United Kills Points Travel


Closing tax loopholes has been a big issue during this election. As a capitalist and former professor of tax, I’m against simplifying the tax code. The complexities of the system ensure that savvy business people use the law to their advantage and that Uncle Sam does not get more than he deserves. (This does not mean that I believe that a certain presidential nominee is a genius.)

The same can be said about booking award travel. United, in its latest scam, decided to do away with piece-by-piece bookings. Under the old system, when I booked the flight to Tahiti from Shanghai, I searched segment by segment for the combination that shows saver availability, the right partner airline, and most convenient schedule. That is how I ended up flying Air New Zealand 787 Dreamliner (PVG-AKL-PPT) both ways instead of terrible Thai 777.

Today, such a booking would be impossible unless the computer offered that exact routing as a search result. It did not.


If the exact routing is not spit out by the computer, customers can be charged separately for each segment. In theory, United could charge 80,000 miles roundtrip for business to New Zealand and then another 60,000 miles roundtrip for business to Tahiti. That’s a total of 140,000 miles instead of the 60,000 miles that it should be!

30k one-way is what it should be
30k one way is what it should be

I did not do an extensive search for flights from Shanghai to New Zealand but have read on other blogs like MileValue that the crime of charging extra miles happens on even the simplest of routes.

Beyond being charged the wrong amount simply because the system can’t contemplate the award, passengers are even more restricted in finding saver availability because of an inability to take advantage of the 24 hour layover rule. Assume you are booking a flight from Detroit to Shanghai that goes through Chicago. The first step is to search for availability from ORD-PVG. From there, tack on the DTW segment. Sometimes the only way to pull off this route is to spend 23.5 hours in Chicago. Most likely the computer won’t show this option and you will be charged separately for the DTW-ORD leg and the ORD-PVG leg which essentially makes this flight unavailable because who would pay extra for the inconsequential segment?

Devaluations are part of the game. We all get that. But taking away the ability to book flights by putting the power in the computer is beyond wrong, it is criminal.




  1. Absoultely agreed – United has gone from bad to worst. I very much question the integrity and ethical standards of this company. It’s laughable when they spin this to be a customer friendly move.

    Extremely disappointed at United.

    • ‘simplifying’ booking is like saying capital one venture miles are better than points because there are no blackout dates. Yes, maybe if you have no idea what you are doing.

  2. This one they can’t get away with because it will affect millions of higher level elites and savvy customers who will voice their anger. I have a feeling they’ll add the feature later where at least calling in with the itinerary will be allowed.

    Also, what about booking an inconvenient flight and changing it via the phone later by feeding the agent the good flights? Will that still count as new booking?

  3. It’s like a video game…if it was easy it would be boring. Also nobody would read points and travel blogs about how to book awards. Hopefully United will see the error of their ways and fix this, at least a little.

  4. In your opening paragraph, you do a great disservice to capitalism and capitalists (not to mention tax professors.) A simple and straightforward tax system easily ensures that Uncle Sam gets no more than he deserves: after all, it’s simple and straightforward. A complicated tax system, on the other hand, makes it so that only those with the means to hire specialists (perhaps professors like you) give Uncle Sam no more than he deserves; everyone else suffers due to their difficulty in parsing the tax code and inevitably gives Uncle Sam more than he deserves. It is no accident, of course, that wealthy and connected people favor a complicated tax code, as enables them to reduce their tax burdens. You probably already know that the name for this system is not “capitalism” but cronyism.

    I understand, of course, that you were merely seeking an analogy and probably even agree with me upon reflection, but I thought it was important to point out that your analogy misrepresents what those words mean.

    • Hi Sam, it’s comments like this that makes me want to write about stuff other than points.

      I’ll put it this way: there’s people who take the time to learn the intricacies of points (tax code) and use it to their advantage. They should be rewarded for this.

      Then there are those that apply for a capital one venture card and are happy with the revenue based discount they receive. They don’t play ‘the game’ as well or as hard and they get their fair amount (the standard deduction).

      On the other hand, there are those that take points (and taxes) too far. They end up shut down (or in prison) and they too deserve that.

      • I understand your point, but it remains a poor analogy. Taxes, like death, are a mandatory certainty. Air travel is not: many people simply do not enjoy it, or cannot afford it, or may even be deathly afraid of it. Good luck explaining to Uncle Sam that this year’s tax payment will not be forthcoming on account of your “debilitating fear of writing checks to the government” 🙂 (although if you do try that strategy and it works, please share it with your readers!)
        Since compliance with the tax code is mandatory and enforced at gunpoint, the tax code ought to be simple as to be understood by all members of society. Since frequent flyer programs are marketing schemes based on voluntary participation, they can be free to look like Rube Goldberg’s worst nightmare.

        • I see your point. I think it’s an extreme analogy not a poor one but other than that I like the analysis.

      • I would agree. Screwing the government hurts everyone. Points and miles are just a fun game to get a freebie from airlines and they have full control to stop it. Bad analogy and sad to see encouragement of tax cheating as something a capitalist should be proud of.

        • Tax cheating? That is nonsense. Playing by the rules because you know the rules is the smart thing to do. If you like paying more than you are supposed to then I can send you my tax bill too.

        • Btw the wealthy and well connected don’t just pay less because they take the time to learn something. That implies the rest are lazy or dumb. They get special treatment due to situations not available to the middle class….like getting paid most of their income in stock. Wells Fargo Ceo is a clear example of how our system benefits the elite scumbag….or the Donald. that’s just sad.

        • Okay, you are going overboard and misconstruing what I am saying. Duck the Wells Fargo CEO, he is a scumbag. I am not a fan of big corporations which is why I am a consumer protection attorney. Ask the banks, wireless providers, cable companies if they like when Alex calls. Don’t twist my words to put me in the elitist group. That’s patently false. And nobody said lazy or dumb either.

  5. Is it possible for MP members to call the service center and add the itinerary segment by segment manually assuming that we book the main/longest segment within the trip online first based on 24hrs free change/cancel rule to solve this problem as usual?

Leave a Reply