Booking United Caribbean Awards on Cape Air: Fail

Even when I try to do something mainstream it gets obscure.

I will be presenting at the Chicago Seminars in November and noticed the flight schedule works well for a NYC-Chicago-Puerto Rico-NYC circuit that is a 35,000 mile United economy award, 10,000 more than a NYC-Chicago roundtrip. My goal is to have quick stops in the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands. The main airports are St. Thomas (STT), St. Croix (STX), Tortuga (EIS) and Virgin Gorda (VIJ).

The main airlines with service from San Juan are Cape Air, JetBlue and Seaborne Airlines. JetBlue and Seaborne have fares as low as $49 so these are not incredibly expensive tickets, however tacking on to an award would be better.

JetBlue and Seaborne have no partner arrangements that I can take advantage of.

Cape Air runs commuter services in New England, Caribbean, the Midwest/West, and Microneisa. They list partnerships with American and United.

Cape Air United Partnership

American Airlines’ partnership with Cape Air expired for new award bookings earlier in 2014 so that is out.

United still has a partnership with Cape Air that includes codeshares, mileage earning, and awards, the description is innocuous:

Using miles

  • See our award chart to find out how many miles you’ll need, depending on class of service and region of travel.
  • You can use miles to fly one-way or roundtrip.

You can book award travel on Cape Air through united.com.

Let’s dispense with the booking on united.com part. I never found any Cape Air flight online and from what I can find online and talking to United agents, no Cape Air flights are listed online for awards. I don’t know a source to check award availability online, and it would likely be misleading, because…

After talking with United 1K agents and supervisors:

  • You cannot book standalone awards for Cape Air flights.
  • You can only book Cape Air flights in conjunction with published United flights, which seem to line up with their revenue codeshares. This means agents have to look for Chicago ORD – San Juan SJU – St Thomas STT for a fare and then check the award X bucket. They can’t just book a Cape Air San Juan SJU – St Thomas STT.
  • This means you can only book the next connection as the fare doesn’t seem to exist for later connections. Even in odd cases like the Chicago example where the published fare has a 41-minute connection in SJU (“It’s not Cape Air I’m worried about.”). Geeks may be interested that these connections list no minimum connect time to Cape Air so the system allows that connection.
  • There is very little availability if the dates I chose in late Oct, which are tail end of hurricane season and before peak season, are any indication. Over Sunday-Monday trying STT, STX, EIS, and VIJ, only one had a seat available. Coming back on Tuesday-Wednesday there was nothing. This is despite Cape Air operating several flights a day to each. Agents confirmed in the admittedly rare cases they get requests, well, as one put it, “I have seen seats available before.” Not a ringing endorsement of the partnership.

I would love to be wrong, and I cop to limited knowledge of United, but these agents seemed pretty knowledgeable and trying hard to find something for me.

Readers, do you have experience with Cape Air awards on United? Is this the same for Cape’s other regions? Little help, please?

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  • Shannon

    I really tried to read two times but still don’t understand this article. Can you have two stopovers? One in Chicago and another in PR?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Shannon – sorry, I did not go into the United routing rules aspect as much as I should. In my ticket, first thing to understand under United’s routing rules it is ok to route NYC-ORD-SJU, not all airlines would do that but ORD is a United hub and has nonstop service to both NYC and SJU. So my ticket is being treated as either: one-way NYC-ORD plus one-way with stop ORD-SJU-NYC, or the reverse.

  • My impression was that you can only use awards on Cape Air from SJU to other places in the Caribbean. Meaning United wants to make you fly United to get to SJU, but since they don’t service SJU to other islands, they let you then fly Cape Air.

    So my assumption is that if you can find award availability from SJU, you can book it. And my assumption is, there should be award availability on most flights with open seats given no one else is actually booking Cape Air awards.

    To find awards, try going here:
    http://www.flightstats.com/go/FlightAvailability/flightAvailability.do
    And then choosing your route, and if it shows cape air, select the arrow. It should show X/4 or whatever number. And that’s award seats.

    Never heard anything about requiring code shares. That would be a goofy requirement. Let me know how that goes for sure!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Drew – I think the SJU is correct, I have my UA flights to/from but from there out of my dates and four airports only one came up with anything and that tied into UA only being able to pull the next flight as their published fare. I will check their availability on flightstats but I have always had issues with that website for airlines like Gol and Saudia, when it shows flights it is accurate, but often it doesn’t or only when I do it as a connection starting elsewhere, can there be a Travel is Free investigation?

  • Jessica

    Agreed. Can there be a travel is free investigation? I cannot figure out hot to get from sju-vqs on an award booking

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Jessica – Drew tried as well. Seems it has to be in conjunction with a United flight and award availability seems nonexistent.

  • Jessica

    Bugger. Oh well, can’t win them all.