General Question

skfinkel's avatar

Why are there never seats on my Free Mileage program with United?

Asked by skfinkel (13511points) April 22nd, 2008

Three months ahead, and they say most of the summer is off their program. Should I just dump their card? Is there a better one?

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8 Answers

srmorgan's avatar

There are always seats available, just to places you don’t want to go and at times when you want to stay home.

Seriously, the airlines have been reducing the availability of seats over the last few years.
They have less capacity than in the 90’s and they would rather get paid for the seats.
The other reason is that the airlines have devalued the mileage. When the airline affinity programs were first introduced around 1980, American AAdvantage was the first, you have to EARN the miles by flying somewhere and the airlines thereby rewarded their best paying customers.
Now you can get miles through credit cards, 1–800-flowers and other programs not related to actually flying on an airplane. I have accumulated about 240,000 Amex points that I can use on most airlines, except United., American and USAir. because I charge large corporate expenses to my company card.
I only flew about 20 segments last year, all short hauls on the east coast, but I managed to “earn” 240,000 as shown above.

They (the airlines) just don’t want to reward their best customers anymore.


judochop's avatar

I fly often and I just want to add that the level of customer service on any airline has dropped drastically.

andrew's avatar

It also may have to do with the fact that United just posted the biggest quarterly drop in its revenues since they came out of Chapter 11.

Fuel prices hurt everyone.

sleuth9216's avatar

united sucks… Join southwest
I used to be at united but I had the same problem as you so I joined southwest they have some of the lowest rates, free seating, and really nice flight attendants. Southwest is better!

babygalll's avatar

Because it’s free. If they could get someone to pay for that seat rather than give it to someone whom is using their miles. They’ll pick the person who is paying. I agree with Andrew. The fuel prices are affecting everyone in one way or another.

srmorgan's avatar


The problem may be exarcerbated by the increase in fuel prices, but the problem has been there for some time.
At one point you could get a domestic “free” ticket for 20,000 miles on American or USAir, the airlines that I have flown over the last 20 years. Delta and others were the same.
About 10 years ago, Delta led the way in increasing the minimum to 25,000 miles, Then they introduced the “premium” seat scheme under which you could still get a seat at 25.000 miles, but surprise, availability was severely limited, but 50,000 could get you a seat with pretty much no restrictions. Everyone followed suit by 2000.
The other “improvement” was the imposition of fees if you were looking for seats within a window of either 14 or 21 days, and then a bigger improvement fee if you needed the seat within 7 days.
A lot of this policy is not to keep YOU from cashing in miles and flying to see Aunt Hilda in Minneapolis, it is really designed to keep YOU or any other flyer with a bunch of miles from using them for a business trip. They would rather have the revenue, easy to understand.

So it is a complicated game. The only way to beat is to know that the airlines,generally book travel 330 days out, so if you are looking to fly to say, Salt Lake City to ski next January you have a good shot at getting a seat. Same if you are flying to Switzerland in March, 330 days out.
But the “free” seats to Hawaii just don’t exist or if they do, they get taken up within a day or so of being released to the computer systems for booking.

If you are looking at a trip in a relatively short period of time, say under 21 days, then keep checking because the airlines release seats based on their booking trends. It is called “yield management”. They would rather sell the seat to someone else, but they would rather see your fanny in it, relieving them of their liability for owing you miles, than see it go empty.


lidyah's avatar

You might want to check on They’ve got some pretty helpful info about different frequent flyer mileage programs, including a side-by-side comparison of most of them.

You’ll probably have the most luck finding reward tickets if you’re flexible in your plans. I myself have never had much success finding free flights when I need them.

Another option for those miles is to use them on upgrades, to “buy down” the cost of certain flights, or on non-airline rewards (on Northwest, for example, you can buy magazine subscriptions with miles).

Personally, I’ve had a NWA credit card for years- I’ve racked up a lot of miles, but haven’t really used them (for the same reason you’ve mentioned).

I think there are other credit cards out there (non-airline) that give you better rewards (REI’s is pretty good, I think). But if you’re set on an airline reward card, it might be worth checking into one of the low cost airlines like Southwest. They allow you to accumulate reward flights faster. I’m guessing it might be easier to book reward flights with them too. Anyone have thoughts on this?

susanc's avatar

All airlines are delighted to give you subscriptions to magazines you don’t want rather
than letting you fly with them.

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