United Award Issues – When Ticketed Isn’t Really Ticketed

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United MileagePlus is my favorite airline program for award tickets. Best website, best array of partners for getting all over, above average routing rules, and prices I can live with.

For my travel all over the world, the amount of times I’ve wanted to use a competitor program like Avianca LifeMiles to find the destination airport or route are not even supported has kept me with United.

Phantom Availability

Award programs struggle with ‘phantom availability’. A partner flight may show as available even when it isn’t. With United, this error usually manifests in one of two ways:

  1. Error when attempting to purchase a ticket online.
  2. Ticket purchase seems to go ok, goes to ‘processing’ status, then never leaves processing and eventually is canceled.

For #1, calling United will confirm if the space is real or phantom.

For #2, if it is ‘processing’ more than a few hours or overnight, something may be wrong and you should call in. Certainly call if it has been more than 24 hours.

What I’ve taken as gospel is when a ticket is ‘ticketed’ and the reservation shows a ticket number starting with United’s 016 ticket designator, things are set.

Turns out 016 isn’t good enough

Back in July I booked an award ticket combining flights on United and Turkish. Ticket ‘ticketed’ soon after purchase.

Come this week I realized I hadn’t selected my seats on Turkish Airlines, something I normally do immediately upon booking a ticket.

United is a rare (the only?) airline website that shows partner airline confirmation numbers (PNRs). My Turkish confirmation wasn’t there.

I’ve had missing partner confirmation numbers on United. Sometimes the number is the same as United’s, other times perhaps I’ve had too many partners on a ticket.

I called up United requesting the Turkish PNR. The agent pulled up the reservation and then said, “It looks like Turkish never confirmed it.”

Yikes! Fortunately I had an excellent agent who contacted the MileagePlus service desk to have them ‘refresh’ the reservation. Turkish came back confirmed and she said I was lucky the Turkish flights were still available. She advised me whenever booking a partner award online, even when the ticket shows ‘ticketed’, to reconfirm by phone to be safe.

I consulted with United and award expert Matthew. Though not common, he, too, has encountered this multiple times.

What You Want to See on Your Award

United Turkish Award TicketedMy ‘ounce of prevention’ list for United partner awards grows to:

  1. Confirm ticketed is ‘issued’ and ticket number is shown on reservation.
  2. Confirm all partner PNRs are displayed and work on the partner website.
  3. Re-confirm with United over the phone.

I am off to my 191st country!

Readers, have you had a 016-issued award that really wasn’t?

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[…] award ticket, that’s not the end of the work. Stephan from Rapid Travel Chai writes about what can go wrong with an award ticket, specifically when booked with United Miles, and what you can do to make sure everything is all […]

3 years ago

Yep, United did that to me! I booked a IAH->SYD-NZ->IAH. Then few months before travel, the last leg completely disappeared! I had such a horrible feeling that all of my plans are in ruins. I called United and after what seems to be eternity, they requested seats request from Air NZ and two days later I got it booked again!


[…] Read this if you book United awards! United Award Issues – When Ticketed Isn’t Really Ticketed. […]

3 years ago

I have had this happen with United but it also seems to be an issue with Turkish. I have had award issues with them when booked through Aeroplan and Aegean as well as United. It seems that it may actually be the ticketing carrier since whenever this happens, Turkish has all the information ok but it is United/Aeroplan/Aegean that has not finalized everything correctly. One negative with Turkish in these conditions is that they can never pull up the reservation using the partner reservation number (other airlines can do that?) so that makes communicating with Turkish more difficult in those… Read more »

3 years ago

I always get the partner PNR right away after ticketing and make sure I can see the reservation on the partner website.

3 years ago
Reply to  cx882

That is what I do as well. ALWAYS immediately check with partner to make sure at least the reservation has gone thru. Then make sure the status on Partner side showed “Confirmed”.

Fairly standard practice for me.

Paco Manu
Paco Manu
3 years ago

This just happened to me yesterday. Nine months ago I had booked an itinerary combining Asiana flights and Air NZ flights (from Asia to the South Pacific). Looked like it was all sorted and the reservation was in my profile. Then 6 months later the reservation disappeared from my account. Evidently the final leg on Air NZ hadn’t cleared.

3 years ago

AS also shows partner PNRs on their reservation page/email.

Gary Leff
3 years ago

It used to be quite common for United to issue award tickets for partner travel but fail to pass the ticket number through to the partner. To the partner it appeared to be an unticketed reservation that they would go cancel. This also happened when schedules changed.

For instance: https://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2012/05/18/united-award-tickets-on-asiana-sometimes-cancel-themselves-how-to-make-sure-you-dont-get-shafted/