United limiting connections on online bookings


It seems that United Airlines has "enhanced" their booking engine in the past few weeks. And, unfortunately, the net result is that they are providing far less information to customers, reducing their options. Oh, and the "Our Lowest Fares" bit they advertise on their website now would appear to be untrue, at least in several examples I’ve tested recently.

The change comes in the way United displays flight connection options. Or, to be more precise, how United does NOT display flight connection options. The united.com website has stopped displaying trip options with more than one connection. In theory this could be spun as helping customers by avoiding more complicated itineraries but that only works when the offering really is to the benefit of the customer. And when you are listing flight options as "Our Lowest Fares" when they actually are not that makes things all sorts of troubling.

Here are a couple examples showing the bias in action:

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The United results are missing the $50 cheaper fares available with the extra connection which Orbitz is showing. And it isn’t just that city pair where the problem exists. Here’s another example:

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In this case the fare difference isn’t as significant but it is still very much there.

This is quite misleading on the part of United. And you cannot even call them on their lowest fare guarantee with this discrepancy because the fine print says you have to choose the exact same flights. In short, the United website can no longer be trusted to provide customers with the lowest fare, even when they say they are.

Bad form, indeed.

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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, LinkedIn and .

22 Comments

  1. Can you still force extra connections with multicity? I usually don’t bother using ua.com to find the cheapest fares and best routings; I get the itinerary all set on ITA and then force-feed it on ua.com via multicity. As long as that still works, I’m not too affected by this change.

    I did book several trips for next year last week and was able to book most travel on ua.com but did have to book a few options involving ZFV on Travelocity when I couldn’t get it to price out on ua.com…

  2. I noticed the lowest fare was not working perhaps a month ago. I have found lowest fares to be relatively high on routes from SFO to the middle east, but if I specify specific fare codes (say V) I get a better deal. For some reason the website is not finding the lowest price fare and is including high fare codes in the segments.

  3. Didn’t they say in the SMD4/UADo Q&A that they pulled the data from ITA? Maybe there is a bug?

  4. Let’s face it, the “New United” is a farce. As one of their “entitled” elites, I fly them only when no other option is available. Even then I find that Expedia gives me better options. So I use Ebates to Expedia to book my flights.

  5. Flying out of a regional airport means I, more often than not, will need two connections. Wonder if I will even get options on the United website now.

  6. Jpgisbd: my flight to AUH all they ofer is 2 connection options. Not all of them though, and not the ones on partner airlines until get to Europe. Perhaps was always so but would be nice to get the LH options through SEA or DEN.

  7. What I have found useful is search on kayak and then choose to buy from UA website. Kayak search would often display >1 connections even if UA.com search doesn’t.

  8. Hipmunk also supposedly allows searching using ITA route language and then deep-linking to the correct routing on UA.com, but I have not had luck getting Hipmunk to find the itineraries I’ve found on ITA. Maybe Hipmunk thinks the routings I want are too high on their “agony” scale that their system automatically hides them. πŸ˜‰

  9. UA has been doing this since early this year on Hawaii-East Coast routes. Makes it difficult when the only connections available are through ORD, IAD, EWR or IAH for smaller stations.

  10. It seems it would be illegal to promote these as “our lowest fares” when they provably are not. Looks like false advertising to me.

  11. @jpgisbd – I’m in the same boat. A few tests, it seems like it will display >1 connection only if it’s the sole means of getting to the destination. (So I guess they haven’t totally abandoned service to those of us in Podunk, USA.) But with other routes, it’s restricted as with Seth’s examples.

  12. I suspect I ran into this trying to get home for Christmas on the 25th, flying from a small airport (Idaho Falls) into another smallish airport (Eugene).

    The normal one-stop options (Delta through Salt Lake and United through Denver) were either not possible (because Delta had trimmed back flights from Idaho Falls from five to two for Christmas and had trimmed back flights into Eugene) or required me to leave at 5:30 a.m. to fly through Denver.

    The routing IDA – DEN – SFO – EUG was available, leaving at about 1:30 p.m. and arriving at about 8 p.m., but I had to force it through the multi-city option. When I searched for flights from IDA – EUG, it only showed one-stop options via DEN leaving at 5:30 a.m. The price for the three-segment flight, which I ultimately booked, was comparable.

    Interestingly, the IDA – DEN – SFO – EUG itinerary that I booked was shown as an option for Mileage Plus redemption.

    It was also interesting that Delta usually flies about five times, throughout the day, from IDA to SLC, but trimmed the schedule to two flights on Christmas Day, one of which was scheduled to leave just before noon, with the other scheduled to leave at around 1 p.m. That baffled me.

  13. @Jim. I am based in EUG and this is exactly what I am worried about. Looks like I am going to have to start my searches elsewhere and then plug into multi-city. What a pain.

  14. I recommend using ITA to search, it will return the cheapest flights, and then you can go plug it into United. It is disappointing that they did this, but for now Matrix or the like seem to be the best option to make sure you are getting the lowest fare.

  15. @jackal – Hipmunk lets you specify the exact flight numbers, so you don’t have to rely on their search results “optimization”. Search on ITA to find the flights you want, then just type in the flight numbers like this:
    XYZ :: UA123 UA456 UA789

  16. I’ve been watching a similar problem on flights from ASE (e.g. to ORD, GRR, etc) where UA is forcing CRJ metal on you (ASE to ORD direct or GRR to DEN direct) and burying 757 or 777 options thru DEN (which you now have to hunt down using segment searches). Can’t understand the logic behind these changes. Why would anyone prefer to fly in a cramped cigar tube CRJ-700 or 145 with no carry on luggage capacity and half-baked FC ??????? Jeff S – what’s up with this nonsense ????

  17. Just noticed the same thing; I knew there were more options than what united.com was showing so I checked Kayak and sure enough, there were many more options, and much cheeper options! And I agree about this being especially critical for those of us using regional airports. I’ve missed the old united.com ever since it went away. This year, some work changes made me loose my 1k status; maybe it’s time to try the dAArk side.

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