US Airways Blocking Lufthansa Award Space

Airlines have control over the award prices they set and also over the amount of award space they release on their own flights. That makes it easy for them to control the costs of redemptions through their mileage programs.

However, with alliance partnerships, typically airlines release the same amount of award space to all their partner airlines. Back in 2008 Lufthansa released a ton of first class award space, often 8-10 seats per flight (back when they had 16 first class seats on their 747s). As a result it was the single most available transatlantic first class product to get on miles. While we don’t know exactly how much airlines have to pay one another for award seats, there’s obviously some cost to it. In 2008, that cost was too high for United, and they implemented something called “Starnet blocking” whereby they began blocking Lufthansa first class award space across the board.

My issue with this was twofold. First of all, it undermines the value of an alliance when different airlines make different amounts of award space available. But more importantly, the worst part was that United wasn’t at all transparent about the Starnet blocking, and for months actually denied it was happening.

After the merger between Continental & United, the blocking stopped for the most part, though US Airways picked up the practice. They started by only blocking Lufthansa transatlantic first class award space, and they did it in spurts. Often at the beginning of the quarter US Airways would show award availability (I assume their partner award space quota was reset), and then after that they wouldn’t have access to any first class award space for a while.

Eventually the US Airways Starnet blocking spread from just transatlantic Lufthansa first class award seats to all Lufthansa first class award seats, which has been the situation for over a year now.

Anyway, the past several months that blocking has spread even further, and now US Airways is on many days blocking all Lufthansa award space, in first, business, and even economy class.

As a general rule of thumb, US Airways seems to display Lufthansa business and economy class award space on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but shows very little space on other days. However, that’s by no means a rule, as I’ve seen space blocked on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and seen space not blocked on other days as well.

Obviously this is extremely frustrating for several reasons:

  • US Airways isn’t being transparent about the blocking and is claiming that the space they’re displaying to their agents is all they’re being given.
  • It’s one thing to block Lufthansa longhaul award space, but it’s really tough to plan awards when they’re blocking intra-Europe award space, given the number of Star Alliance routes within Europe operated exclusively by Lufthansa group airlines (many Swiss and Austrian intra-Europe flights are being blocked as well)
  • You can’t search Star Alliance award space on the US Airways website, so you have to call to even find out if they’re blocking the Lufthansa space or not, which is a pain.

Sadly, I’m afraid there’s not much we can do. It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, but at the end of the day US Airways will be leaving the Star Alliance soon (probably in the next couple of months), so the best we can do is work around the Starnet blocking to the best of our abilities and keep booking 90,000 mile business class awards to North Asia.

We can also hope that the “new” American doesn’t engage in these practices once they’re part of OneWorld, given that it is US Airways management in charge of the new carrier…

Comments

  1. Thanks for this, I dropped you an email on exactly this topic earlier today. Do you see any other options for me if I need to get to OSA from ZRH?
    I wanted to book OZ F and C(FRA-ICN-OSA), but would have to fly ZRH-FRA 3 days before FRA-ICN. I could as well take the train, but am still looking for ways how to maximize the miles…

  2. I saw award space on United for LH J and Thai F but when I called three different agents, they said they couldn’t “see” the LH being available.

  3. @ Kris — We’ll continue via email, though should have some other options for doing this. That being said, sure is tough in your instance, especially with the lack of intra-Europe award space.

  4. @ Lucky,

    Can a US to Eurpoe route be done via Asia on UA miles? I’m looking at an options like ORD-NRT-BKK-FRA.

    Thanks.

  5. @Ben — “You can travel from the US to Asia via Europe, but not from the US to Europe via Asia.” I’ve booked SFO-NRT-MUC as part of a US award before, maybe 3-4 years ago. Is this a new rule or did I just get lucky?

  6. @Ben — Thank goodness for email search! The full routing (for only 80k miles per person!) was SFO-NRT(stopover)-MUC(dest)-NRT-SFO on LH and UA business class. Booked August 2009, flown February 2010.

  7. @Ben — If only I could get an agent to book US – Europe – S. America. After all, Frankfurt is in Kentucky, isn’t it? 🙂

  8. What I don’t understand is, what difference does it matter if its US to Europe via Asia? I thought you said it didn’t matter the order, just as long as you tell them the destination and stopover cities. Does the destination of North Asia need to be longer than the stopover to count? Thanks

  9. @ Maury — Doing something like SFO-MUC-NRT-MUC-SFO is fine, since you’re going to Asia. However, if you route SFO-NRT-MUC-NRT-SFO there’s no way you can argue that Europe is your stopover and North Asia is your destination, since you’re going through Asia twice.

    However, you should also be fine booking something like SFO-MUC-NRT-SFO, using the above example.

  10. Speaking of undermining Star Alliance, Air New Zealand is even worse! They don’t release ANY J space to partners and have been blocking awards in all classes between New Zealand and most Australian destinations. They have a crappy revenue based program that no one wants to use, but it makes it easy to block X & I space to partners.

  11. This LH blocking got me a couple months ago. I wanted to do ORD-FRA-CDG(stop)-NRT-MUC-ORD and it wouldn’t work because US were showing no availability on the stupid FRA-CDG flights (even in economy) when they were showing wide open on ANA’s site. It was extremely frustrating.

  12. I am surprised no-one has suggested disputing a charge for a recent US Airways miles share/gift/purchase transaction – given US Airways is not allowing or blocking some redemptions on *A carriers? The buyer is no longer getting access to what they paid for….

  13. I think Lufthansa stopped doing awards for US starting in Nov when the merger was first announced. I had an award ticket that they basically cancelled from Turkmenistan to Baku this month.

  14. @ view — In theory there’s a lot of value to be had there as well, but the catch is that we don’t know when miles will become transferable and if they’ll devalue their award chart before that date.

  15. Could they be blocking air china awards as well? I called today and some CA flights are not showing available according to the agents I talked to, while I could see them on UA, ANA, and Aeroplan sites.

  16. @ bgiagg — That’s the first I’ve heard of it. Does the flight depart just after midnight? If so, ask them to check space the day prior, as US Airways’ systems are programmed to show really early morning flights as departing the prior day.

  17. Hi Lucky, Does US still blocks LH? what about LX? Is there anyway to check availability online beside calling US reservations? Thanks!

  18. @ Fan — Yep, nothing has changed as far as Lufthansa blocking goes. As far as Swiss goes, they don’t release much space to partners, though US Airways does have access to most of the space they release to Starnet.

    The only way to know for sure with Lufthansa and Swiss availability is to call.

  19. Just a data point of sorts – when trying to book a North Asia award I found space on a Swiss flight from ZRH-HKG on both the UA and ANA websites, but US is insisting there’s no availability. This is for two different dates (a Wednesday and a Thursday).

  20. How much sampling have you done to conclude LH is significantly blocked for US?

    In other words, can you share which routes you found had a lot of blocking?

    Does your conclusion also apply to LX?

  21. @ Nun — They’re blocked almost across the board aside from Wednesdays and Saturdays. Some random exceptions, but in most cases that seems to be the case across the board.

    Swiss releases very little business class award space and US Airways blocks some of it, but it doesn’t seem to be tied to the day of the week.

  22. @ JMSL — Yeah, they do seem to block some Swiss space in general. Not tied to days of the week, but just seems to be across the board blocking when they do it.

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