Call Center Roulette: The Award Ticketing Game


I get why people believe that the system is rigged. And I’m not speaking of politics. I’m talking about booking award flights. (see 5 Myths About Earning Points) The propaganda commercials that blast airlines for blackout dates have an element of truth to them. When United Killed Points Travel, I thought that my round trip ticket from Shanghai to Tahiti in business for 60k would be the last great redemption. Without the ability to piece together itineraries manually, United had ruined the fun. That is why I went soft and booked the tame route on Turkish to Africa. I promptly cancelled that ticket after a reader scolded me for my lack of creativity.

For the last week, I have been fighting with United trying to book what is my best redemption since the $77,000 Trip Heard Round the World. I got the ticket to price out on United, a miracle in itself, but not the route that I wanted. I booked it and called United to make some minor tweaks.

Luckily, I spoke to the friendliest agent. She made the changes and told me that my confirmation email would arrive within 24 hours. 24 hours later, nothing happened. I knew I should not have celebrated so quickly (see Booking an Award Ticket: An Anxious Ordeal) and that I should have insisted on seeing the changes on while I had her on the phone. That night, I called back and, of course, there was no record of any changes. After being transferred and put on hold, I spoke to another agent who put me on an indefinite hold. By indefinite I mean I heard the United hold music for a few minutes and then the sound the Samsung makes when a call ends.

I called again. An agent answered right away. I explained the situation and she promptly said, “I’m going to have to put you on hold while I speak to my rate desk.” That was not a good sign. Predictably, she came back and told me that my whole ticket was illegal and that it really should be double the miles. She said she could not make any changes except if I wanted to cancel it. Since I was outside of the 24 hour free cancellation window, I took her up on that offer.

Deep in the night, I searched United’s site for routes. My goal was to find the perfect route online and avoid having to call in to make changes. Obsessed, I checked the dates and airports and routes hoping that the system would award me for my efforts. It did not. Instead, I booked the same route from before (which the agent swore was illegal) and am currently on hold with United praying that I win this game of call center roulette.

Don't fall for the mirage of a booked award itinerary until you are on the plane.
Don’t fall for the mirage of a booked award itinerary until you are on the plane.



  1. huca really is an amazing thing. i’ve been able to pull unreal deals doing so. but yes, i ~~always~~ wait for 100% online written confirmation while i am still on the phone.

    because if you hang up and ultimately what was said to have happened doesn’t – then, when you huca, you have to reinvent the wheel. …and no one likes a chisel…

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