I've been using the Continental.com award booking tool, which is so great, by the way. Unlike United's website, Continental has a pretty dynamic tool where many Star Alliance Partner availability show up (UAL, Continental, ANA, Thai, Lufthansa and LOT all had availability for my proposed itinerary).
I knew where I wanted to go and relatively when I wanted to go. I immediately headed over to Continental and began my search. I was hoping to fly first class to Southeast Asia round trip -- and I wanted to try the first class product on Star Alliance carriers (read: not United). After spending a few minutes, I realized that all of the award availability I found earlier in the year wasn't really there any more. The only "saver" first class tickets had me going to Europe in Economy then flying first class on LOT to Hanoi. I'm not spending 140,000 miles to go to Europe in Economy -- and the idea of flying LOT wasn't really appealing either.
So, First Class wasn't an option any more -- I guess we're stuck going Business Class (which only had us saving 20,000 miles round trip). It was pretty easy to find award availability once I gave into the idea that First wasn't going to happen. Since I didn't have enough miles to actually book online with Continental (all my miles were with United), I had to call United and finish the booking. I figured it would be quite a simple process, since I had already confirmed the availability, had dates/times/flight numbers and the miles at hand. Easy enough, right? Not so fast.
I called UAL and was connected to a lovely woman named Linda. I gave her my info, and explained that I was booking two award tickets, paying for three of the four legs with my miles then one of the legs with another account (MS didn't have enough miles at the time to book his airfare). I walk Linda through everything I wanted and after about 15 minutes of limited chatting and a lot of the clicking away on the keyboard she confirmed the required miles and the tax amount. I asked if she could confirm specific seat options for me -- and she started clicking away....then CLICK. "Hello? Linda?? HELLO!?!"
We were disconnected. Linda had taken my phone number at the beginning of the call. I waited, expecting her to call me back -- how silly of me, eh? I called back, fully expecting to start this whole process over again...but this time not being as lucky -- and probably with a rude phone rep.
Hector answered the phone and was quite frustrated that I didn't have a confirmation number (can't give you one, if I don't have one). After he spends nearly 10 minutes searching for my flights (while I was on hold) he came back on and said he found nothing. Right when he said that I received four emails from UAL outlining the reservation that Linda put on hold. SCORE.
I cut Hector off and read off the confirmation numbers, he makes a couple quick adjustments and we are set! When I originally booked with Linda, we were going First Class from NRT to BKK, but with Hector we are stuck in Business Class. All in all, it is something I can deal with. Hector didn't seem too excited to help me and I'm confident he didn't want to start from scratch on what in all honesty wasn't a really easy booking option.
I did ask Hector if he prefers customers to call in with all the flight info they need, or does he like to help customers do the research while on the phone. He told me both options were equally bad for him. Not really the answer I was looking for -- I just got the feeling he didn't want to help anyone.
What did I learn from this experience. 1) Do your research before hand, know the City, the Date, the Carrier and the Flight Number before you call United. 2) Make sure you get your reps name. 3) Give the rep your name/phone number/FF# immediately upon connection. 4) If you don't get the answer you want, try talking to someone else (I would have hung up on Hector if he had charged me more than what Linda had indicated previously).
So how much did this trip cost you ask? We paid a total of 240,000 miles (60,000 for each leg) and $236 in taxes total. If we opted to buy these flights it would have cost us just under $12,000 round trip -- which to me is absolutely outrageous.