UPDATE (1 March 2014): The award seats are once again available from United phone agents. Enjoy.
It started as a simple enough effort: I was looking for an award to Bangladesh from southern California and the Singapore Airlines flight LAX-NRT-SIN offered up what I thought was a compelling option. Of course there’s the part where United doesn’t allow its customers to search for those awards online anymore so I turned to the ANA Mileage Club, LifeMiles and Aeroplan websites to do my homework. Imagine my joy when the flight I wanted on the day I wanted showed as available.
And imagine my disappointment when I called United and was told that the flight was not available as an award. I pressed the agent a bit, asked her to check a couple alternate dates and routings and then hung up the phone, dejected and annoyed.
I booked a different, less convenient award routing and mostly forgot about the issue, but in discussing it with some friends I came to the conclusion that something smelled a bit rotten with the experience. And that got me digging for more data. So I started looking at a bunch of different routes, mostly operated by Singapore Airlines to and from North America. The JFK-Frankfurt route was a particularly easy one to research, mostly because there were a lot of flights where the coach award inventory seems to be available. Using the three above mentioned sources I found a few examples where a full week of partner award inventory appears:
With everyone else showing the seats it seems likely that United should as well. Alas, my call to the reservations agent resulted in less than spectacular news. There were no awards available on Singapore Air for the entire week. I pressed the agent to confirm that she was looking for the correct inventory bucket (just like before) and all I got was a goose egg.
My suspicions and fears rose.
Has StarNet blocking returned?
I did some more searches and made more phone calls. I expanded my search criteria, looking at other routes where coach award seats are commonly available (e.g. LHR-SIN). Interestingly enough, those flights were possible with United over the phone. Might a pattern be developing? I reached out to some contacts at United and we talked about the data I’d collected and the patterns I found. And then they went to work on it. After a bit of digging they came back with some good news: It definitely is not StarNet blocking.
The conclusion reached thus far is that any SQ flight number which touches the USA is unable to be booked as an award by United. This includes SQ 25 FRA-SIN, SQ 1 HKG-SIN, SQ 11 NRT-SIN, SQ 15 ICN-SIN and SQ 61 DME-SIN. And, of course, the portions of those same flight numbers which touch SFO, LAX, IAH and JFK.
So, good news that StarNet blocking has not returned. On the flip side, the seats are still not available to book right now so the fact that they are not doing it on purpose is only a small bit of consolation while United and Singapore Airlines fix the problem. Hopefully the fix doesn’t take too long.
p.s. – As an added bonus, one of the reservations agents I spoke with mentioned that all awards involving SQ metal are being manually priced now. That’s certainly not helping passengers who are looking to book these awards.
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