More are reporting that their Air China award reservations booked with United MileagePlus miles are being cancelled and United is finally waking up to the problem. Still, there is no solution in sight.
You should be vigilant in monitoring your award reservations, but I am sad to say there is really nothing you can do to protect yourself from pernicious cancellations.
And keep in mind that Air China might actually not be the culprit. State-run Air China uses state-run reservation system Travelsky for reservations. Many travel agents also have access to the Travelsky system and that means independent of Air China, your Air China reservations, even booked with United miles, can be looked up and cancelled by unscrupulous travel agents in China.
As I shared earlier, anyone who has your six-character confirmation number and your last name, has the ability to cancel your United reservation—unless United blocks the ability to cancel bookings online (which would be a stupid move considering this problem affects only a tiny fraction of the bookings that are cancelled online), this Air China problem will continue and perhaps get worse.
United should be ashamed of itself for such lax online security—for not at least protecting reservations from cancellations without a PIN or the credit card number used to issue the ticket, as British Airways does.
But can I be honest? I love calling United and not having to verify a bunch of personal information like I do when I call Aeroplan or British Airways Executive Club. How nice it is not to waste two minutes every phone call reciting my e-mail address, home phone number, address, and DOB. Trust is nice, even though trust can be abused.
So there must be a balance drawn. I know it is not so easy as telling United to flip a switch fix the problem immediately, but I hope United is seriously planning out how they will protect the security of its MileagePlus members.
Remember, that if you find your reservation is cancelled, you do have redress with United. UA flies from Beijing to San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, and Newark, so if your flight is cancelled on Air China, United will re-accommodate you on a United flight. If you are facing this situation and an agent ever gives you pushback, do not even waste your time—escalate to a supervisor and point out that this is a growing problem that s/he should have been briefed on.
If you are going to more remote parts of China served only by Air China, you may well have a problem in getting beyond Beijing, Chengdu, or Shanghai, but it will serve no purpose to live in fear about it—just be vigilant and let’s hope in the meantime that United will take steps to better protect bookings from being cancelled so easily online.