Advanced Level Mileage Post: All About Expert Mode, How To “Hack” United’s Award Bug, And Get The Space You Were Promised

52

Update, 7/14: United has fixed this glitch as of this morning! Now, when can we discuss fixing the nonstop award calendar glitch?

The information in the post below is still useful as it shows you exactly how many seats are for sale in each fare bucket. In other words, if you search for 4 saver awards and there are only 3 available then it will show no availability. But via Expert Mode you can know to search for 3 award seats and lock them up with your miles before somebody else grabs them.

The same applies for paid tickets, there may be 3 seats left in a discounted fare bucket, but if you search for 4 seats you’ll wind up paying a higher price for each seat. The ideal strategy would be to book 3 cheaper seats and 1 more expensive seat on a separate reservation.


Originally posted on 7/13:

The Chase United card offers the best perk of any airline credit card. Cardholders (as well as United elites) receive greatly expanded access for award seats.

This post will show how to search for the expanded award availability that the card promises, despite the ongoing bug that is hiding the award space. Until United fixes their website you will have to call them up to book these awards, but at least you’ll know exactly what is or isn’t available before you call.

 

You can view credit card offers by hovering over the “Credit Cards” tab. You can then click on “Credit Cards From All Banks“ to find card offers via the logo of the bank you’re looking for.

Normally the process of booking expanded award space is seamless. If you are a cardholder who is logged into United.com and make an award search you will see the expanded availability.

However United’s website, which replaced the excellent legacy Continental website nearly 2 years ago, is extremely buggy. It also stripped out functionality that used to work. For example while the award calendar has an option to only show nonstop saver award dates, it doesn’t actually work. That critical functionality worked perfectly on the old site, but on the new site you need to manually check each date to see if the nonstop flight has saver award space. Talk about 1 step forward and 2 steps back!

 

But worst of all, for the past week United.com has not been showing the expanded award availability. I was hoping that they would have fixed it by now, but as they have not, I will show you how to still locate it.

The first thing you’ll need to do is enable “Expert Mode.” To do that you’ll need to login to your mileage account on United.com and then click on this link.

Check the box where it says “I acknowledge these considerations and choose to enable Expert Mode” and then click save on the bottom of the page.

From now on when you perform a search for a paid flight on United you can view the full alphabet soup of fare codes with expert mode. Note that expert mode won’t show up on award flight searches and you must be logged in to view expert mode results.

 

OK, so let’s try searching for an award flight from Newark to Tel Aviv. If I want to fly on the afternoon flight on 7/23 it’s quoting me a price of 85K miles. On the old United site it would let you know that it’s quoting the price for a standard award rate as there are no saver award seats for that flight, but on the new site they stripped out that functionality:

 

 

Most people would give up at this point. But, if you search for a paid flight and then click on “Details” you will get these results:

 

The expanded fare buckets we care about right now for cardholders that aren’t being properly priced on United.com are JN, YN, and XN.

Here’s what that alphabet soup of available fare classes means for United flight 84:

  • J9: Paid business class bucket. There are at least 9 business seats that United is willing to sell at full fare.
  • JN9: Expanded business class standard award bucket. There are at least 9 business seats that United is willing to allow elite members and United cardholders to use standard miles for.
  • C9, D9, Z9, P8: Paid business class buckets. There are at least 9 business seats that United is willing to sell at these fare levels.
  • ZN9: Standard business class award bucket. There are at least 9 business seats that United is willing to allow non-elites to use standard miles for.
  • PN0: Award upgrade bucket. On domestic flights this is the number of seats that United is willing to give to 1K/GS elites as an instant upgrade from an M class fare or to any elites an an instant upgrade from a paid Y or B class ticket. This bucket is also the upgrade bucket for GS elites for all domestic and international upgrades, in this case there are no upgrades available for GS elites either.
  • R0: Award upgrade bucket. United is not willing to allow non-elites to have instant upgrades using miles from coach to business. (Also used for complimentary elite upgrades on domestic routes and for saver business class awards for GS elites.)
  • RN0: Award upgrade bucket. United is not willing to allow elite members to have instant upgrades using miles or upgrade certificates from coach to business. (Also used for complimentary elite upgrades on domestic routes.)
  • IN0: Expanded saver business class award bucket. United is not willing to allow Plat/1K/GS elites to redeem Saver level miles for a business seat.
  • I0: Saver business class award bucket. United is not willing to allow non-elites/lower tier elites to redeem Saver level miles for a business seat. This is also the only business award bucket that partner airline miles can access.
  • Y9: Paid coach bucket. There are at least 9 coach seats that United is willing to sell at full fare.
  • YN9: Expanded standard coach award bucket. There are at least 9 coach seats that United is willing to allow elite members and United cardholders to use standard miles for.
  • B9, M9, E9, U9, H9: Paid coach buckets. There are at least 9 coach seats that United is willing to sell at these non-discounted fare levels.
  • HN9: Standard award coach bucket. There are at least 9 coach seats that United is willing to allow non-elites to use standard miles for.
  • Q9, V9, W9, S9, T9, L5, K2: Paid coach buckets. There are between 2-9 coach seats that United is willing to sell at these discounted fare levels. GS elites can also book coach saver awards from the T class bucket.
  • G0: Paid coach bucket. United is not willing to sell any coach seats at this discounted level.
  • N0: Paid basic economy bucket. United is not yet selling basic economy seating on international flights.
  • XN2: Expanded saver award coach bucket. There are 2 coach seats that United is willing to allow elite members and United cardholders to use saver miles for.
  • X0: Saver award coach bucket. United is not willing to allow non-elites or non-cardholders to use saver miles for any seats on this flight. This is also the only coach award bucket that partner airline miles can access.

