After getting off of the phone with United Airlines in the UK, just now, I peacefully and without any hair pulling booked tickets. We are using my United frequent flier miles for our winter vacation. We will travel from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa from December 14th to January 14th. The cost was only 120,000 miles via their partner Lufthansa Airlines.
When so many complain about being able to use their miles, I think the secret may be to call an out of the way call center. Each time I have redeemed miles on United or Delta, by calling the UK office, the closest English speaking office, I have hit gold the first go.
Oh, if you are wondering where Addis Ababa is, it is in Ethiopia.