A Word of Caution When Booking Air Canada with United Miles

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A Word of Caution When Booking Air Canada with United Miles

I recently had a quick trip to St. John’s Newfoundland, trip report upcoming since the place is beautiful, but I ran into a speed bump that I wanted to let you know about.  If you remember I booked my flight to St. John’s using United miles because Lifemiles were being all Lifemiles like.  After several frustrating hours I finally caved and transferred Ultimate Rewards to United to book the flight for 25K.  I was pretty happy with myself since it was a $700+ ticket.  But I have to share a word of caution when booking Air Canada with United miles with you.  You need to call in for seat assignments…and it is something you will want to do. I made the mistake of not calling in and it almost cost me a seat on the plane ride home.

My Laziness Almost Got the Best of Me

This was my first time on Air Canada and to be honest I am not a huge fan.  The planes were old and the service was in-between a low cost carrier and a full service carrier.  You get drinks, without ice, and there were no snacks for all but 1 of 4 flights etc.

After booking the flight I tried to go onto Air Canada’s website to select seats etc. but it wouldn’t work with United’s reference code.  After doing some googling I found out that you need to call Air Canada to get their internal reference code.  I put it off since I hate having to call in and then I just kind of said whatever and said they can pick my seat for me.

If you do call in and want to select a seat Air Canada will charge between $10-$40 to do so.  However, seat selection is free at 24 hours out and this is the key part.

My Experience

On my flights out I looked pretty smart.  I was placed in 2nd row on the 45 minute flight to Toronto and then an exit row seat for the longer flight to St. John’s.  On the way back is where I almost got myself into trouble.

When I printed my ticket at the airport I had no seat assignment.  The gate agent told me the flight was oversold and they may have to rebook me.  She said I should have checked in online at 24 hours out to reduce my chances of getting bumped.  Their bump schedule is whoever checks in last are the first to get bumped. Although my friend checked in a few seconds after me and got a seat assignment so who knows what is really going on.

After getting through security I want to my gate and tried to get some more info.  The gate agent said that they were oversold by 4 seats and I wouldn’t know until the plane starting boarding if I would have a spot.  It would depend on if people didn’t show up or changed their flights etc.

Canada’s Denied Boarding Laws

After sitting down I looked up Canada’s denied boarding laws.  They had recently put new rules and regulations into place to more mirror EU 261. I was feeling less annoyed at this point because at least there were set standards of compensation in place.  Something that I wish the US would take a more serious look at.  The compensation set up is as follows (source CBC):

Overbooking delays of less than six hours will require a minimum $900 payment, delays between six and nine hours mean a minimum $1,800 payment and delays longer than nine hours will see passengers compensated a minimum of $2,400.

I was starting to think getting bumped may not be such a bad thing 😉.  I was called to the podium along with 3 other passengers to get my boarding pass shortly after boarding started.  It appears some people didn’t show after all and I ended up getting a window seat in the front third of the plane.

How to Avoid this Going Forward

Sarah a member of our Facebook Group gave a good tip how to get around this issue:

When you book on United you can click View my Receipt and there you will see your partner confirmation number as well as your ticket number. Write both of those down. Then go to the partner’s website and enter in that info to book your seat there.

Thanks for the great tip Sarah!

Final Thoughts

Remember this tip when booking Air Canada flights with United miles. If you can not afford to get bumped on Air Canada then be sure to call for your booking reference.  You can still skip paying the seat fees by waiting till 24 hours out but be sure to select a seat.  This gives you a better chance of making the flight versus waiting till you get to the airport like I did.  Although my seat selections ended up being pretty pretty good though 😁.


  1. I really wish all of this was more standardized among airlines. I’d hate to know how many hours of my life I’ve wasted trying to figure out how to select a seat on a random airline partner, or figuring out my bag allotment on all of the different Star Alliance carriers. As a rule, I never buy the different versions of “basic economy”, but sometimes it’s impossible to tell which class you are actually booking. Ugh!

    • It would be nice if something was standardized and easier for the consumer but they don’t care about us 🙂

  2. You can also have your seat assigned for free by sending a DM on twitter to Air Canada. They are quick to respond and I have had no issues. I have used this method several times.

  3. Ick. I’ve considered AC for some flights for work overseas but now I’ll reconsider. They sound awful especially for a longer haul.

    • From what I have heard their long haul product is a lot better but I was not impressed with their domestic planes or service.

  4. The AC booking reference is also available on United’s booking page – just look up your reservation on united.com, and the AC booking reference is in the “Other Information” section.

    Also, you were speaking with the gate agent (no wings on the uniform), not the flight attendant (wings on the uniform).


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