 

As you can tell, as a logged in elite member and a cardholder, it should be displaying 42.5K as the cost for that award as there is space in the XN coach saver award bucket. You can view the cost for saver and standard awards from the US in this post or via United’s interactive award chart.

However due to the bug the website isn’t displaying availability when you search for an award in the JN, IN, YN, or XN buckets. All elites and cardholders have access to JN, YN, and XN award space, while only Plat/1K/GS elites can book IN award space.

Luckily you now know how to search for  JN, YN, and XN award space. So after you find it you can call United, let them check for the award space in the correct bucket, and book your award. In this case it will cost 42.5K miles.

To add insult to injury, United.com is also showing that the award is “Exclusively available to you as a MileagePlus Premier and Chase Cardmember.” This is nonsense as the HN bucket that it’s pricing for 85K miles is available to everyone. It should be showing the price for the XN bucket for 42.5K miles as a cardholder.

 

Let’s search for an award flight from Newark to LA tomorrow.

The award search results indicate that United isn’t willing to sell a coach award seat at any price, while a business class award seat will be 50K miles:

 

Let’s go and perform that same search for a paid flight and look at the Expert Mode details:

 

In this example there are 2 seats in the JN bucket. That’s the standard award space that is only bookable by elites and cardholders which will cost 50K miles in this case.

There is 1 seat in the ZN bucket. That’s the standard award space that is only bookable by all members for 50K miles in this case.

Let’s try the award search again for 2 seats.

No results for the flight come back at all.

That’s because of the United.com bug that is causing the award search to not display the expanded award buckets for cardholders and elites. It should be showing as available to me as there are 2 seats available in the JN bucket, but instead it’s only showing the 1 seat in the ZN bucket that is bookable by all members.

Once again, United.com shows that the award is “Exclusively available to you as a MileagePlus Premier and Chase Cardmember.” This is nonsense as the ZN bucket that it’s pricing for 50K miles is available to everyone. And it shows nothing when searching for 2 seats, which should be displayed online.

If you call in and ask to book 2 seats from the JN bucket they can book it for you as a cardholder or elite.

Additionally, United.com isn’t showing any coach seats available for miles when there should be 3 seats available for 25K miles each as there is space in the YN bucket for expanded standard coach awards for elites and cardholders.

 

1 more example. Search for an award flight from Tel Aviv to Newark on 10/14. The red-eye United flight 90 is an extremely popular flight as it leaves Israel on the Saturday night after Sukkos.

Nothing shows up for an award search. Of course as a cardholder or elite, every United flight can be booked with miles. That’s a published benefit of being a cardholder.

If you do a paid search and click on details you can see what’s going on:

 

There are no seats in the HN bucket, so United.com isn’t showing any mileage seats as being available. However there are at least 9 seats available in the YN bucket. That means that cardholders and elites should be able to book standard awards for 85K miles on this flight. United.com can’t book that for you, but you can call United and ask to book a YN class standard award.

 

Hopefully United will fix this bug and it won’t continue to require all of this research and a phone call to book. However United makes even their top-tier Global Services members do their own research and call them up to book business class (R bucket) and coach (T bucket) awards, which is pretty mind-boggling.

 

Note that United is changing the costs of standard awards and will start calling them Everyday Awards on 11/1/17. 

 

It’s also worth noting that award space and fare buckets are extremely fluid.  Those buckets change very frequently based on people booking up seats and United releasing more awards as the flight gets closer when they feel they won’t sell the seats to someone else. Newark to Tel Aviv is a tough award, but by diligently checking award space and by having a United card you can vastly improve your odds of nabbing seats.

All United cards offer expanded award space. It’s not just slightly expanded. There is a world of difference between the availability that cardholders can access and the availability for non-cardholders. Most awards that I book aren’t available to non-cardholders.

