Just a few days ago I decided to book a US Airways 90,000 mile business class award to North Asia on a whim. When you’re traveling in the peak of summer award space is often best last minute, and since I have a fairly flexible schedule I figured it would be a good opportunity to visit some new places in Europe and also try EVA’s new business class since they just joined Star Alliance, given that they just joined the Star Alliance.
Beyond that, US Airways 90,000 mile business class awards to North Asia are such an outrageously good value that I try to take advantage of them whenever I can, since it’s an award that’s just waiting to be devalued. I wrote a post back in January sharing how to go about booking one of these awards, which I hope was helpful to some of you.
I did a similar 90,000 mile business class award to Asia in January, and was able to fly Brussels, Austrian, Turkish, and LOT all on a single trip.
Anyway, along those lines, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked on the blog and via email is whether a given routing is valid on a US Airways award. My answer is almost always one of the following:
- Yes, that should be valid
- Yes, that should be valid, though you may have to call a few times
- No, that’s probably not valid, but if you call often enough you may be able to book it
And the truth is that even though I’ve booked hundreds of US Airways awards, I don’t really know what the rules are either. That’s because US Airways doesn’t actually publish routing rules on awards, and their computer doesn’t have to validate routings, so what’s legal is entirely dependent on the agent you get. The only “strict” rules, in theory, are as follows:
- You’re allowed no more than five segments (four transfers) in each direction of travel
- You’re allowed a single stopover OR open jaw on an award ticket between regions
- If you have a stopover, it has to be at a Star Alliance hub or US Airways transatlantic gateway city
But even those aren’t strict rules, because there’s nothing in their computer system that prevents any of the other rules from being broken.
I wrote a bit more about the psychology behind routing rules on US Airways awards in this post, so hopefully that provides a bit more background on that.
So last Wednesday afternoon I found a routing I wanted to book, for an itinerary that would depart the following day, so I didn’t have much time to book it. Ideally I was hoping to make Taipei my final destination (which is in North Asia), and have a stopover in Europe. Initially my plan was to just have my stopover be in Vienna, and then use British Airways Avios for intra-Europe travel on Niki, which wouldn’t be too expensive. But then I mapped out all my travel and realized I’d really if possible like to fly into Nice and out of Zurich on the award, making it an open jaw. This reduced the number of intra-Europe flights I’d have to book separately.
There’s no doubt that put the itinerary into a bit of a grey area. Nice isn’t technically a transatlantic gateway city though Zurich is. Along the same lines, with most airlines the open jaw has to be at your turnaround point. My final destination is Taipei, and that’s to say that my open jaw would have to be between Taipei and another city, or between my origin city and another city. It typically can’t be mid-journey. But US Airways doesn’t explicitly publish that, and there are many agents that interpret the rules as meaning that you can have an open jaw in Europe while enroute to Asia.
So I called up US Airways and tried to put my desired itinerary on hold. The agent was extremely friendly and competent, gladly let me “feed” him all the flights, and when we were done he put me on hold to verify the routing was legal. After a 10 minute hold he came back and told me that I couldn’t have an open jaw between Nice and Zurich. He explained that this would be both an open jaw and a stopover, but said that if I was flying into Nice and then less than 24 hours later flying out of Zurich it would be allowed. That’s kind of funny, because even his interpretation of the rules wouldn’t make sense. So I didn’t argue one bit (after all, I didn’t want him to notate the record), thanked him for the explanation, and had him hold the itinerary flying both into and out of Zurich, which is a legal stopover at a Star Alliance hub.
So I called back and asked the agent whether it would be possible to switch one of the outbound segments to fly into Nice and out of Zurich. She said that would be absolutely fine, and then when we went to ticket she explained the itinerary would cost 100,000 miles. The funny thing is that a business class award ticket to North Asia costs 90,000 miles while a business class award ticket to Europe costs 100,000 miles, so her interpretation was that I’d be charged the rate for the most expensive region I’m transiting. I thanked her for the information, had her save the segment flying into Nice and out of Zurich, and said I needed to purchase the remaining 10,000 miles and would then call back.
I decided to try my luck one more time, and the agent was also fine with the open jaw into Nice and out of Zurich, though also quoted me a total of 100,000 miles.
At this point I gave the itinerary some thought to decide whether I wanted to change my itinerary to go straight to Asia for 90,000 miles, whether I wanted to cancel the hold and start from scratch, or whether I wanted to purchase an extra 10,000 miles in this particular account so they’d let me book the itinerary as is, given that it was departing the following day. I decided I’d call back and if the agent wanted to charge me 100,000 miles I’d buy the miles while we were on the phone.
I got a lovely agent that just had no clue where any of the cities I was traveling to were, and read back the itinerary including my flight on “Asiana” (Austrian’s code is “OS”) from Vienna to London, and on Brussels (EVA’s code is “BR”) from Taipei to Los Angeles. We joked and I couldn’t help but comment “my gosh, these airlines are so weird and they fly such random routes. Who would’ve thought Brussels flies between Taipei and Los Angeles?” She commented “I know, it’s so confusing, isn’t it?”
At this point I said “I just get so confused by all these cities. Do you happen to know if Taipei is in North Asia or South Asia? I’m trying to figure out how many miles I’ll need for this trip.” She said “you know, that’s just such a great question, let me see.” She put me on hold for a moment and came back and said “it looks like it’s in North Asia, so the itinerary would be 90,000 miles in business class.” I responded with “oh, okay, that’s great.” After a moment she said “hmm, but there are already three fare quotes in this itinerary and they’re all different. Let me just check with my supervisor to see how many miles this itinerary would be. I don’t want to lose my job.”
After a five minute hold she came back and said “your final destination is North Asia so this will cost 90,000 miles in business class. It doesn’t matter where you’re connecting. My supervisor agreed with me.”
The point of this post…
This post isn’t intended to be a “look at what I got away with” post. Because I’m not actually convinced I got away with anything I wasn’t supposed to be able to get away with. My interpretation of the rules is that you’re charged based on your final destination and not based on which region you transit. Most US Airways agents have the same interpretation. Others think you’re charged based on the most expensive zone you transit. As far as the open jaw goes, all four agents read back the itinerary, and only one of the four had any issue with the open jaw.
My point is this — the rules with US Airways aren’t black and white. I’ve booked hundreds of US Airways awards and still don’t actually know what the “rules” are. And neither do the agents, so what you can book is entirely dependent on the agent you get. When a US Airways agents has a different interpretation of the “rules” than you do, there’s no point in arguing with them. You’ll never win. But you have the ability to hang up and call again working in your favor.