United Airlines has put a fresh face on its Web site. Along with the new look, members will notice a difference in how their account information, activity and upgrade information is displayed. For example, there is a bar that illustrates how close you are to the next elite level and small icons that display information when you mouse over them, allowing more details to be accessed from a single page.

Tabs have been added to help Mileage Plus members navigate through the site and tips and news are easy to access.

The major upgrade is that United Mileage Plus members can now book Star Alliance awards online, although the booking tool will only search for award inventory on Star Alliance partners Continental Airlines and US Airways right now. After selecting your travel dates and route for roundtrip travel, you can click the Star Alliance tab that will display additional award flight options on partner carriers.

For example, when we searched for award flights from Colorado Springs to New York City on United Airlines flights leaving June 17 and returning July 3, we found four outgoing flights and only one available return flight. When we clicked the Star Alliance tab, however, we found more than five additional flight options for the same travel dates that included US Airways or Continental Airlines flights. The Miles & Money Award option is still not available online for Star Alliance flights and Star Alliance upgrade awards are also not available for online searches.

Bottom line: Any change that improves the online award booking functionality is a move in the right direction. While we’d like to see one-way awards on Star Alliance partners and the addition of more airlines, being able to search for and book awards on US Airways and Continental Airlines means United Mileage Plus members can access more awards without having to call the service center and pay a $25 fee to book an award over the phone. Our contact at United Mileage Plus assures us that “later in the year, additional Star Alliance carriers will become available for online award booking.”

Some FlyerTalk members noted that although being able to search and book Star Alliance awards online is a move in the right direction, it will also increase the numbers of members searching for the same awards.

“What would be nice is to … stop Starnet filtering at the same time … oh and also I want a flying unicorn that’s powered by rainbows,” says FlyerTalk member ryan192.