United cards have other great benefits besides expanded award space:

  • As you have better access to saver coach awards you’ll also have better ability to do Plan B awards. Plan B allows you to redeem for saver business and first class awards when there’s only saver coach available. Read more about Plan B in this post.No airline besides United offers a Plan B redemption.

You can view credit card offers by hovering over the “Credit Cards” tab. You can then click on “Credit Cards From All Banks“ to find card offers via the logo of the bank you’re looking for.

  • United has launched basic economy fares on domestic flight that don’t allow you to bring large carry-ons aboard and will only allow boarding in the final boarding group. However if you have a United credit card you’ll be able to board in the priority boarding group for cardholders and you’ll still be able to bring a carry-on bag for free, even on a basic economy fare!
  • United cardholders and their companions can check a free bag on domestic routes when using their card to pay for the flight. The card also offers double miles for United flights.
  • The United card offers primary rental car CDW insurance in every country. Many other cards only have secondary coverage when you rent a car in your home country. This means that if you damage your rental vehicle you must file the claim with your own personal insurance policy first, and only if they won’t cover the damage will the credit card cover the damage. Even additional cardholders get primary coverage when they rent.With primary rental car CDW insurance you will not have to file anything with your own insurance company. Chase will cover the entire bill for any damage to your rental car. Just be sure to decline the rental agency’s CDW coverage.  This primary coverage applies in every country in the world. 
  • The United Explorer card gives 2 free United Club passes every year for being a cardmember.
  • Your miles will never expire as long as you are a United cardholder, even if you don’t have any activity.
  • There are no foreign exchange fees on the card.
  • United cardholders get exclusive access to auctions that allow you to use your miles for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. A few years ago I used 25K miles for 4 field box seats to an Indians game along with the right to run onto the field before the top of the 7th inning and swipe 2nd base right off the field. Nobody could believe it as I walked around the ballpark with 2nd base. I even got it signed after the game by the Indians wining pitcher that night, Justin Masterson, who was equally shocked that I actually had 2nd base.
  • The United Explorer card gives a 10K mileage bonus every year in which you spend $25K.  That means you’ll earn at least 1.4 miles per dollar spent everywhere if you spend $25K in a year. That’s not as good as you can do with the Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5 points per dollar, but that card requires a premium Ultimate Rewards card to transfer points into miles.
  • massive benefit for United elite members is that they can get free upgrades on coach award tickets on upgrade eligible routes if they have a United card.
  • Another benefit for United Elite members is that if they spend $25K in a year on the card it will waive the requirement to spend $2.5K on United flights to get Silver status, $5K on United flights to get Gold status, and $7.5K on United flights to get Platinum status. You only need to fly the 25K, 50K, or 75K miles like in the good old days.
  • While American and Delta have eliminated free stopovers, United continues to offer a free excursionist perk as described in this post. Just use the multi-city award search on United.com to piece it together.

 

  • A round-trip ticket to 2 European or South American cities is just 60,000 miles round-trip thanks to the free excursionist perk:eze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A flight to 2 of my favorite cities in Asia, Hong Kong and Chiang Mai, is 80K thanks to the perk.

nrt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • You’re even allowed a free open jaw in addition to the perk to really maximize your travel. For example this itinerary includes travel to London, Paris, and Zurich. You can take a train or use 4.5K BA Avios to get from London to Paris to fill the hole in the open jaw:

cdg2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Of course the free stopover isn’t just useful from the US. You can stopover in NYC and LA when flying from Tel Aviv to the US:

tlv3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ror

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Or you can fly from Bangkok to Sydney and Auckland in Thai first class (with a free 1 hour massage in the Bangkok first class lounge) and Air New Zealand business class for 80K miles round-trip:

akl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • United has dozens of partner airlines which means lots of great award opportunities. However not all of them are currently bookable online, you’ll have to call (or use the Aeroplan or ANA sites) to get the full picture:United partners that currently must be booked over the phone:
    -Cape Air
    -Edelweiss
    -Great Lakes Airlines
    -Singapore

 

  • And here’s the list of partners currently bookable on United.com:
    -ANA
    -Adria Airlines
    -Aegean Airlines
    -Aer Lingus
    -Air Canada
    -Air China
    -Air Dolomiti
    -Air India
    -Air New Zealand
    -Aeromar
    -Asiana Airlines
    -Austrian Airlines
    -Avianca Airlines
    -Azul Brazilian Airlines
    -Brussels Airlines
    -Copa Airlines
    -Croatia Airlines
    -EVA Air
    -Egyptair
    -Ethiopian Airlines
    -Eurowings
    -Germanwings
    -Hawaiian Airlines
    -Island Air
    -LOT Polish
    -Lufthansa
    -Scandinavian Airlines
    -Shenzhen Airlines
    -Silver Airways
    -South African Airways
    -Swiss International Airlines
    -TAP Portugal
    -THAI
    -Turkish Airlines

You can also retweet this:

 

Learn something new from this post? Have a question? Hit the comments and click the subscribe button to opt into notification on replies to your comment!

