Mile Madness & the Family of Four

July 24, 2013
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. I was trying to book a one-way trip for my family of four in first class on United using miles (Orlando to San Diego). I saw a very reasonable price of 25,000 for first, but just for one person. Once I added the wife, the price jumped to 50,000 miles each! Add the kids, and you guessed it. The price quadrupled to 100,000 miles per ticket. That's just ridiculous. So, I thought that the problem was that I was trying to book four seats on my itinerary at the same time. Trying to skirt the system, I figured I'd book one ticket at 25,000 miles, then do that again three more times. Well, they must have got wise to it and the price did indeed jump to 50,000 miles when I tried to buy the wife's ticket. I panicked, because I was now 25,000 miles lighter and I was certain that the miles were gone forever, but actually with the new D.O.T. regulations, I immediately called United, told them I made a "mistake," and they credited my miles back. Why was causing this jump in the miles required?

    A. Probably there was only one seat available in first class on your flight at the 25,000-mile level, and all the other seats were being “sold” at 50,000 miles (seat availability changes often, as airlines release more seats at different levels or people holding seats give them up). But I’ve never heard of a domestic first class award seat on United going for 100,000 miles one-way. I just searched that route one-way on United’s MileagePlus site in first class and the highest award level is 50,000 miles. I can only guess it was a computer glitch, or perhaps you mistakenly checked the “roundtrip” option. You probably should have called United’s MileagePlus desk for an explanation.