restrict awards like the old United? Or is that just wishful thinking?

  3. @Oliver **Continental** said that they wouldn’t restrict award availability like United did. There hasn’t been any recent public comment on this issue, but it also hasn’t BEEN an issue. I do think it’s an open question whether it’s blocking or an IT issue. Would love to see verifiable specific examples to work from and diagnose.

  4. Reason #2 to hedge your bets by building a stash in Dividend Miles. Reason #1 is lower redemption requirements.

  5. @Gary: I’ve seen it in the past few weeks with both Thai and Hawaiian. In both cases the GDS and Continental confirmed that the inventory was available. In the HA example there were 5 flights that day showing award space and UA only had 3 available for booking. Were it an IT communications error I’d think that it should be all or nothing.

    @Explore: US is not always cheaper as I recall and there have also been a few reports recently of them having “trouble seeing that inventory” for some partners so I don’t know that they are necessarily so perfect. That said, diversity in investments is a good thing.

  6. An infuriating predicament if you ask me. Blocking just to block borders on disingenuous.

  7. I had multiple occasions of US Airways blocking LH F and C seats on trans-Atlantic flights to both MUC and FRA as well as LX flight to ZRH and beyond ZRH to Asia as well. This seems to be new at US but it doesn’t seem to be any safer over there either.

  8. Yup, I have had US agents claiming to not see LH C/F when I could book on (and did).

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