Leave a Reply

52 Comments on "Advanced Level Mileage Post: All About Expert Mode, How To “Hack” United’s Award Bug, And Get The Space You Were Promised"

Sort by:   newest | oldest
lara

Does united close in trick still work?

Gary

They seem to have fixed their system so the website automatically charges the close in fee when changing online.

aradisc

If this is going to be a standard reference post, it might be helpful to add O and ON classes for three-cabin flights. O is saver GlobalFirst, and ON is a type of GlobalFirst upgrade space (not sure which). ON doesn’t act like IN or XN and provide expanded availability.

Yossi

Does paying with the United credit card provide for a free checked bag even when flying basic economy?

Harry

Two questions:
First off if you still have the old United Presidential Plus card doesn’t that wave your required minimum spending?

Also if I want to go from EWR-Hawaii but I don’t want to spend the whole day traveling I’d like to take the last flight to California and then connect the following morning to Hawaii. Is there still away to avoid using miles for the Newark-California flight and then additional miles from California to Hawaii?

Avi

Is there any difference between the club and explorer cards in regard to award availability.

Question

Dan do you take adderal or Vivanse to make it through the day?? Because with all the different schemes and loopholes glitches that your involved with with the constant online access you must be taking it how else would you function? Ridiculous life crazy unhealthy

AJK

Frankly, I’d live with this glitch (which stinks) if they fix the non-stop calendar glitch.

chaya

was hoping that TLV-NYC or TLV-WAS might show some XN availability, but still not the case. Seems that that’s very hard to find in August.

Dan, any idea if I should give up hope for that and try options with other currenc?

Yitrap

Is IN available to cardholders as well or just upper elites?

itzypitchy

@Dan does the United “Plan B” still work, and if so, is the united callback number still staffed by ex continental employees (who are knowledgeable on how to book this)? Thanks for all your help!

Apl

How many companions can bring a free bag with the explorer card?

chaya

hi, for a flight operated by Lufthansa, it doesn’t list code XN at all, not even XN0.
is there an equivalent code for partner-operated flights?

Elena

Thanks, Dan. Very helpful!

Web

Wow thanks, I was realy wondering the past few days what happened to that expended award availability benefit.
Another bug worth to notice, that they show false availabilty on partner airlines. I booked a Lot Polish operated flight on united.com, got a confirmation and email, but at the end it was never ticketed. The space was never actualy available. 2 weeks later it was still showing as available on united.com, I called them but no one was able to ticket my reservation, and in fact on miles&more website it was never available. I still have this reservation pending ticketing…

AJK

Appears glitch is fixed.

davidmal

Update #DDFEffect

tivoboy

Uh, I STILL cannot get it to display.. used to work, no longer. Have unchecked and re-checked it, cleared all browser history, tried three browsers, turned off all blocking, script blocking, etc. Can’t get it to work at all.

helper

thought I had the same issue, but then realized it will only show on $ searches, not award searches

tivoboy

Indeed your are correct, it will only display on $$ searches, not award searches.

Jay

Unless I read it wrong, the other issue with Basic Economy tickets is that the miles do not count toward you Premier mileage status. That can be a big issue for some of us.

Jay

AND, if you’re Premier Gold, you also lose the right to chose your seat on a Basic Economy ticket. Not sure if those two things are worth the $20 savings on most flights.

Paul B

Great note on United. I use Newark to Tel Aviv 4 times a year.
Can you explain this benefit below ? Do this apply to international flights.
A massive benefit for United elite members is that they can get free upgrades on coach award tickets on upgrade eligible routes if they have a United card.

Question

Hi dan if theirs a bug and you need to look at the bucket list of fares to find savers award can you book by calling. Up Singapore? If I have points already in my Singapore account? Does it work for Ana or Aegean? Thank you

Q

Dan can I also get the open jaw and exurcionist perk when transferring to Singapore Aragon or Ana and using those points to book ua flights?

j t

which bucket is for business saver award ?

chaya

Hi!

How is it possible that I see a particular flight as an award flight (saver), but when i go into non-award search because I want to see how many saver seats are left, that particular flight doesn’t show up at all? Does that make any sense?

TL

Perhaps the greatest post ever on this forum. Thank you. Just curious, have you ever considered calling the ‘paid tickets’ what Continental called them (‘revenue fares’)?

Miriam

Help. Can’t enter “Expert Mode”
When I go into United.com it recognizes me and I don’t know how to see all the flights that I thought I could. Please explain how to get to Expert Mode when they recognize me as an awards customer

wpDiscuz